Into the Abyss

Disclaimer-The following will not be pleasant, it will bring no smiles or fits of glee. But it is honest and to the best of my ability to communicate. If you have a weak constitution, I urge you to keep in mind, this will be dark. We’re going well beyond the locker room here.

I joined the Navy when I was 20. The first 7-8 years I was in I worked primarily in trauma management. During that time I witnessed a high volume of death and human dismemberment. From the first time I ran a call, the bug bit me. I was a certified trauma junkie. There’s a very real high some people get from EMS and Emergency Med.

And I was DAMN GOOD at what I did.

Unfortunately, you can only do this type of work for so long before it takes its toll on you. Don’t get me wrong, for every death I witnessed, there was a life I saved. I’m not here to tell tales of my heroics or that beg your pity for what I’ve experienced. It was simply part of my journey. I’m neither ashamed nor beaming with pride from my past. It is what it is. During that time I was a certified: CPR, PHTLS, ATLS, and EMT instructor.

I have seen the blackest depths of the human psyche. I was watched a 7 year old girl torn in half breathe her last breath as she looked into my eyes in complete and pure terror, then watch the blank-stare of death wash over her like she slipped into a warm bath. I have seen things that I can NEVER unsee. Things the human animal wasn’t meant to grow accustomed to.

I know death. I’ve seen her first hand, fought against her. Won, and lost. In the end she ALWAYS wins. There’s no cheating her, no bargaining, when she comes and it’s your time- I’m powerless against her. Much of my being a practicing Catholic, along with my Cajun/Mexican background plays heavily into my Faith and ability to cope with what I’ve seen. A few highlights…..sure.

· The Marine Capt (O-3) that put a .380 under his chin and pulled the trigger after a fight with his wife. He was alive on scene and we prepped him for a helo flight to a level 5 trauma center.
· The drunk man that stumbled into an industrial fan and suffered 3 deep lacerations to his face and scalp.
· The young lady that hydroplaned and ran headfirst into a tree without a seat belt. The front of her skull was crushed and sat as a loose flap of skin hanging down to her mouth. The inside of the car looked like the scene in pulp fiction when Jules shot that kid in the face. There was brain all over the inside of the vehicle.
· The 2 week old baby that had an allergic reaction to formula and quit breathing for about 3-4 minutes. This is CRITICAL dyspnea for an infant. There was a very possibility that child could have died (I kept him alive), and the ensuing 20 minutes were the most harrowing I ever experienced.
· The motorcycle rider who got clipped by a car he was trying to pass and went head-first into a guard rail. I sat on his chest in the ambulance doing chest compressions while my partner attempted to intubate. Blood poured from his mouth, ears and nostrils with each compression. He was alive when we arrived at the hospital, but died shortly after. Me and the girl working on him sat in utter silence cleaning the back of the ambulance of all the blood until one of the ER nurses pulled us out and drug us to Mental Health for a CISD (critical incident stress debrief).

I could go on, but I assume you get the point, the examples above are but the tip of the iceberg of a long list of death and pain. I grew numb to it. I’m so emotionally detached from human death now that I’m amazed I’m as functional as I am. Despite everything I’ve endured I feel blessed. Some things I’ve learned from my journey are humility, strength, thankfulness, and forgiveness. I more than anyone know that everything you have, everything you love, everything you hold dear, can be ripped from you in the blink of an eye.

This journey has sort of left me with an odd “foot in the door” understanding of death and has made keener my Curandero side. I’ve spoken to a dying relative moments before she succumbed to breast cancer. She knew I knew exactly where she was, and I was the only person to talk with her in reference to her final moments. She looked right through me and said, “Danny, I’m so tired.” I simply nodded and told her it was ok for her let go. She was survived by my uncle and their 4 children.

The worst came when I was living in Sicily. I was a cocky little 24 year old bastard loving life in Europe. I had a local girlfriend I was crazy about and I was in the final year of a 3 year tour. I was in love. I was an alcoholic, I had constant nightmares, I was always on edge, and I jumped out of my skin if you startled me. I posted some time ago about how I had a bad day at the office (involving the baby I mentioned above) and when I got home I looked like hell. The gf took care of me and it was obvious I wasn’t well. When I told her what happened later that night after she sang me to sleep, she sobbed and she was upset I didn’t tell her sooner. God bless her.

This isn’t something I can just talk about in casual conversation. I can blog about it because by and large I blog about me in general, and as I’ve said before….I have no secrets. The way I see it, most people have no idea what it’s like to live with PTSD. DogSquat knows, why do you think he and I get along so well? It’s just not appropriate for me to just drop into a casual conversation, “Yeah, so I was in Target and out of nowhere I just froze. I walked back to my car quickly and I just started sobbing.” or “I was watching TV last night and I just zoned out. Then I saw all these faces in my head. People that I’d seen die, car accidents, screaming.” Most of the time I cope with it pretty well. Sometime I don’t, I just have to deal with it. Often, I’ll think back to Camus’ essay on The Myth of Sisyphus .

on bad days- THIS is where my head is at.

But I’m lucky. I’m blessed. I consider my affliction minor. I’m not in danger of suicide; I’m not lashing out at every Tom, Dick and Hank. For the most part, I know what triggers me, what calms me, and I all I can do is avoid the triggers. Having Brody is a big help. My family is also very supportive. Even before all this I was always a bit of a loner. So it’s not that I avoid social situations now, it’s just that I prefer solitude. As any of you reading the blog know, I’m actually VERY good in social situations. For every “whoa is me” moment I can just as easily give a tale of laughter and adventure. God gives no man anything he’s incapable of handling, so I keep my faith in that. I’ve experienced what I have for a reason only He knows. And I don’t think it was by chance that I fell into the HM rating. I tend to avoid Religious talk here. I keep those thoughts to myself. But ask any man who’s been in combat, under fire….any man who’s seen death and fought against it if they have a religious side, most will give a resounding ”yes”. I’ve never felt compelled to discuss theological texts, and I could care less if you can quote the bible. I choose to live as best as I can, and treat my fellow man with decency, respect, and kindness. For when you stare into the black too long, sometimes it stares back, and answers. So I try and remain humble.

