It’s Not Just for Veterans
Sunlight through the glass-paned door beckons me, tugging at the knot of anxiety festering below my sternum. Like a living thing, an alien eating my insides, the knot curls in on itself. It moves upwards to my throat as I long to throw myself into the crystal blue day and away from the morbidity of my world. Would anyone notice if I ran away? Would anyone care?
I hold back, unable to divorce my physical body from my emotional duties. I can’t leave. Not like this. Two people, at least, would notice immediately—my supervisor and my work partner. Of course, my husband would notice by the end of tomorrow when he arrived home unable to find me.
I sigh and turn from paradise back to my lunch.
My hamburger is beefy mush on my tongue, the onion straws crispy yet bland. I’ve read about food tasting like ash during depression, but it isn’t true. My lunch tastes just like it’s supposed to, I just don’t care. But then, I’m not exactly depressed. I’m traumatized, and I’m disassociating. How do I know?
I’m a paramedic with twenty-one years of field experience and a person willing to face the truth about myself. Besides, I’ve been down this road before. It’s not pretty, but it’s real and it happens all too often. And all too often it’s overlooked by those who should be paying close attention—our supervisors. Medics are written off as being in a bad mood, having attitude problems, or labeled as burn-outs when the underlying problem is chronic PTSD—post traumatic stress disorder.
Oh yeah, we have it.
It’s not just for combats veterans anymore.
My shift is a few hours into its twenty-four hours, and already I’m impatient for it to be over. My partner and I have run a couple of calls, nothing too complicated, but the dread of the unknown presses heavier on me with every passing minute. What will the next call be like? Will I be able to handle it? What if it’s like the bad one last shift? What if, what if, what if…?
Gulping, I swallowed the lump of beef and onion mash and close my eyes against the freedom of the sunshine. It’s not meant for me today. Now is about duty and responsibility and a damned paycheck.
You can do this. It’s just twenty or so more hours. Not like your head’s gonna explode.
No, not my head. Just my sanity.
I reach for my iced tea. A barely perceptible shake rules my hand. I feel it more than see it. But it’s there all the same. My hands never shake. I’m the calm one, the old-timer medic with the cool hands no matter what the world throws at me. I’m the one who pushes the green medics to go beyond their comfort zone, to avoid handicapping themselves in a career that requires a certain amount of arrogance balanced by humility. I’m the one who jumps in with the guys, lifting and hefting my fair share and more.
I clench my hand into a fist. Inside your skull, no one can hear you scream. It’s a safe place to slowly go insane. No one has to know you’re fracturing, crumbling a bit at a time until it’s too late. And won’t that be fun?
The knot in my chest tightens. Maybe I can’t do this, not today, maybe tomorrow, but too much has happened this year, and this week was just frosting on the lumpy, leaning cake. I thought I could, but the more I think about it the tighter the knot gets and the colder my lunch grows. Breakfast was the same. I didn’t even finish my coffee. I love my daily coffee.
Funny how I keep ordering food today, but not eating it. I’m hungry but I don’t care. I don’t care about anything but the sunlight