By Emily Neuman Bauerle
“Do you remember that moment?” Kalie asked me, “Do you remember what you kept saying?”
As social workers in the emergency department, Kalie and my friendship had been birthed out of a shared experience of “How the fuck do you sleep at night?”
We both knew trauma well, too well. We both knew what shock looked like, how the brain and body respond in moments of catastrophe. We both knew because, for a living, we sat with people in their darkest hours. Every day we went to work, we greeted tragedy, illness and death, like a familiar friend.
“You just kept repeating yourself, over and over. Do you remember?” she asked again.
My mind drifted back to earlier that month when I had held a man who had lost his wife to an unimaginable accident. “You’re telling me my wife is dead?” he said, eyes vacant, voice distant, as he held her limp body. “She’s dead? She’s dead? She’s dead? Just, completely, dead?” Over and over he said the words. As if he was telling himself for the first time, each time
Kalie and I, we knew what the textbooks said. We knew about how the brain gets stuck in a loop and cannot get out. We knew that trauma triggered these responses, that it was the body’s way of dealing with something the brain could not quite process. We knew all about it. And in our own ways, by nature of the work we did, we had both experienced our own vicarious trauma and the subsequent shock that resulted.
“Do you remember?” She asked again, and I realized I didn’t know what she was asking about, my mind had been back in the rooms, with all the families. “Do you remember what you said?”
She was there. She remembered.
“The moment you first touched him. The moment you first held him in your arms. Do you remember?” Continue Reading…