The mind is a strange thing. I have been involved with emergency services for over twenty-five years. In the early days, if there was something that I saw that was difficult, distressing or even horrifying, we dealt with it all by “just getting over it” or “have a drink with the boys”. In this day and age, we know how this is not the way to manage these situations.

I have seen death. I have saved life. I have shared the pain of loss with families, as have I rejoiced in the miraculous acts of survival.

I am now older, wiser and thankfully not broken. By broken, I mean psychologically afflicted by a circumstance which means not being able to function “normally”. Many of my colleagues have sadly, been afflicted in such a way. Whether it is by the job itself, the nature of the work, or the simple fact that they may have a predisposition to mental illness. I count myself as one of the “one in five” affected by mental illness.

Fortunately for me, it is not an affliction that collides with me and my life on a daily basis. I have been blessed with  meeting, and loving the most forgiving, tolerant and understanding spouse one could ask for. During my “darkness time” she stood by me, she supported me, she cajoled me to move through the steps to recovery. My anxiety and depression issues will never leave me. I actually now consider them as part of who I am. They do not weaken me as I have grown to understand the “Black Dog” within. In fact, it is the Black Dog that makes me stronger, and more able to assist others.

The mind, as I said, is a strange thing. I was going through a dark time about thirteen years ago. I wrote a poem. I knew not where it came from. I just formed the images into words and told a story. It is a story that resonates with fellow ambulance officers, firefighters and police officers. For over twelve years I just thought it was a collective of stories that created poem.

Earlier this year, just after the floods, (Brisbane, Australia. January 2011) I was driving around one of my old stomping grounds. Suddenly, for some reason, my mind chose to allow me to see the memory that the poem has been based on. I was right there. In the place where “it” happened. All the memories flooded back from twenty-five years earlier. What I find interesting is that it was tragic, yet no worse than many incidents I had attended before or after. I wonder why my mind felt it so important to shield it from me. Part of me wonders if there is still more to be revealed… I suppose I will not know until “it” happens.

The following is the poem, the story…

Car-nage

Darkness prevails…

The discordant song of the night, interspersed by mans travelling beast.

In anticipation, natures noise halts…

Anticipation of the cacophony to be wrought by the beasts’ demise.

Tearing metal, splintering glass…

The tortured unmusical diatribe of forces working against each other.

Silence…. Silence…

The biospheres hubbub continues after a short time.

Gasping and calling…

Noises uncommon to the wilderness trespass, and invade the surrounds.

Again silence ensues…

Interrupted only by the sound of hot metal contracting and the pained murmurs of man.

Seconds tick on… and on… and on…

Time for some continues as before and for others it slows for the agonising wait.

For another time stops…

Stops for the eternity that awaits her… her destiny is now known.

Foreign noises, undulating, an ear-splitting crescendo

Building to an intense climax and suddenly terminated

The darkness… invaded…

Strobing in technicolor, painting an unreal canvas for the new arrivals.

Car and tree…

Merged as one apart from the scattered detritus of the once shiny metallic steed.

Probing flashlights, blinding spotlights…

Seeking the truth within the carnage of twisted metal, glinting glass and glistening fluid.

Loud voices, soft talking, crying…

Commanding response, caring murmurs, whimpering cries for all who care to listen.

Stark is the image…

Magnesium-white light, rose-red blood and the blackness of the night.

Activity diminishes…

With a display of lights and urgency of noise, they depart with their precious cargo.

Two remain…

One standing as sentinel, watching over the lifeless white shroud.

Time passes…. as it will.

All is as it was, no indication of the trauma… pain… loss.

All as it was…

Except for a stark white cross, a faded photograph, and a wilting posy, conspicuous in the greenery

of new life….

©Bob H 1998

The images to me, are still stark as they were when I wrote about them. I still hold a place in my heart and mind for the girl I held. For the girl who breathed her last breath as I gazed at her, as I held her hand and hummed. I consider it a rare, and yet unasked for privilege to be the one, that person, the person who provides some comfort at the end. To not be there, to think she could have been alone, fills me with dread. I am sad that it had to happen, but glad I was able to be there. Her face is burned into my psyche and yet, I do not even recall her name.


beyond blue

R U OK?

© Bob H 2011

Bob has been an emergency responder for over twenty-five years and works professionally as an ambulance officer.  He is thankful for those who “care for the carers”. They have fixed him when he felt broken, and he is now part of that system that provides that care.
Bob says that when he writes, it provides an emotional centre for that time and place. The thoughts that create images and that were documented in words become consolidated.  This consolidation provides a basis for calm and reflection (it works most of the time).
He readily acknowledges the support and love of his wife, Fiona, who is his strength and underpins his ability to serve the community by allowing him to spend much more time away from her that she really should have to.

Recently, Bob was recognised for his service to the community in the Queens Birthday honours list and speaks of his appreciation for the award with pride and humility.  He has dedicated that award to his wife for her support; also to those who he has worked with, workers who “make a difference”.