following book excerpt is reprinted with permission
from author and AAETS member Allen R. Kates, BCECR.
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Not long after
Christine got home from the hospital, her brief,
troubling dreams escalated into full-blown homicidal
nightmares. When she closed her eyes, she saw
herself descending the dark stairs to the platform,
getting on the train and being attacked by the
razor-blade man. She told me her desire was to
stop thinking about it because she wanted to get
better and return to work. Then, a cop friend
unwittingly helped her sabotage herself.
listen," he said. "If this stuff has
upset you emotionally, you better not say anything
to anybody because they'll get you off the job."
no way," she responded. "This is my
life, this is my career."
From that moment
on, Christine clammed up. She refused to tell
anybody how she was feeling or even admit to herself
she had major problems because she feared her
bosses would take away her job.
Oddly, once she
made the decision to hide her feelings, the nightmares
stopped almost completely. When she did have a
bad dream, it was minor and controllable. This
change reinforced her belief that she was doing
the right thing. In that mind-set, she attended
the mandatory two meetings with the police department
psychiatrists. Convincing them nothing was wrong,
her determination to appear psychologically healthy
backfired. After seven months convalescing, the
Transit Authority doctors gave her an ultimatum.
you back so you won't become too mentally detached
from work,' the doctors told me. 'Otherwise, you
might become afraid to go back.' I said, 'How
can you put me back to work? I'm still not feeling
well.' I didn't say emotionally I was not well.
I was still on probation and afraid they would
At the prospect
of being forced to leave, Christine tasted copper
in her mouth. Pains shot across her chest. She
couldn't get air. Her left arm tingled. Yet she
agreed to return to work immediately. Still enduring
physical therapy, she performed light-duty jobs
in Operations for a couple of months, answering
phones, handing out guns, and disbursing money
for toll booths. "I put 110 percent into
it no matter how menial the job. I wanted to prove
'I'm fine. I'm just as good as anybody else.'"
to keep up. To not forget instructions from her
superiors, she wrote everything down on "many
little pieces of paper." After a while, the
lieutenant assigned her to the Operations Desk
to perform high-profile tasks working with the
Chief of Police, Transit Authority officials,
inspectors and the press. The job was considered
a plum assignment and usually only officers who
performed well and had spent considerable time
in the unit merited it.
She felt proud
of herself that her boss had confidence in her
ability. Those who believed the job should have
gone to them and not to a rookie treated her with
hostility. And the pressure started to mount.
Around this time,
about ten months after the attack, Christine,
along with other police officers, was honored
during Medal Day in a ceremony at police headquarters.
As she climbed the stairs of the stage to receive
the Distinguished Medal of Honor and the packed
auditorium burst into clapping and cheering, she
had conflicting feelings. She had heard that some
of her fellow officers were not convinced she
deserved the medal, but others concluded she earned
it. The result was that rather than feeling heroic
for what she did, she worried that she "was
not worthy of the award."
to growing anxiety when, a few months later, she
was moved again, this time to Dispatch, a part
of the Operations Unit. She told her supervisors
she "needed to feel capable and useful."
She got more than she wished for in a job that
became more frightening than the subway.
She sat in front
of an immense board pinpointing where police officers
allocated to her were located in the subway system.
Sometimes she would cover all of Manhattan or
all of Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx. Receiving
calls for help from 9-1-1 Emergency operators,
she would radio the jobs to the nearest police
officers. She was their life-support system. If
cops were in trouble, they called her. She was
their only hope, and the responsibility was crushing.
While her other
police department tasks provoked little stress,
this job became a source of dread. Contradictory
stories were still circulating about what happened
in the subway tunnel, and Christine felt she had
to prove to other cops and to herself that she
was capable of doing anything anybody else could
do. "A nervous wreck," she was forced
to take sick leave several times to escape the
Whenever she heard
a "1013, Officer Needs Help," coming
from another dispatcher's station, Christine would
"freeze up" with fear. The calls made
her flash back on her own life-threatening attack,
now one year past, and relive it. The nightmares
returned stronger and stranger than before.
when I would have the nightmares, I would be in
the subway system, in the same place where it
happened. But then it didn't have to happen in
the subway. I mean, I'm dreaming I'm in a store
and all of a sudden I would be fighting with this
guy like I was in the subway."
occurred almost every night around two or three
in the morning, preventing her from getting back
to sleep. She would go to work by six-thirty,
exhausted. Her ability to function began to fail.
