A friend of mine, Kerrilynne McFadden, is publishing a book on PTSD and has asked me to write about some of the causes of my PTSD. I am a former Deputy Sheriff with over 13 years working the streets as a Patrol Officer.
I’m sure that if you walked up to any Police Officer today and asked him what he has seen in the forms of violence, he’ll say, “I’ve seen just about all of it”. I know that’s what I would tell you if you asked me. I worked in a County that had an Indian Reservation on it, and I was commissioned to not only enforce the law off the Reservation, but on it as well. Because of the rural areas that I patrolled, I’ve seen probably over 200 + accidents in those years of wearing a badge. Probably over half of them dealt with drunk or intoxicated drivers, and I would say that half of them were fatalities.
The one accident that I remember most is a van full of people that had been out partying all night. Somehow either because of the alcohol the driver had consumed, or possibly because of falling asleep, he failed to negotiate a sharp corner and lost control of the van, rolling it over several times. Now trust me, this was back more than a few years because then it wasn’t mandatory to wear seatbelts.
Try to imagine after being dispatched to a one-vehicle, possible fatality accident, and seeing not one body, but several bodies all over the road. I was the first officer on the scene and immediately started yelling in my radio for more assistance and all the ambulances that were available. I ran to 4 different bodies before the 2nd unit arrived. I heard a woman moaning and crying and ran to the opposite side of the van, which was on its top. There sat a woman in her late 20’s, holding a baby in her arms. As I started to check on her, I instantly noticed a huge gaping hole in her right shoulder, a hole that I could almost put my fist into. I tried talking to this lady but she was in shock and would only rock back and forth, holding onto her child. I asked her if I could check the child, a small infant girl about 8 months old. Upon doing a brief examination, I could see that the child was deceased, and that she had apparently been thrown out a window as the van rolled over and over again.
I worked with the responding units until all 6 people were loaded up and taken to local hospitals. Along with the little infant girl, four adults had also perished.
Once things calmed down and I started doing my investigation of the accident, I found that I couldn’t stand up any longer. My legs refused to stop shaking, and my hands were shaking so bad I couldn’t even write my name on the report. It was then that I saw that my hands were covered in blood, as was the front of my uniform shirt and pants. I tried to suck it up as we say, but couldn’t. The tears started running down my face and I couldn’t catch my breath for several minutes. Another Officer came over and put his arm around me and said, “Come on my friend, we’ve seen worse”. We had, and I would again, over and over again.
I left Law Enforcement due to a burn-out, I couldn’t deal with things anymore. I was a pressure cooker looking for a place to explode, and I had the sense to realize that I was a threat to myself as well as those that I had sworn to protect. So, I did the only thing I could do, I quit. But quitting didn’t take the pain away, it didn’t close the chapter on nightmares, it didn’t help me dealing with the demons that were running around inside my head. That was just the beginning of another chapter.
PTSD, it affects us all differently. For me it turned off my sentiments, it made me stop caring for myself and for those that I loved; it caused me heartaches and pain that can never be totally removed. I suffer still today, 30 years after hanging up my uniform. PTSD, it’s more than just a disease, it takes your life from you. It starts inside your mind and spreads throughout your entire body. It takes away your ability to live a happy and peaceful life. It’s more than just a disease!