Tag Archives: emergency services

Repeat. Mantras and madness. Post traumatic stress. Repeat. Tap. Tap. Tap.

(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

Last Thursday, I wrote a blog about attending a Symposium at Lincoln University.

This Monday, I wrote a blog about being in a mental asylum when I was 18 after attempting suicide.

I only realised today that there is a link between the two, though tenuous.

One of the participants at the Symposium – a retired senior fire officer – said that, at one point in his life, he kept having a recurring image (spot the tautology) popping into his mind of a young girl with a hideously burnt face and body sitting in the back seat of his car when he looked into his rear view mirror

Eventually, he was able to find someone who could get the frightening image out of his mind. All that someone did was to tap their finger rhythmically on the senior fire officer’s hand.

It took three sessions, but it worked.

No idea why it worked.

Perhaps it was something to do with the rhythm of the distraction bringing the brain back to reality.

But, afterwards, he no longer saw in his mind the image of a young girl with a hideously burnt face and body in his rear view mirror.

The image he saw in his mind was eventually identified as the view he had had of a girl through the windscreen of the car she had been sitting in when it collided with another car, trapping her feet.  The car burst into flames and she burnt to death, while fully conscious. The senior fire officer had been in charge of the team that recovered her body, which involved him putting his face next to hers.

The repeated tapping on his hand somehow removed the repeated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder image from his brain.

I asked if the speed of the rhythm of the taps altered or if they were always at the same speed, because I thought maybe there was some connection with the fact that people can have epileptic fits when they see tsunamis of flash photography. I read once about people having epileptic fits when driving along a particular road in France.

It was one of those long, straight, flat roads with tall trees planted on each side at regular intervals. When there was bright sunlight shining through the trees at one side and a car drove at a particular speed, the trees caused the human eye to see flashes of sunlight at a rhythm which, I think, coincided with the brain waves of drivers prone to epilepsy and they had a fit. The solution was to replant the trees at irregular intervals.

I wondered if tapping at a particular speed was somehow replicating the speed of some brain waves.

I showed a rough version of the blog you are now reading to the retired senior fire officer this morning. He warned me:

“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is somewhat different to the epileptic fit process you describe and it does not help those who suffer to confuse the two.

“In my case, I blame thirty plus years of emergency service work in both the Police and Fire Services.  Whilst a single traumatic (traumatic in the eye of the beholder, but not necessarily in the eye of someone else) event can have long lasting impact, the impact of multiple traumatic events over a period of years, (say daily or more frequently for thirty years) is more likely to cause problems for that viewer, unless they are emotionless.

“The impact of long term exposure to horror or stress has been described to me as being like placing books of problems on a shelf. At some point there will be too many books on the shelf for the screws holding it up, they will loosen and the shelf collapses. The shelf and books have to be re-hung and re-ordered. That’s what the tapping does. It re-tightens the screws and re-orders the books in the right place.

“My burnt girl vision came about some years after the event when my then employers sought to train me and five other officers in how to deal with traumatised fire fighters. To do this, they used a number of actors to play the roles of the said fire fighters and explain to us their feelings after a particular set of scenarios including a person being burnt alive. We had to recognise and treat their suffering. Four or five of the six of us receiving this training then experienced our own Post Traumatic Stress Disorder  symptoms, which had to be treated. The training method was then abandoned.”

It would be interesting to know why the repeated tapping cured his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder visions of the young girl with a hideously burnt face.

I have never tried chanting mantras morning and night – as someone I met the other week does. My sense of the ridiculous holds me back. But I think I read somewhere that it does not matter what you chant – you could chant over and over again Om mani padme hum – or Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare – or Scrambled eggs, see me eating, thirty scrambled eggs to the tune of The Beatles’ Yesterday – and the effect would be the same.

I remember lying in a bed in King George’s Hospital in Ilford after I had tried to commit suicide and I realised, without consciously having started to do it, that my forefinger was tapping rhythmically on the mattress under the pillow loud enough for me to hear it through the pillow though not loud enough for anyone else to hear it. For some reason, this helped clear my mind of thoughts, perhaps like some sort of repeated mantra.

It is the repetition not the content which is important.

The human brain must be an interesting thing.

I wish I knew something about it.

Perhaps those episodes of Doctor Who which had The Master going on and on and on about hearing a tap-tap-tapping in his head had some reflection in reality.

I must watch the repeats.

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Filed under Mental health, Psychology, Religion

A road accident in Greenwich

Last night at around ten o’clock, I collected a friend from Greenwich. I parked in a small street behind and just a few yards away from the Up The Creek comedy club.

As I waited for my friend in the car, I could see, across some waste ground and half-hidden by a tree, an ambulance parked by the pavement in Creek Road, which runs parallel to the road where I was parked. The ambulance was facing the wrong way and a couple of paramedics were kneeling down at the pavement behind the ambulance, apparently tending to someone. I could see no other vehicles and no police car, so I figured someone had fallen down or had a heart attack.

So it goes.

A few passers-by looked down at what was happening as they passed.

By the time my friend came out and joined me in my car, the paramedics had got up and were clearing things from the pavement. It looked like a pillow and medical equipment and suchlike.

I had to drive out of our road and turn back on ourselves into Creek Road, heading for the middle of Greenwich and the Blackwall Tunnel under the River Thames.

As I started to drive forward, we could see that, previously hidden by a building, across the waste ground, in front of the ambulance in Creek Road was another ambulance and a car facing the wrong direction and a police car. Behind the second ambulance, there was a stretcher raised on wheels with more paramedics standing round it.

After we did our 180 degree turn into Creek Road, we passed the first ambulance.

Before we got to it, we saw an abandoned motorbike lying on its side, on the pavement, halfway into a bus shelter. There was a dark pool of petrol coming out of it, as if the motorbike was bleeding.

So it goes.

We drove past the first ambulance, drove past the second ambulance, drove past the paramedics, past the closed Up the Creek comedy club (it was a Tuesday) and, as we turned left into the one-way system in the middle of Greenwich, I looked right and saw a lone policemen standing in the middle of the street stopping traffic turning into Creek Road. The traffic was queued-up, the drivers probably pissed-off. By the time they turned into Creek Road, the ambulances and police car would be gone and there would be nothing to see.

“I wonder when it happened,” my friend asked me. “I wonder what we were doing.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “It’s not relevant to our lives.”

About ten minutes later, as we drove up onto the flyover leading to the Blackwall Tunnel under the River Thames, a police car came racing through the roundabout, its siren blaring, its blue lights flashing, heading towards Greenwich.

So it goes.

By the weekend, I will have forgotten any of this ever happened.

It is not relevant to my life.

A butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and is soon forgotten.

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Filed under Philosophy