She started to stutter. When she had to concentrate
on a call or watch the board, without warning
a flashback would completely distract her. She
had difficulty remembering things.
remember simple things, like they would say, 'Call
him and tell him to be there at four instead of
one.' I couldn't remember what I was supposed
to tell them. I would have to write everything
I would go through a day and wonder if I got a
phone call or went to the store or dreamed that
I did. I couldn't distinguish the difference.
I couldn't remember what was real and what was
a dream. The taste in my mouth... the coppery
taste, I'd get that all the time." Other
police officers I talked to have described similar
tastes when they've been under stress. One described
it as metallic, another as iron and another as
the taste of blood. A couple of officers said
they could taste the greasy brake linings from
the black and white cruisers or sometimes smell
decaying flesh when they were nowhere near a dead
body. During flashbacks, people who suffer from
PTSD often report they taste something that reminds
them of a traumatic event.
Realizing it was
more than a year since the attack and her ability
to cope was deteriorating, Christine turned to
a police friend for help. He advised her to see
a counselor outside the force. After two to three
months of tests and therapy sessions at the Diagnostic
and Counseling Services Center, the doctor gave
'You are destroying yourself. You have Posttraumatic
Stress Disorder, and it's totally taking over
your life. I don't think you should be performing
as a police officer. You should commit yourself
to a psychiatric hospital.'"
me she stood up and said, "Sal, if you ever
bleed a word of this to anybody, I will sue you,
because I won't do anything else but this. Nobody's
going to take this job away from me. I'm going
to be okay. I'm just stressed, that's all."
I asked Christine,
"After you were diagnosed with PTSD, were
you able to function?"
"I had something
to take my mind off it," she said. "Robert
and I were going to get married in about ten months.
We were planning the wedding ourselves and it
took a lot of time out of my day, off time, on
time. I was excited and I was able to force down
all my feelings."
for suppressing feelings worked. The nightmares
became occasional again. Nearly two years had
passed since the assault and everything seemed
better. But with the wedding over and nothing
to distract her mind, a tidal wave of feelings
washed her away. The nightmares intensified. Accompanying
them were cold sweats and a racing heart. She
was up every night for months. Everyone at work
noticed she was worn out. She couldn't concentrate,
and they couldn't depend on her. At home, she
was irritable and short-tempered.
thing would bother me. Robert was having trouble
accepting what was happening to me, and it was
hurting our marriage. And I stopped doing things.
I stopped cleaning the house. The wash was piling
up. I stopped cooking, which was something I loved
to do. I stopped playing piano. After I'd gotten
hurt, I went on shopping sprees and I was still
doing it, only more. I had enough of everything,
but I would buy and buy and buy. I have clothes
I haven't worn that still have tags on them. I
have shoes that are still in boxes."
I asked Christine
why she went on shopping sprees.
and the necessity to feel something. I mean, this
had taken away every bit of self-esteem. Shopping
made me feel good."
affect the way you acted in other ways?"
I was on my way to work, going up the stairwell
from the subway..."
you on the subway?"
thing I did once I was able to walk was go out
on the subway platform. When Robert was available,
he would walk me to the turnstile and come back
for me after work. But I thought if I waited any
period of time, I would grow frightened of it.
So by the time I went to work, I was okay."
going up the stairwell..."
"I was anxious
every time I rode the subway... There was this
young guy. You know, it's five-thirty in the morning,
the subway's totally empty. I'm the only person
there, and a guy wants fifty cents? I don't think
so. He wants my whole wallet."
clothes and I had my gun on me. And he goes, 'I
want fifty cents.' And I say, 'No, my man. No
money.' His shoulders move up and down and he's
positioning himself like in a dance so he can
have leverage. And he says, 'Yo! Just gimmie fifty
"My gun was
in a belly band and I went to get it. Like, they
know. They already know if somebody's going into
their jacket, what you're gonna take out. You're
not going to take out a 'Congratulations! You're
a winner!' card. And I told him, 'Step back. Get
the hell away from me!'"
pull your gun on him?"
I almost did. Then the copper taste came into
my mouth and like this whole thing dropped from
my head to my toe, like a blood rush. I was also
angry because I realized I was unable to make
a clear decision. Afterwards, I kept asking myself,
What should I have done?"
her overreactivity - going for the gun - to depression
and being anxious. She felt less in control, vulnerable
to attack and more prone to act quickly to disable
a perceived threat without considering the consequences
of her actions.
other times when you felt threatened?"
happen all the time," she said. "I was
consumed by people. Especially in the subway.
