Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Trauma of Hurricane Sandy ...

May there be peace in the midst of the storm
and hope in all the days that follow. 

I've just been watching some of the coverage of the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy, both in the United States and in Canada, and my heart goes out to everyone affected. I think, particularly, of the first responders and of all those whose work will take them out into the elements and into the path of danger in the days and weeks ahead - also, of all the family caregivers who already experience trauma and loss in their everyday existence and who must now cope an additional layer of traumatic stress. And, of course, there are those who have lost loved ones and homes. And those living with terrible uncertainty regarding loved ones' whereabouts and safety.

We all experience some traumatic events in life but there are ways to keep longterm trauma effects from developing. You can help. I'd like to share with you (with permission) the first two stages of the trauma first aid steps developed by trauma expert, Peter Levine:

First Aid for Adults:
Stage 1:  Immediate Action (At the Scene of the Traumatic Event) 
1.  If life-saving medical procedures are required, that must take precedence.
2.  Encourage a sense of safety. Keep the person warm, lying down, and still, unless they face further danger by remaining where they are. Don't let them jump up and move around, which they might be tempted to do. The feeling of having to do something, to act in some way, can override the essential need for stillness in order to discharge unused fight or flight energy. They may want to deny the magnitude of the traumatic event and might act like they are fine.
3.  Stay with the traumatized person. Assure them that you will stay with them or that help is on the way. When help does arrive, continue to stay with the traumatized person if possible.
4.  Encourage the person to fully experience their bodily sensations. These may include adrenaline rush, numbness, shaking and trembling, feeling hot or chilled. 
5.  Stay fully present. What you do and say can help the person discharge the trauma energy. Let them know it is not only okay that they shake, but it is good, and will help them release the shock. They will get a sense of relief after the shaking is completed and may feel warmth in their hands and feet. Their breathing should be fuller and easier. This initial stage could easily take 15 - 20 minutes.
6.  Don't go it alone.  Get someone to help you process the event afterwards.

Stage 2:  Once the Person is Moved Home, to the Hospital or to a Shelter
1.  Allow time for processing.  Continue to keep the traumatized person quiet and resting until they are out of the acute shock reaction. Traumatized people should always take a day or two off work to allow themselves to reintegrate. This is important even if they perceive that the trauma doesn't justify staying home. This resistance can be a common denial mechanism and defense from feelings of helplessness. A day or two of rest is good insurance.
2.  Allow the emotions to be felt without judgement. The trauma survivor is likely to begin experiencing a variety of emotions, such as anger, fear, guilt, enxiety. There might also be bodily sensations, such as shaking, chills, etc. This is still fine.

For information on the third stage of Trauma First Aid and for more information about healing single event trauma, I would recommend Peter Levine's, Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body.


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