This is just a short piece highlighting the reactions of 3 different medical personnel during and after I had 3 Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, dreams or episodes. They happened in the same hospital but on different wards. Each different from one another, different reactions to the same cause. Thankfully nowadays PTSD is a recognised medical condition though for a long time it wasn’t something associated to Firemen/Firefighters, it is a military disorder, the horrors of war.
A NURSE. A regular dream is about the time I was caught in a flashover and partial building collapse. I was trapped under a load of ceiling beams and boards. The building carried on burning. I couldn’t reach my Distress Signal Unit (DSU) because a beam was across my chest. I shouted for help, It was hot, I couldn’t see anything, I was scared but worse I couldn’t move. During a dream I still can’t. My legs don’t move but my arm flails across my chest. “Tim, Tim, ssshhh, it’s OK you’re having one of your dreams. SSShh It’s Ok nothing is going to happen. You aren’t on your own. It’s OK, SShhh”. A small gentle hand holding mine. The back of my hand being gently stroked as I desperately tried to reach across my body for my DSU. Soft words reassuring me. I was safe. Under the protection of those gentle hands and soft words I went into a safe deep sleep. I haven’t a clue who the nurse was, who was so gentle with me. I asked but no-one confessed. Who ever you are Thank You.
A REGISTRAR. Another dream I have is a lady sitting in a chair asking me for her leg back. Angrily shouting at me “Give me back my leg” “Where are you taking my leg? I need it, it’s mine”. We knew it was a cigarette because there was a half empty packet, a lighter and an ash tray on the arm of the chair. I hope she was dead long before the dropped cigarette set fire to her horse hair chair. The chair smouldered for hours. When we found her every piece of her body that touched the chair had been slowly and thoroughly cooked. Parts that didn’t touch the chair were absolutely normal, the skin unblemished. The ambulance crew refused to take her to the morgue until we had lifted her onto a salvage sheet. Her right leg, which wasn’t burnt at all, came away in my hands, the hip joint had been cooked. A registrar came striding confidently, into my side room. Arrogant. He was a Doctor wouldn’t his parents be proud of him! “I hear you were shouting last night” ‘Apparently yes’ “You disturbed some of the other patients” ‘Apparently yes’ “I see dead bodies every day but don’t scream” ‘Yes, you see whole dead bodies’ “I thought you were a Fireman” ‘I was’ “Why do you shout, what’s the difference between what I see and what you see?” ‘Do you see what’s in the ambulances that drive up to the mortuary doors?’ “No” ‘Do you see what’s in the black vans that go straight to the mortuary?’ “No of course not, Why?” ‘We do’.
A CONSULTANT. After my 1st stroke I was chatting away to one of the Consultants. He was a huge imposing Black man but very softly spoken. He was telling me I had everything to live for, a lovely wife, 2 wonderful girls a bungalow bought and paid for, everything was good. We were talking about the past. About 2 months before the stroke when I had taken far too many tablets with only 1 intention. The phone went as I was chomping away so I answered it. It was an old Fire Brigade friend so we chatted. My wife and daughter found me on the floor still holding the phone, next to my bed. I slept for over 24 hours. “Why would anyone want to take their own life? You are still young, what 57?” ‘I’d just had enough, simple I guess’ “When did you retire from the Fire Brigade?” ‘I didn’t retire I was placed Unfit for Duty as a Firefighter so wasn’t able to do my job’ “What happened?” ‘Blah blah broke my back blah blah dead below the waist blah blah’ “When did this happen?” ‘January 10th 1995’ “You dream don’t you” ‘Yes’ “Tell me, tell me the worst thing you have seen as a Firefighter” ‘Soup’ “Soup!” ‘Yes soup’ “What do you mean soup” ‘The lower half of a baby after it’s pram was hit by a car and crushed’ “Was ‘it’ dead?” ‘I hope so’ silence “Ok Tim, I’m off home see you tomorrow”. Next day, about midday, he came back in to see me. “Hi Tim, how you feeling today?” ‘Hey, not bad thanks, you?’ “I’m so sorry, so sorry” ‘Why’ “I have always taken it for granted that if I dial 999 and ask for the Fire Brigade you will always come and do everything you can to help me or my family. Total strangers” ‘We don’t ask for gender, religion or skin colour if that’s what you mean’ “No not at all. I was driving home and your word ‘soup’ stuck in my mind. I dread to think what you really saw” ‘Sorry that wasn’t meant to sound dramatic or anything’ “No not at all. I was trying to imagine a baby as ‘soup’. I have been a Doctor for 15+ years and a Consultant for 10. I have seen some horrible things, but I have never seen anything so horrible that I can only describe it as ‘soup’ I’m sorry” ‘Thank You’.