What do soldiers, emergency responders, wildlife rangers and veterinarians have in common? First in a series addressing the human crisis of the rhino poaching wars.
Are you traumatized?
It was back in 2010 when I saw the first image of a rhino brutalized by poachers. I was shocked and had to look away. After that as I attempted to understand the enormity of the rhino crisis I found myself getting somewhat numb and dispassionate as the images rolled across Facebook and the internet.
Another jolted me and brought tears to my eyes a couple of years later. The image of a rhino calf nudging her dead mother, desperately trying to get her to stand up. Peter Milton with SPOTS told me there’s nothing quite as haunting as the mournful cries of an orphaned baby rhino!
Then there was the Thandi incident. Thandi clung to life while her mate Themba, despite an all-out effort, succumbed to the poacher attack. Dr. William Fowlds reported regularly on Thandi’s progress and I was struck by how open he was about how it impacted him and the others on the team emotionally.
Dr. Fowlds and I communicated and he agreed for us to publish the story of how he tried to save another rhino named Geza… we titled it POACHED! Getting the story with photos and a gruesome video clip prepared was gut wrenching. Especially the video, it literally turned my stomach the first time I watched the clip of this poor rhino with its horns sawn off walking about blinded by pain. Just writing this pains me as I relive the experience.
Then a few weeks ago I was asked to post a video to help promote a very worthwhile upcoming rhino event. The video is informative and well done. However, I found myself stalling to post it on our website. Then I realized why. There is one brief scene of a rhino gurgling blood through its gashed open nose cavity… I almost puked! I cannot watch it again. It is so absolutely awful that a human being could do such a cruel thing to another breathing being… it is beyond me!
At times I have to back up… at times I struggle with inertia, despair and a real physical pain in my heart.
If I, not directly, physically on the ground involved with the sounds, smells and real life presence of such an injured being, am so traumatized… how in the world must the wildlife rangers and vets be psychologically impacted?
Like soldiers and emergency responders todays wildlife rangers and veterinarians experience unimaginable scenes of pain and suffering. The human psyche suffers injury when it is traumatized just like our bodies do in an accident.
As a former psychotherapist I decided to brush the cobwebs away and revisit what trauma victims may experience and how they deal with the fallout from their exposure to repeated horrific acts of violence.
What a Trauma Victim Might Experience
As a result of exposure to trauma, be it as extreme as Dr. Fowlds and Peter Milton in the bush, or you and I as vicarious observers on the web, we all may experience some degree of fallout.
Grief and Loss
As humans we tend to respond similarly to all loss in our lives. The intensity of the responses is of course primarily determined by the severity of the loss. There are several emotional states that are triggered at various stages when we experience grief. These may include: Denial (“Everything is ok!”), Anger, Bargaining (“if only…”), Depression.
We are reactionary beings. When our psychic can’t make sense of devastating situations we may unwittingly try to cope by self-medicating via excessive drinking, over eating, taking drugs or other negative behaviors.
For some repeated exposure to trauma creates a state of inertia. The inability to make decisions or take action as the psyche attempts to protect itself.
Inordinate amounts of stress, especially over time can result in variety of symptoms which can be associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Feeling guilty that you’re alive when you can’t keep the rhino alive
Removing ourselves or staying away from situations that may have us relive the overwhelming experience.
As a defense mechanism our psyche may simply suppress all our emotions so that we don’t feel anything, in an attempt to block out the bad feelings.
The mind has difficulty relaxing and is constantly vigilant for danger even when out with friends or taking a walk with family.
Anxiety or panic
At times sounds, smells and situations similar to the stressful situation can trigger an adrenalin rush which may include intense fear and physical reactions such as heart palpitations, tight chest, and a constricted throat to name a few.
At times when the mind cannot find a way to cope the body reacts by having a pain here or a there. Although these pains are very real a doctor generally will not find anything physically wrong.
If you found yourself identifying with any of the above and it is getting in the way of you living your life, please seek out professional help.
Future posts in this series will include more detailed information about the fallout, where to find help and a surprising flip side to the issues discussed here.