Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Canadian soldier in firefight-Afghanistan. Photo courtesy YouTube.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an insidious  chronic condition that can affect soldiers, emergency responders, or just about anyone who encounters a traumatic experience. I tasted it after witnessing a man stabbed to death on a sweltering August evening in Toronto in the 1990s. While knowledge about PTSD is gaining, and although help is sometimes available, God help PTSD sufferers whose trauma began before this decade. Soldiers who suffered from it were often told by their commanding officers to “Get the sand out of your vagina, soldier.”  Emergency responders were left to find solace in a bottle of Wild Turkey.

Divorce rates are high among PTSD sufferers. They become different people, often with a dark sense of humour and zero empathy for anyone not near death. Family and friends have a hard time relating to the new personae.  And the sufferer who is drowning his sorrows is oblivious to the fact that there is now a large part of him that is inherently unlovable. As a society, we owe it to these professionals, or to anyone who has suffered trauma, the chance to get their lives back.

When I sat down to write my hard-boiled thriller, Char Broiled, my goal was to create a complex character battling more than external criminals. Interviews with sufferers of chronic pain, coupled with interviews with military veterans and emergency responders--- firefighters, policemen, and paramedics--- added to my own experiences, allowed me to craft Char Sadao, a  man whose service to his country has put him at the end of his rope. The only opportunity left him is to indulge the government, which needs him and his dysfunction to do their dirty work. The character is fictional, but everything about him is true.

The  excerpt below will give a glimpse into the nightmare some  PTSD sufferers live. The hard-boiled school of thriller and detective novels is known for its gritty, unsentimental style. Be advised that the subject matter and language in the excerpt below may shock or offend some people.

The intrusive vision that inhabited my mind after waking was always the same and, frame by frame, as it had been for real: the enrobed Afghan man standing above the dead child, a long, blood-stained falchion in one hand, his erection in the other. This incident had transferred a rage that would never in my life abate. I shot for the face. There was more satisfaction in it and no chance for them. Five lay dead, including the rapist. They had probably all raped the child. When I rose from bed, I witnessed again the scene in a kind of opaqueness that overlaid the supposed real world and could actually feel in my palms the steamy heat of the gun barrel and smell the gun smoke as it wafted in the baked clay room, mingling with the stench of blood and semen.

As usual, I woke too early. On my second to last day of my final tour, I had rolled in an armored vehicle and suffered third degree burns over 40 percent of my body below the neck. The pain in the skin on my chest and back had become intolerable, like salt and sandpaper in an open wound. I had suffered two years of it, the option of suicide my only companion, till I met Doctor Sylvain.

I found the remote and activated the spinal implant, a neurotransmitter. Slight vibrations overtook me. In a few moments, the incessant pain would be masked, and I could make it through another day. Severe nausea and fear swept over me though, a remnant of the days where there was no hope for it.

I stood in my bathroom facing the mirror, my cheeks lathered in Barbasol Beard Buster, the medicinal odor anything but soothing. The wall clock in the living room ticked softly, which for most people is a quieting sound. To me it is a time bomb.

Aside from entertaining readers and fans of the hard-boiled genre, my hope is to raise awareness of the hell PTSD sufferers and their families endure. To that end, 10 per cent of my royalties for Char Broiled are being donated to charities benefitting fallen heroes. You can make your own donatations  in the USA and Canada.

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