A tornado in my head

“They didn’t even have nappies at the maternity ward,” she tells me
“I had to get my sister out of there: that hospital was a health risk.”

With our feet on the edge of a South-African fireplace, we are having a glass of wine. She is a beautiful woman from Lesotho who has made an impressive journey in life, now finishing her PhD while being an accomplished facilitator.

Twenty minutes ago, she asked me what I exactly try to find out with my research. So I told her about our projects on how parents support their children after a serious injury. About our research on care for children who lost a parent due to fatal domestic violence. And about our recent survey on emergency staff’s education needs regarding child traumatic stress.

She listened with interest, and then she started talking. About her experiences with hospitals in South Africa. Continue reading

Refugees in Europe: A crisis?

Fresh Eyes on the Refugee Crisis - image by Tom Turley

Over 1 million people arrived in Europe by sea in 2015. And since the conflict in Syria continues, this influx will not halt.

It is the biggest refugee crisis since World War II according to the UNHCR. The journey by sea is dangerous, the circumstances in refugee camps and asylum seeker centers are far from ideal – to say the least – and tensions between host countries make it difficult to find constructive solutions.

With such big numbers and their political, social and logistical complexities, it’s easy to feel powerless as an individual.

Still, there are opportunities. As Margaret Mead has famously been quoted:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Continue reading

Getting rid of the Ghost People

child soldierPatrick became a child soldier at the age of 13. He was abducted by Ugandan rebels, who kept him for 3 years.

Schultz and Weisaeth (2015) describe Patrick’s story, his mental health problems, and his treatment, a local cleansing ritual. They conclude that the ritual is safe, effective, and perhaps even more powerful than Western-style therapy. That sounds fascinating and important, right?

In interviews Patrick told about his experiences, including an attack on a convoy:

“Everybody was screaming…The road was all red from the blood… My body was shaking, but I managed to appear calm. If not they would have killed me. The next day I experienced the Ghost People for the first time. I could see them get chopped up and sliced apart with axes. I saw the same scenes over and over again.”

The Ghost People only showed up when Patrick was alone, and scared him enormously. He also suffered from concentration problems and sleeping difficulties. He was clinically depressed and had moderate to severe PTSD.

When his nightmares were occurring twice a week and he saw the Ghost People every day – about 8 years after the convoy attack –, he stated that his life was ruined. He wanted to do a cleansing ritual. Continue reading

Children in the Emergency Department

Children Emergency DepartmentJonas was a master tree climber.

Until today.

Now his left leg has a strange angle, and he has been knocked out by the fall.

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Every year, millions of injured children require treatment at a hospital Emergency Department. Approximately 1 in 6 of them develop persistent stress symptoms, such as nightmares, concentration difficulties and negative thoughts.

Emergency Department doctors and nurses provide physical care but they can also support children’s emotional wellbeing. How well are they equipped to do so? Continue reading

One family in Gaza

Images and voices say a lot more than the written word, especially when it comes to trauma. One of the most impressive, touching videos that I have seen on trauma is this one:

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A few months after the 2008/9 Israeli attack that killed over 1000 Palestinian people, filmmaker Jen Marlowe visited Gaza. Among the many families she met and the stories she heard, one family stood out. In the video she shows the story of Kamal and Wafaa Awajah and their children. As Marlowe writes:

Wafaa described the execution of their son, Ibrahim. As she spoke, her children played on the rubble of their destroyed home. Kamal talked about struggling to help his kids heal from trauma.

Palestinians in Gaza are depicted either as violent terrorists or as helpless victims. The Awajah family challenges both portrayals. Through one family’s story, the larger tragedy of Gaza is exposed, and the courage and resilience of its people shines through.

Take your time to watch, it is a powerful reminder of why we work in the trauma field.