Recognizing The Effects Of Post Traumatic Stress


Many of us have viewed the same photo over and over. The burned out shell of a 777 airliner who apparently made a serious error in judgment crashing its tail into the seawall on final approach into San Francisco just a few days ago. For the families of those that perished, the total fatalities might as well have been a million. Their loved ones are gone. Many others stared at the screen, wondering how on earth did so many individuals get out of the human inferno alive. For those of us who knew people who perished in the 9-11 attack, old wounds were reopened. Not the first time. Unfortunately, probably not the last time.

For those of us who assisted the NYC medical examiner’s office during the terrorist attack, it also brought back haunting memories. The last day before I left Ground Zero, I stopped by the khaki tent with the white cross on its door flap. It was located just outside of the Medical Examiner’s Office at the corner of 30th and 1st. Psychological counselors had been regulars on our team, and this was their headquarters. They knew their services would be needed as many volunteers who worked in the pits sorting out flesh from steel and concrete needed the services of grief counselors. Most professionals working in the morgue were seasoned veterans, hundreds of years of combined experience in forensic identification. But none of us had seen the magnitude of this human carnage.

They told us about a term that I had heard often, but never thought that much about. Post traumatic stress disorder. I had buddies who served in Viet Nam, and had heard of their emotional experiences, some good, but mostly not. The ‘official’ term, however, had not been coined at that time. The debriefing officers in NYC suggested that our families might notice a slight behavorial change in our personalities when we returned home. We might become temporarily forgetful. Perhaps irritable or short with our loved ones. Insomnia. Maybe even dreams that recurred. ‘Just be ready for anything like that out of the ordinary’ was our summary of instructional charges.

After only two weeks home, I had a dream, a dream like I had never had before. One of those that when you wake up, you’re not really sure whether it happened or not. Dreams that were in color. High definition with surround sound. When I woke up, I actually wondered if it had really happened or not. Just another crazy dream, maybe. Maybe not.

Here is the dream.

I was driving north on Briley Parkway in a ’65 red Mustang convertible with red leather seats. The top was white but invisible on a day like today. Sunny and 72. I was heading toward the airport for some reason. As I rounded the corner and headed up the last hill before Briley connects with I-40, my attention was distracted suddenly by a sudden flash of light directly above my open ride. My car swerves to the left as I react to the flash, then I hit the median wall, and overcorrect back across onto the right shoulder. I skidded to a stop.

My eyes squint to recognize the flash which was a white 727 passenger jet in a nose down attitude, it’s tail streaming on fire. Like an elephant falling down a hill in slow motion, the flaming bird disappeared behind the outline of a massive hotel. Two seconds later, the ground shook with the tremor of an earthquake, as the jetliner exploded. Two more explosions occurred as the fireballs rose into the sky like a dragon’s breath. The red letters melt.

I wake up in a cold sweat.

Two weeks later, the exact same dream. Verbatem. Start to finish. Same ending. More sweating.

The dreams have gradually dwindled down over the years. It has been over two years since I’ve had one. Hope I haven’t jinxed myself with that statement!