I don’t want to talk about Rwanda. My experiences there are what gave me PTSD. I still see the faces. Imagine seeing two football fields filled with burned and disfigured bodies – that’s what I dealt with.
I was also part of operation ‘Just Cause’ when the 82nd Airborne invaded Panama and went after the Dictator Manuel Noriega. That was another challenging scenario because Noriega’s people didn’t have uniforms on. The US soldiers were dropped in combat zones but they couldn’t identify who the enemy was. Women were reaching under their dresses and pulling out machine guns. Little kids kicked soccer balls to soldiers and when the soldiers picked the ball up a bomb detonated. It was a really tough operation to be a medic on.
After overseas tours and deployments, I was stationed at McGuire Air Force base in New Jersey. As the Noncommissioned Officer in charge of healthcare administration, I led the medical team that processed the bodies of soldiers who had died.
Suicide amongst the healthcare administration workers was a routine thing. In my eleven months at McGuire Air Force base there were seven suicides. One day a Colonel was on site while I was processing a body. After I tagged the body – and while I was only two feet away – I grabbed my sandwich and started eating.
The Colonel walked over to me.
“What are you doing?”
“Eating a sandwich.” I said. “I’m hungry.”
“Son there is something wrong with you that you can eat in the presence of all this. You have become too desensitized to death. You need help – you’re going in for a psychiatric evaluation.”
But I never went – I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me.
Eventually I retired from the military. I got out in 1999 but it wasn’t until three years ago that I came to the VA for treatment.
The visit to the VA was triggered by a panic attack I had on a train.
“Someone please take me to the VA!” I pleaded with the passengers.
I went to the VA and that is where they finally determined that I was suffering from PTSD. PTSD manifests itself differently with different people. I still can’t really do elevators or trains with lots of people, which I why I drive more than usual. But for me PTSD mainly manifests itself as insomnia. I never thought of my sleeping troubles as PTSD, I just thought I had insomnia – that it was hard for me to go to sleep naturally. But a doctor examined me and said my insomnia was caused by PTSD.
As I sit here telling you this story I've been awake for sixty-six straight hours...
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