It was a sunny, summer day hanging out at our local beach. Kids playing in the sand and out on the water with the kayak. My husband and I sitting on our beach chairs, sipping on coffee and chatting about life.
I was watching the floating dock, out past the rope for the swimming area, in the deeper water. My old lifeguarding habits kick in and have me scanning the water, taking inventory of the kids and their safety risk. There seemed to be mostly older kids out there, and the younger ones all had some type of flotation device - which was supposed to be reassuring.
After awhile, I notice two heads bobbing up and down. Yup, it was one of the smaller kids who had jumped off the dock and lost his floaty doughnut, and an older boy who was struggling to hold him up. It was too deep for them to touch. Their heads go under and come back up.
I jump up and take off into the water, praying that their heads will be above water by the time I get there. I finally reach them, and grab both of the boys, hauling them to the sand, where their mother is standing, anxiously awaiting them.
Both boys were fine. A little tired. No coughing or gagging or puking. They climbed up the beach with their mom, huddled in their towels.
My daughter was standing there too, when I came out of the water. She looked up at me with wide eyes and said, “Mom, that was so cool! You rescued them!”
Oh boy, I thought, NOT COOL. So not cool.
My heart was pounding, my mind racing with the thoughts of what could’ve been, and the adrenaline was making me a bit nauseous. As “cool” as she thought it was, I just needed the adrenaline to fade before I could feel better.
Who are the Rescuers?
The rescuer is someone who “saves someone from something dangerous or difficult.” There are many ways we are rescuers. Sometimes we rescue from an immediate danger, sometimes it’s standing up to a bully, sometimes it is a professional job we do like firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement; it can be volunteer work, or as a bystander when something happens. In my line of work, it’s those of us working in emergency departments.
It’s often the front-line workers who are there during emergencies, battling against the odds, providing life-saving measures; working quickly, and efficiently. We prepare for these moments, running drills, practicing skills and doing simulations with equipment, to better equip us for the time of need.
Sometimes everything turns out okay. The bleeding head wound isn’t as deep as first thought. The precautionary neck collar is removed once a spinal cord injury is ruled out. We see those who we helped out at the grocery store or running errands, and we feel grateful.
Other times, the rescuer sees the worst of things that happen. The last breath of a victim, the hysterical passengers, the sights and sounds surrounding tragedy. We prepare and train for these moments, but living inside that very moment leaves memories, pain and heartache, deeply impressed upon our own souls.
We can second-guess ourselves, wondering if there was anything else we could have done differently; we wish we could have been there faster, or had some better solution to the problem. We carry the pain of the family members and friends, as we empathize with what they are going through.
These impressions bond to us, they are part of who we are and who we are becoming. The emotions are real. They can be hard to process.
I’m certainly not an expert, but here is some advice, coming out of my own experience, for those of us who endure and witness trauma.
1. Do not be afraid to get help!
Seriously, this is so important! (notice the exclamation points). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a real thing. Flashbacks, nightmares and insomnia are symptoms that disrupt our daily lives. When you can’t function, you’re not in a healthy spot.
Don’t think the first thing professionals to do is give you medications (I feel like that could be a common fear), meds are not the first line of treatment for PTSD. Talking to a professional counsellor trained in treating trauma can help equip you to bring restoration to your life and improvement of the symptoms; but you have to be willing and aware that you need it.
2. If you are part of a team, ensure you have a time to debrief together.
It is so important to face traumatic incidents with proper debriefs after the event happens. A debrief is a simple way to invite everyone involved, into a community of sharing emotions, processing events, and professionally evaluating what worked and didn’t work. It’s a space meant for our own personal growth and also that of the team.
We make an effort to facilitate these at our health centre after every critical incident. It has been helpful and informative to engage with each other, once the crisis has passed, and to reflect on each other's thoughts and opinions.
3. Pay attention to what you are really feeling and thinking inside all the chaos.
I’ve found that I often rehearse things in my head after a critical incident and analyze what I could’ve done different. Some of this is healthy learning, but if it’s interrupting my thoughts and my sleep, my mind is clearly not at peace. If I prayerfully think through what’s actually bothering me, the Spirit often reveals the deeper issue that hides beneath the layers. So I ask myself, ‘what is actually bothering me?’ and ‘why is it bothering me?’ It helps me understand more about myself and the root of the problem, which can bring peace and rest.
Being a rescuer, either inherently at your job, as a parent, or as a bystander, will have an effect on who you are. It’s a privilege to serve people in crisis, to be equipped and ready for those moments.
As we prepare for trauma, we also remember that this world was once a place of beauty and perfection, with God’s presence emanating. The presence of sin in the world, introduces tragedy, chaos, pain and suffering, that become difficult for us to bear. However, we can take heart because The Rescuer has come!
“He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” Colossians 1:13
He has come to bring us abundant, powerful life. He has come to be our burden-bearer. He has come to bring us into reconciliation with Almighty God. He is the healer of our broken hearts.
As we reflect on our own times of trauma, pain and difficulties, the symptoms that have caused us to struggle through our everyday. We steward our health, physically and emotionally, for His glory and for the good of those around us, remembering with confidence the final glory that will be His one day - the very presence of Emmanuel, God with us.
So, continue to pray for our first responders, and for those of us who treat patients, that we would be divinely equipped for the moment of need, for the courage to face the costs, and to view the situation and ourselves through the lens of His grace.
Have you been a rescuer and met a need? How did you respond?
*For more information on PTSD, click here
**To check out a PTSD awareness campaign called 'I've Got Your Back 911' and to check out their cool merchandise, click here