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Bruised but not broken: Intentionally facing PTSD

After trauma images trigger nightmares, a paramedic decides to face his PTSD head on by resisting isolation


Photo/Code Green Campaign

This story is reprinted with permission from The Code Green Campaign. Code Green accepts stories from EMS providers, firefighters, dispatch personnel and law enforcement officers who have experienced stress, trauma or mental health issues. Submit your story today so that other first responders can see they are not alone.

Four days ago, I was looking through Twitter when I couldn’t sleep. This is a pretty common thing for me to do, and then I’ll switch to listening to podcasts. At least 70% of my Twitter feed is medical, and I usually find an interesting thread, or something funny. Because let’s be honest, we medical folk are pretty damn funny.

That night though, I came across something that usually would give me no problem. It was a tweet about airway management, which is always a fun topic. I couldn’t quite read the slide though, so I enlarged the picture. The pictures were of patients with various degrees of facial or neck trauma.

As soon as I saw the two pictures on the left of the slide with the two patients with massive facial trauma, I felt the hair stand up on my arms, felt my breath catch in my throat, and my heart start to race. I think that if I had been more prepared, I wouldn’t have an issue with this. But that night, it caught me off guard.

I knew immediately that I would be having nightmares that night, and probably for the next few nights to come. Maybe some olfactory or auditory intrusive memories, too. You see, the call that affected me the most psychologically in my career involved this kind of facial trauma. I’ll write about it eventually, but not tonight. Suffice to say, this was enough to push hard on that part of my brain to release all those same catecholamines and stress hormones, even though I knew I was safe at home in bed, with the dog sleeping, and house safe.

I wanted to share this tonight, because this afternoon, I took a nap and for the first time, had no nightmares. It took a solid four nights of knowing that each time I fell asleep, I’d be feeling something like “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Each time I’d lay down in bed, I would dread the inevitable time my eyes would close and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. I also knew well all the reasons this would happen.

I understand (to a decent degree) the reason my brain reacts like this. I know that it’s a limited process that I have no choice but to go through, and I know that when I do experience these moments that I will survive them. But there’s one thing that I also know that trumps all of these ... I still have to go through the darkness. Once this process starts, once the first domino falls, there is nothing I can do to stop it.

So instead, I choose to face it head-on. I will let friends know and be intentional about not isolating myself. I will exercise and eat well. I will remember the good things in life, and feed my heart with music and good books and people. And I won’t give up because I also know that I am not broken, even though I am bruised. Originally published at

– Story written by Tim, paramedic for a long time

The Code Green Campaign calls a ‘code alert’ on the mental health of EMTs and paramedics by breaking the silence about mental illness in EMS by sharing the stories of those who have been there. The Code Green Campaign has selected this story and we are glad to share it with EMS1 readers. Learn more about the Code Green Campaign.