One of the first things you do when working with people is develop some way of detoxifying, de-stressing, coming to terms with the things you experience that, sometimes, go way outside the scope of anything that could be considered usual or normal.
I found a few things helpful as I found myself struggling to cope. Most days, on my way home from work, I would crank the radio and sing along at the top of my lungs. That would work great – unless the DJ got into a string of slow, sad songs instead of the kick-ass stuff. I’d spend a lot of time talking on the phone with friends who were also working “in the field” and get into some mighty bitch sessions. That always worked – unless their day’s story was worse than mine, that is.
Today, I forgot all about turning on the radio on my way home and the friends that were “in the field” have all moved on to different “fields,” so I move on to Plan C: I’ll write about it. Grab a box of tissues…
I met a delightful man today. He was probably in his late 30s, very tall and fit, kind, gentle and attractive. He sat at my desk like you’d sit at a cafeteria table – sort of hunched down and leaning in to create a sense of privacy where none existed. He told me his story:
Not long ago, he was driving home and came upon an accident that had just happened. He found a mother, father and 12 year old dead in the car, and a 5 year old that was thrown clear of the car. She was still breathing, and while he held her, she looked up into his eyes. He called 911, and the little girl was taken to the hospital where she later died. He learned of her death from a text message he received from a nurse on duty.
When he got the text, he collapsed. As the days went on, he wasn’t able to shake that little girl’s eyes looking up into his. He’d dream of them, he’d see those eyes in every little girl he saw and he knew he needed help.
But, help didn’t come. At the end of his rope, he gave his car keys to a friend and the two set out on the town, and he “got royally plastered.” When he got home, he ended up getting into a fight with his girlfriend who pulled a gun and held it to his forehead. He called 911 again to report the incident, then lost his job because of it.
I couldn’t give him good news, but I worked hard to give him hope. But, it was far from enough, far from what he really needed, and I was powerless to do more. He was suffering from PTSD that, untreated, landed him in a world of uphill battles. He reached out to me, and I couldn’t do enough.
I may not have nightmares of that little girl’s eyes, but it will be a long time before I forget his eyes as he told me about them.
Rest in peace, little girl. Find your peace, gentle man.