I was taking the subway every day to work and
these homeless people, they were... they were
destined to kill me."
She laughed. "It
sounds crazy, but some of these people would leave
that impression on me.
"If a homeless
person came near me," she went on, "I
would get the copper taste. I couldn't get air.
My hands would start to tingle and sweat. I'd
lose feeling in my fingertips and get lightheaded.
I'd feel my heart pumping and get really bad migraine
had migraines before you were attacked?"
I was getting them so badly I was vomiting."
encounters with homeless people, what were you
thinking?" I asked.
"I was saying
to myself, Oh my God. Am I ever going to be
able to do this? I mean, look at the
way I'm reacting. Just a homeless person. As time
went by, I was slowly getting worse."
try to alleviate your stress? You were a runner.
Did you work out again?"
running again, but I was hurting myself. Probably
because I wasn't healed enough yet. I tried a
lot of things. You see, I wanted to be the same
person that I was before. You know? I was battling
myself because I couldn't understand why I was
going through this. I was looking at myself as
a loser. I saw myself as a weak person, and I
could not face not being a cop. I've asked myself,
Why can't I accept this damn thing
that's happened and let it go? No,
it was taking me under."
friends try to help?"
"I couldn't talk to people anymore. Nobody
could understand. I have friends who are female
cops. It frightened them to hear about this, and
I was embarrassed to admit I was having problems.
And I have friends who aren't cops. They couldn't
understand it. And how could I relate my feelings
to them when they couldn't even comprehend what
I was feeling?"
attack, were you a strong person?"
And I felt I had to work harder because just by
looking at me, people didn't take me seriously
as a cop."
you were a woman?"
would try to make me appear as if I wasn't intelligent.
It was important I knew where I stood. To let
people know I was feeling vulnerable, this would
acknowledge something I didn't want to admit.
I didn't want people to think I was damaged. I
wanted them to feel I was strong."
having a lot of problems in our relationship.
For a long time I felt dead inside. Robert did
everything for me. He paid the bills, did housework,
went grocery shopping, everything. But he couldn't
understand either. Who could? If I myself couldn't,
how could I expect him to?"
were supportive, but there was nothing they could
do to help."
Now married and
back at work with no wedding to plan for, Christine
made an error in Dispatch for which she cannot
forgive herself, and even today it makes her hands
shake when she thinks of it. A female officer
called in a "1013, Officer Needs Help,"
but the transmission was fuzzyand Christine wasn't
sure what the officer said.
sure I didn't hear it because the transmission
was poor or because of the fear it caused in me."
Having no way
to contact the officer who made the call, Christine
panicked. Fortunately, the officer called back,
informing Christine that the problem resolved
itself and there was no emergency. Christine's
lieutenant castigated her for not responding.
Missing a "1013," the call that saved
Christine's life, was a little too close to home.
she felt sick after that and couldn't continue
working. "It killed me to think that, God
forbid, if anything had happened to her I would
be responsible. It was a very bad thing, very
shameful for me. I never wanted to hurt any of
my fellow cops. This makes me feel like I wasn't
a good cop. In reality, I wasn't well."
The 1013 incident
brought back violent memories of the slashing.
Her mind replayed the images continuously, giving
her little sleep or respite from pain. One week
later, her feelings reached a climax. The Police
Self-Support Group, which Christine had attended
sporadically, invited her to join several injured
police officers on NBC's the Today show.
"Before this, my mental breakdown was very
hush-hush. This was the first time I outright
expressed myself on how I felt."
During the interview,
one of the other officers described PTSD reactions
similar to hers. Tommy said he couldn't concentrate
or remember. He cried for no reason. He had nightmares,
cold sweats and was always irritable, exhausted.
Although he experienced flashbacks, he denied
he had problems. Like Christine, he overreacted
to innocent situations and people. And like Christine,
he was in an intermittent state of unreality.
He wept openly on the television show, and his
account made her realize the unreal was real.
television interview, I went home and broke down,"
she said. "That unleashed everything, like
opening Pandora's box. All of these feelings that
I had suppressed all this time. Everything was
exposed. Within a week or so, I wouldn't go outside
the house. I lay in bed all day and I cried."
I asked Christine,
"You didn't go to work?"
