Damaged: A First Responder’s Experiences Handling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

by James Meuer, NREMTP

“And if I could tell you one thing it would be, you’re not as broken as you think you are. Sure, you have a couple of scars, and a couple bad memories, but then again all great heroes do.”

People have scars in all sorts of unexpected places. Like secret roadmaps of their personal histories, diagrams of all their old wounds. Most of our wounds heal, leaving nothing behind but a scar. But then again some of them don’t. Some wounds we carry with us everywhere and though the cut’s long gone, the pain still lingers.

“PTSD is a physiological response to noticeably abnormal situations. It involves specific chemical changes in the brain that occur in response to experiencing a traumatic event. Many of the PTSD symptoms appear as a direct result of these brain changes. It is a medical disorder that sometimes causes serious disability.” ~Excerpt from the book, Damaged: A First Responder’s Experiences Handling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

James-MeuerI’ve earned a bunch of letters I could put after my name but that doesn’t tell you who I really am. I worked as a Paramedic for 26 years, in those years I also worked as a Firefighter/Paramedic, and I’ve taught Paramedic courses. All but five of those years were spent in big cities where calls were plenty. I retired from the job I loved so dear with C6 and T7 fractures, a couple herniated discs, and PTSD.

“My faith simply wraps itself around everything I write and I consider it my mission to encourage First Responders’ with PTSD.” ~James Meuer

PTSD has been around for decades but its use had been reserved for those in the military. It went by names such as battle fatigue, shell shock, or combat stress. Recently, PTSD is being diagnosed in first responders: Paramedics, Firefighters, and Police Officers; aptly named because they are the first to respond to emergency calls.

One of the biggest challenges in treating a First Responder is getting them to ask for help. The stigma that comes along with seeking help is the fear of being “judged” by our peers and losing our job. There are many options when it comes to choosing the type of care that we receive, and it’s important to know what’s out there and if it can help us personally.

There are lots of organizations to help, the key thing here is you want help and your asking for it, and asking is the hardest part. Don’t give up; you’ll be better in time with the correct help. You’re going to fall down some of the way but in the long term you’ll be stronger than ever. If you fall down on the way pick yourself up and try again. It’s not a race. It’s your pace, you’re in charge.

PTSD is a part of you, but it’s not who you are. It’s how you handle the experience that can lead you down a better road.

I know it sounds easy but trust me it’s not and it’s not something you want to do without good supports in place. In the end, the dreams and memories will never leave, they are burned into the brain and deep into the heart and soul. You have to try and come to terms with this, treat them exactly for what they are; distant memories that can neither hurt nor control you unless you allow it.

During your battle with PTSD, have you had moments when it seems like everything is just impossible? You didn’t know how you would make it another day? But, you did, right? Tomorrow came and you conquered yet another small victory.

“I step timidly into sleep, drifting slowly, surveying my surroundings. Then gently and ever so purposely I pick up speed as I lay my head back to relax, gliding without even a whisper of sound. Where I will go tonight is beyond my academic thought yet buried deep within my psyche. Only I am able to travel this way and only I can return. Many are there to meet me without an invitation but never do they come back. Others will meet me in the day. I travel but a short while before stopping. A foul stench has crept beneath the threshold to cause a stir. Everything I treasure feels threatened as the flow of sleep changes. I am frightened beyond words. There is a flood of urgency as they come at me. I want to be absent from this prison I have fashioned for myself. Will this nightmare of a carousel ever stop? It must. Its end may be the end of my sanity. I have let everything cease.

“I have lost all motivation to function normally. To see my children’s faces saddens me as I pretend or fain happiness when only sadness and despair encompasses me. My direction is hindered and of no consequence. Minutes and hours have melted together making days long and the nights even longer. Time has become a weapon, wielding pain with every tick of the clock. I feel each minute. Every night I hear the same fan with its dulling spin. The crickets no longer sing a lullaby but squeak a piercing ditty like a scratched record. The sun goes down without notice and I no longer greet it when it rises. I hide myself from the world.

“It is during these times that I am extremely aware of every synapse in my brain firing. My ability to cope within the realm of normalcy is the only sense dulled. I feel pain to the second power and anger to the ninth power. Every word spoken to me is sharp and I retreat. My emotions lie on the tips of my arm hair. Each movement is a potential explosion of tears or fury. Even laughter is costly. I loathe myself as I realize the damage left in my wake and the atonement I must beg for.

“Finally an answer giving validity to my anguish, but even as I have an answer I feel the pull, the pull to swing to the irritation and lack of patience. My mind is plagued by more though. I feel as if I am being followed by doom. All of which makes no sense but I find it increasingly difficult to laugh or even smile. It occurs to me that in history, before it was understood, this has happened to many people. Vacant of answers they might have thought of themselves as crazy or found themselves committed by family because of this lack of understanding. Possibly they were given sedatives or restrained to a bed perhaps some even dying with others thinking they were possessed.”

About the Author: James Meuer is an EMT-P (CA.), Licensed Paramedic (TX), NREMTP, Firefighter, Instructor in all thingsDamaged bookcover Paramedic, and a past member of IAFF Local 522. After his sixteen-year career in California, he moved to Texas and continued working as a Paramedic. He also served as a Paramedic in Riyahd, Saudi Arabia. He returned to continue his career in Texas. Shortly thereafter, the spinal fractures he suffered years earlier took its toll, and also being diagnosed with PTSD, he reluctantly retired. James can be contacted at damagedthebook@outlook.com.

His book, Damaged: A First Responder’s Experiences Handling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is now available. It is the true story of one man’s journey as a first responder suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. He takes you through real emergency calls; some are graphic and have scarred his heart forever and so has PTSD. He was a hero in the eyes of most, and yet PTSD tried to take that away from him. He’s haunted by what he has seen and by the dreams that follow. The dreams are wicked and prevent him from sleep. Daytime does not ward off the attacks; even small things like a door slam send him into hyper-vigilance. He will lose everything before he will find his way. [Book Review]