The Evil Hours

My new job means a 30 minute commute (if I’m lucky) each way. That’s long enough to give me some NPR time, and the ride home coincides with Fresh Air, one of my faves. Today, as I was hauling myself into the District for an appointment, I was able to listen to a really fascinating interview.

The subject of the interview is a journalist (David Morris), who was embedded with troops in Iraq at the height of the surge. His experiences left him with PTSD, which became the focus of his subsequent work. I was struck by how Dave Davies described Morris’ approach to PTSD: “you bring a literary perspective to the subject, as well as, you know, a review of scientific understanding and personal experience”– a somewhat different perspective than what we often encounter with our patients, and listening to the interview, Davies is absolutely correct. But what stayed with me long after I got out of my car, was the reading Morris did from his book, which focuses on the nature of trauma:

We are born in debt, owing the world a death. This is the shadow that darkens every cradle. Trauma is what happens when you catch a surprise glimpse of that darkness, the coming annihilation not only of the body and the mind, but also, seemingly, of the world. Trauma is the savagery of the universe made manifest within us, and it destroys not only the integrity of consciousness, the myth of self-mastery and the experience of time, but also our ability to live peacefully with others, almost as if it were a virus, a pathogen content to do nothing besides replicate itself in the world over and over until only it remains. Trauma is the glimpse of truth that tells us a lie, the lie that love is impossible, that peace is an illusion. Therapy and medication can ease the pain, but neither can suck the venom from the blood, make the survivor un-see the darkness and un-know the secret that lays beneath the surface of life. Despite the quixotic claims of modern neuroscience, there is no cure for trauma. Once it enters the body, it stays there forever, initiating a complex chemical chain of events that not only changes the physiology of the victims, but also the physiology of their offspring. One cannot, as war correspondent Michael Herr testifies in dispatches, simply, quote, “run the film backwards out of consciousness,” unquote. Trauma is our special legacy as sentient beings, creatures burdened with the knowledge of our own impermanence, and our symbolic experience with it, is one of the things that separates us from the animal kingdom. As long as we exist, the universe will be scheming to wipe us out. The best we can do is work to contain the pain. Draw a line around it. Name it. Domesticate it, and try to transform what lays on the other side of that line into a kind of knowledge, a knowledge of the mechanics of loss that might be put to use for future generations.

Gorgeous, elegant–and worth your time.

2 replies on “The Evil Hours”

I am struck by how perfectly written this is when I consider my conversations with nurses, and others, about the real impact of “vicarious” trauma. The real impact trauma has on our lives, the lives of our significant others, our children, our patients, our spirituality, our physical and emotional beings. I have always found it challenging to put into words how the work changes you, and it occurs to me as I read this that the real challenge is to remain truthful about it even as you know this may cause people to avoid this work altogether. Great thanks and appreciation to all who continue to purposefully seek this work in order to lessen the impact for survivors.

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