By Deborah Yohn
Registered Nurse, UMMC’s Shock Trauma Center
I will never forget the day I received the call. The person on the other end of the line said, “I am calling with an alert call. I need you to get your husband and let him know there is a possibility he will be going to Iraq. He needs to give me a call for orders and the location of where to report.” From that moment on, my family’s life was turned upside down as we tried to get our affairs in order for a long separation.
My husband’s unit returned one year later to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The days and nights of wondering if we would ever see him once again were at an end, but the difficult journey for my family wasn’t over. Although we survived what was thought to be the most difficult part of the deployment, we soon came to understand that things can be even more difficult once our soldier returned home. Evidence of the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) my husband was struggling with soon began to show.
PTSD Became a “Four-Letter Bad Word”
For my family, PTSD became a “four-letter bad word.” My son Isaac (pictured above with his mom), who was under 10 years old at the time, had no idea what PTSD was, but he knew that it was difficult, bad and scary. It was because of the support I received from fellow nurses at the University of Maryland Medical Center that I was able to get the assistance I needed to begin the process of learning and healing.
My husband’s physical injury was easy to define and treat. The prognosis was clear, and there were no unpredictable factors in his care. He had surgery at UMMC, and though his recovery and physical therapy were difficult, it was expected. Recovering from PTSD, however, proved to be the exact opposite. This disorder had become something that held my husband hostage, and was destroying my family. At first, I thought things would just work out by themselves. After all, no one talked about PTSD, so it couldn’t be that difficult to recover from, right?
It was difficult trying to hold all the pieces together and keep things at home “normal, quiet and predictable.” Actually, it was impossible. Children are not quiet, nor are they predictable, so PTSD became my new best friend. I also learned about another condition known as “Secondary PTSD.” The effects of my husband’s PTSD trickled down to the whole family, making life very difficult, stressful and, at times, even made us feel hopeless.
Journal of Healing Turns into Book to Help Others
In my search for a book to explain what was happening in our family to my son, I found nothing that was helpful. We all started working with a therapist who suggested I write a journal with my son, so each night my son and I would snuggle up and take about ten minutes to write about PTSD. It became our quiet time together, and a time of healing. Together, we wrote a story about our journey.
When my son was finished with our little project, the therapist wanted to read the book. At the time, I was not at all happy with the thought of sharing something so personal. I had struggled with the title my son gave the book, Never Lose Your Hope. In all my years as a nurse, wife and mother of three, hope was always alive. The glass was always half-full, so to speak, and I could smile through just about anything. I had no idea that my son had begun to lose hope that things would ever be normal again. I was aware of the changes in myself and in the family, but thought I hid them well. I had no clue that my hope of recovering from this seemed to have disappeared and my son had noticed.
After giving the book to the therapist, she suggested that we publish it because she felt it was a resource that could help many other children and families dealing with the same situation. Our story is a story about PTSD as told through the eyes of a child. This little book is our attempt to normalize PTSD and provide a tool for other children who have a family member who has returned home after serving his or her country different than when he or she left. It is a quick read — only 40 pages — but there are no pictures because my son thought pictures would make the book pretty, and to him, there is nothing pretty about PTSD.