by Major Nicholas Garland ©2018
Trauma affects people in many ways. It has an understood impact on the brain, which can sometimes result in PTSD. This article is not about the sufferers of the trauma, specifically military attributed trauma, it is about those who witness, help, and support the trauma survivor. Without a doubt, I will be corrected and acknowledge that a trauma survivor is not always the individual who sustains a physical injury. This article is written from my experience and is my personal view on trauma.
I believe the impact on trauma witnesses to be significant, long-lasting and almost always forgotten. As a survivor of traumatic injury, I believe I am in a privileged position to offer my opinion. Much academic study is done by those searching for results, to draw conclusions, to make recommendations to essentially understand the same output. The impact on trauma differs from person to person.
We, society, forget the witnesses of trauma. As a trauma victim, I have little memory of my incident. So, my healing was often presented by the witnesses who could recount ‘my event’. In order for me to heal I had to understand what had happened. For me, the biggest part of my healing was knowing what had happened to them. I have scars that can be seen. They have healed but occasionally they prompt a question from an unknown, ‘What happened there?’ or ‘How did that happen?’ As people, we are inquisitive. If something looks amiss we will ask ourselves why? I can talk with the inquisitive mass about my trauma event, often regaled with little emotion and a jolly smile or quip along the way.
When regaling my story, I always mention the victims. The people who were there, who I shared my blood with, the people who carried me to seek medical attention, the pilots who flew to pick me up when they were out of fuel, the surgeons and doctors who trialled ‘new things’ to keep me here, the poor people who knocked on the door of my family and girlfriend and just ‘the others.’ Those others are people, like you and me, they live their lives and then some bit of news hits them. We forget about these people.
It is these people that bear invisible scars and memories, it is these people that will do it again and again. It is to these people who we, the trauma survivors, owe our lives.
As part of closing my trauma chapter, I visited everyone that had in some way helped me along the way. Often a cheery thank you or quick recap on what happened I thought would be sufficient, but for these people, it was often not the cheery recap I had hoped for.
After discharge from my hospital bed, I was set to return to the intensive care ward that cared for me when I was at my lowest. On that day, something happened that I will never forget and this is why I feel I need to put pen to paper today. I pressed the door buzzer to enter the Intensive Care Unit. An unknown voice said, ‘Selly Oak ICU, how can I help?’ I was presented with a dilemma; I had no idea what to say. I was neither a patient nor visiting for a reason. ‘Erm, I was a patient here a few months ago, and I’d erm like to say thank you’…
‘Ok, please come in’.
As I approached the desk people were going about their daily business. I heard noises my mind recognised – beeps and breathing noises – but I hadn’t seen or experienced them in this life – this was not déjà vu. A nurse welcomed me to the ward and asked my name, so I presented it and when I had stayed in her ward. She disappeared, and a second nurse appeared. ‘Are you Nick?’ ‘Yes, I am’, I replied. A strange silence happened; she looked at me, smiled and cried.
We said nothing for a while, she hugged me. To me I was comforting a stranger, someone I hadn’t met. I couldn’t have been more wrong, she was one of ‘the others.’ I had impacted her life more than I care to imagine. To her, I was a patient, a number, a statistic that comes and goes. To have her patient walk back affected her. It affected her a lot. I was the first person to have gone back to say thank you. To this day, I am not sure if I made the right decision.
For me, my trauma journey is over. It was done in a few short seconds, some vague memories, little pain and a long sleep in a hospital bed until I awoke again. For ‘the others’ I mentioned above, their trauma lives on.
I am a survivor of trauma, but I am not the victim….
Please think of those who are connected to trauma as much as you do of the survivor.
Nick Garland is currently transitioning from the military via the resettlement system. He wrote this article nine years after his incident. He hopes that others can use it as a way of acknowledging trauma from a broadly unexplored direction – the witnesses, bystanders and carers.
For more information and help about supporting a family member struggling with a military attributed physical or emotional injury, go to www.theripplepond.org.