"I had to
go out sick from work because I wouldn't leave
the house, and I was crying all the time. I was
totally withdrawn. I didn't want to go shopping
for clothes or even food. My mother or Robert
would have to bring food in. I didn't want to
socialize. And I was drinking a lot too. Drinking
at night to fall asleep."
during the day I didn't sleep either. I sat in
bed and cried and I had the blinds closed and
rocked myself. Sometimes I would sit in a chair
or sit on the floor in a corner of the room, in
the dark room, rocking and crying. You must realize
that I was the person who everyone would call
to ask 'What do I do?' or 'What do you think of
this or that?' I would always give advice. I was
the strong one. I was the capable one. Now what
Knowing she was
in trouble, Christine called Tony Senft from the
support group. Tony could not drive because of
his injuries, and he couldn't get a driver at
such short notice. He convinced Christine to come
tell you what it was like to get into the car,"
she said. "I fought with Robert. He had to
take me by the arm and then pick me up and carry
me to the car. I was paranoid about everything.
Every little noise startled me. Even the sun,
the sun was hurting my eyes."
the front seat down so no one would see her in
the car. "I lay down crying the entire way
there while Robert drove."
needed professional care, Tony advised Christine
to see his psychiatrist, a therapist experienced
in helping veterans with PTSD. The next day her
mother drove her to see his doctor.
"I sat in
front of him and cried," she said. "I
couldn't tell him what happened to me for almost
three sessions. And then he told me he was going
on vacation and I came apart.
feel like I want to kill myself," she told
Dr. James J. Cavanagh. "I can't stand crying
anymore. I can't stand what this is doing to my
life. I'm killing my marriage. I'm killing everything.
I don't know how much more I can take."
"If you feel
as though you're a danger to yourself," the
doctor said, "I think you should let me admit
you to the hospital."
Absolutely not," she said. "If I was
hospitalized, I would never be a cop again. They'd
consider me mentally unstable."
The doctor and
Christine decided it was better if she made the
decision to go. "Can you imagine what would
have happened if they forced me? It would be like
being arrested. They'd have to call the police
and order an ambulance. People would come and
take away my gun and shield."
home to her dark room, crying and rocking to try
to soothe herself. Suicidal, she called a friend
who sent her to another psychiatrist. Dr. Joseph
Benezra advised hospitalization. Again, she refused.
"I went home
from that session and had a terrible argument
with Robert, and he left to go to work. He could
not comprehend what I was going through. I was
scared to death of everything and I was afraid
to go out. I was a prisoner of something that
happened to me and he couldn't understand that.
I wondered why that guy didn't just kill me and
save me and my family from all this.
left, I went into an hysterical fit of crying
and couldn't stop. I took medication the doctor
gave me to sleep and some Scotch. I was hallucinating.
I took my gun and I sat down on the couch in the
living room with the TV blasting and I was crying,
rocking back and forth, and I brought it up to
my mouth and I was screaming- "'God please
take my life from me! I've been through enough!
Please help me. I didn't do anything to deserve
this. I failed as a person and I failed as a police
officer and I failed at my marriage and there's
nothing else in this life I want. Forgive me for
what I'm about to do. Please help me take my life!'"
The phone rang.
At first she wasn't
going to answer it. She did, and the call saved
her life. It was Tommy, the officer from the Police
Self-Support Group who spoke of his PTSD reactions
on the Today show, calling to see how
She said to him,
"I'm sorry I can't help anybody else because
I can't help myself. The pain is too much for
me to take. Everyone will be much better off without
He listened, and
he talked to her until she promised to put down
the gun. He wanted to drive out to see her, but
she said no. He told her next time he might not
be there to stop her. This motivated Christine
to return to the psychiatrist. In tears, she told
Dr. Benezra she just wanted to go back to work.
He told her he wanted her to go to the hospital.
Once again, she
fought the doctor, unable to accept that she had
moved from care giver to care needer. A few days
later, she finally agreed to be voluntarily committed
to North Shore University Hospital. On the way,
she took several anti-depressant, anti-anxiety
and sleeping pills. She said, "I didn't want
it to be a reality for me."
to the psychiatric unit was granted, Christine
was required to subject herself to a medical examination
in the emergency room. "This was the greatest
humiliation," she said. The resident performed
a gynecological exam. Christine felt it was an
offensive and unnecessary intrusion but didn't
think she was in a position to protest.
aide took her upstairs to the eighth floor, the
Psych. Unit. She's not sure what she expected,
but when she saw gray, steel doors with tiny windows,
doors that required keys or beepers to open, doors
that slammed shut behind her, she felt panic.
She couldn't reconcile how a cop could be locked
up like a criminal.
were to follow. The nurses directed her to undress
and then took her clothes away. Ironically, her
attacker, an escapee from a Connecticut mental
institution, had failed to kill her, but succeeded
in reducing her to his level, and she couldn't
do anything about it.