This post will solve nothing- I seek no pity, words of encouragement and support, or a bag of M&M’s. This is my own battle, and I never quit. It’s just that some days are better than others. It’s always interesting talking to a new prospective gf about this and telling her, “Yeah, so I might like wake up suddenly breathing heavily and looking confused. Don’t be alarmed, it just kinda happens sometimes.” Matter of fact, most of the guys I work with are Iraq and Afghanistan Vets. They have it. All of us have a cool, laid back demeanor and a natural aloofness. After everything I’ve been through I kind of walk through life with the volume turned WAAAAAAY down.

So when I hear of a man being afraid to say hello to a woman, I just don’t get it; I can’t relate. For I have learned to take solace in the simple things: a cold beer, playing with Brody, a good book, time with my family whom I love more that I can ever put into words, food on my table, a roof over my head. I personally believe every man has his own battle(s), and I’ve been fighting since I was a kid. Yet, I’m still here. I’m not a woman, so I feel bemoaning how I was dealt a shitty hand is a cop out. As I started that last sentence I felt the tears coming, which I was able to beat back. And they weren’t tears of sadness, but of joy. Because I was just reminded just how truly fortunate I am. I do grow weary at times, but I keep getting up. I’ll never claim to be perfect….

I’m just a bit- bruised. But that’s ok, chicks dig scars. Lol.

I hope everyone has a great Fourth of July. My best friend passed away July 4th around 15 years ago. I know- I’m just full of sunshine and shit tonight huh.

Stay up.

20 Comments on “Into the Abyss”

  1. Esquire says:

    You say you’re not after your readers’ support, but you have mine anyway. Well written post, pretty dark and I hope I never have to deal with some of the shit you’ve seen in your life.

    Good luck player

    • dannyfrom504 says:

      I think what I was reaching for was I don’t want to use my condition as a crutch. There are guys WAAAY worse off than I am.

      But thanks Brother

      Sent from my iPhone

      • Esquire says:

        Doesn’t come across like that, and in your other writing PTSD doesn’t seem to be a centre point of your outlook on life. I have an uncle who’s disabled from an accident when he was a teenager and if you met him say at a dinner party where he was sat down you would never know from his demeanour that anything bad had ever happened to him or that he can’t walk, just mentally a strong dude. And mostly, I get the same vibe here

  2. susanawalsh says:

    What a powerful post. Your ability to stay up and stay positive is a real achievement. Most of us will never be forced to witness even a bit of what you’ve seen.

    • dannyfrom504 says:

      Tia- The post is about me, but I really want to point out: most vet’s have it worse than I do. I’m just thankful I’m as socially functional as I am.

      I can hold down a job, I can laugh, I can keep the beast at bay.

      Many can’t, and I counsel them and hear their stories, and listen, and attempt to understand their pain.

      We all share one common trait: isolation. We all deeply desire to just be left alone.

      This post, on the 4th, is a tribute to them, and my explanation as to the experience of dealing with it.

      Sent from my iPhone

  3. Senior Beta says:

    Some heavy shit HM1. My only suggestion: think of the ones you saved. That counts for a lot more than most of humanity can take credit for.

    • Dannyfrom504 says:

      Oh I do.

      But the ones I’ve saved never bring back the ones I lost. My job is to keep people alive, so when I fail…..

      It’s crushingly painful.

      But after doing this for so long, you grow numb to the loss; otherwise you crack.

  4. deti says:

    Best danny504 post EVAH.

  5. Morpheus II says:

    Respect, man. Respect.

  6. MadMav says:

    As a Rad Tech in the USAF, saw lots of MVA traumas and the occasional pilot who would cartwheel their A-10 into dirt. Lots of dismemberment there. Honestly, the one I remember the most was doing a CXR on a retired fellow who was experiencing chest pain. Chatting it up with him for a10-15 minutes before the admitted him. Really good guy. Less than a Hour later, get a call to do a portable CXR upstairs. Head up, they are doing CPR on the same guy. They never get him back. Kinda hit me hard since I was only 20 at the time.

  7. aneroidocean says:

    Thanks for sharing, Danny. You truly give your readers a gift when you share like that. Probably yourself, too, but I can only guess. Sitting here with a busted ass knee that needs surgery (and no medical insurance), I know that it’s not even close to the struggles that many people go through and that I can get through this and more. Sharing your experiences helps me in that way, so thank you.

    • dannyfrom504 says:

      Well, we all have our struggles. I know what I’ve experienced is pretty harsh to the reads, I’m not missing an arm or leg. And I can still function well.

      So in that sense, I’m very fortunate.

      Sent from my iPhone

  8. […] From 504 – Taking The Plunge, Into The Abyss, True […]

  9. anonymous says:

    I’m an ER doc, sharing a diluted version of your field work. You’ve reminded me to appreciate and watch out for our paramedics.

  10. […] from 504:  Into the Abyss; True Colors; Self Depricating Humor and […]

  11. […] no secret that i’ve seen some pretty morbid shit. i’ve talked about it before. well, what i consider to be an important part of my job is mentoring and counseling the junior […]

  12. […] seen enough death and human dismemberment to know the sickness. i’ve talked about it before and mentioned it here. then i read […]

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