Locked away, stripped
of everything she associated with the outside
world-clothes, shoes, a pen, a telephone-she felt
abandoned. "I felt like I lost my battle.
I lost my career." It was two in the morning.
For a few hours, loaded with drugs to fight off
the reality of where she was, Christine slept.
The next morning,
she met with a room full of doctors, nurses and
aides. Weeping, she told them the little she could
remember of the incident. By this time she was
blocking out many details. Never looking up from
the table, she had no idea what the staff members
looked like. She sat there, hunched over, plucking
tissues from a box.
The days in the
hospital passed slowly while she received medication,
one-on-one counseling and engaged in group therapy.
She kept a diary of her ups and downs. Rereading
the entries gave insight into her frightening
misadventure. After earning "points of improvement"
for following rules like taking medication and
attending counseling, she was allowed to watch
television, do crafts and use an exercise bike.
From the moment she was assaulted, she started
losing weight and was now down more than 25 pounds,
weighing 88 pounds.
the staff was very protective, too protective.
"I couldn't shave my legs without a person
outside the shower watching me. They were afraid
I'd hurt or kill myself."
She was angry
that her attacker had put her here, locked in
with people like him. "It was horrifying,"
she said. "I was in with a lot of really
sick people who were chronically mentally ill,
people who had been in and out of mental institutions
their entire lives. It was very degrading."
The status of
the people locked up with her affected how she
responded in group therapy. She would not open
up because several patients were under arrest
for drug offenses. They were people she was ordered
to apprehend and here she was facing them as an
Her shame and
powerlessness revealed themselves in headaches
and troubled sleep. After the first night, the
nightmares returned. During the day, despite taking
several medications, migraine headaches caused
her to throw up repeatedly.
About two weeks
into her hospital stay, Christine's doctor suggested
a method for breaking her mental block about the
attack. He wanted to administer sodium amytal,
a short-acting barbiturate. It was supposed to
help release inhibitions. Although she was still
having nightmares, they were not about the incident
itself. She wanted to relive it one last time.
She thought, If I can get it out, then
that will be the end of it.
The day the drug
was to be given, the medical staff and several
interns assembled in a room to observe the procedure.
She said she felt like a laboratory specimen under
a microscope. An IV bottle dripped solution into
her arm. The doctor told her to recite numbers
backwards. After the drug took effect, the doctor
asked her questions about herself. Then he asked
her about the incident, questions like, "Do
you know you did everything you could to come
out of there alive?" She cried and answered
Yes and wanted him to go on. He hesitated.
She pleaded with
him, "Please don't stop. Please take me back."
He refused to delve into the details of the assault,
and for two days after the procedure, she sobbed
"I was angry
because I felt he left me hanging. He made me
think he was really going to help me and he didn't.
I couldn't understand why he did that. And I was
angry because it was like I didn't live it. Do
you know what I mean? I thought that if I went
back there subconsciously, maybe when I awoke
it would have been more realistic to me, and I
would be able to deal with it."
I asked her, "Did
the doctor tell you why he didn't take you back?"
he didn't feel it would have done any good."
Coming to terms
with the unreality of the attack was one of many
hardships Christine tolerated in the hospital.
The news that she was hospitalized in a psychiatric
unit caused her disgrace in the eyes of her friends
friends over this. I've lost cousins," she
said. "When I was in North Shore, a cousin
of mine had a baby. She was on the maternity floor
of the same hospital, and I went to visit her.
They looked at me like I had some infectious disease
or I was going to pull out a gun and kill everyone
in sight. They were frightened over where I had
After a month
in the hospital, Christine was allowed to leave.
Initially, while still on medication, she saw
her main therapist, Dr. James J. Cavanagh, three
times a week. However, her therapy seemed unsuccessful.
She had waited such a long time before seeking
help, denying her problems, that the symptoms
of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder held on tenaciously.
me she left the hospital with more "unexplainable"
issues than when she went in. She was overly suspicious
and forgetful. She'd forget what she was saying
in the middle of a conversation and while driving
would become lost.
But she had made
progress in the hospital. At last she was facing
the aftermath of the assault. Feelings she previously
ignored were in turmoil. She was getting better,
only it felt worse.
CopShock, Surviving Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD) 472 pages.
$19.95 US Copyright © 1999 by Allen R. Kates.
CHAPTER 1: ASSAULTS
by The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic