Hurricane Katrina still haunts Marvin.
He and his wife,
daughter, and four grandkids huddled on a neighbor's roof as floodwaters from
the storm surges swirled around them. Lashed by wind and debris, they survived
by hooking themselves to a rooftop exhaust vent.
"The water just
kept rising," he said, beginning to cry. "The kids were crying. We were
watching roofs peeling off the other houses. My heart was racing. I was scared
Marvin, 58, feels crushing guilt for not getting his
family out of New Orleans when he could. He relied on news reports that said
the eye of the storm wouldn't pass directly over the city. He also feels
responsible for how they suffered as they moved from shelter to shelter and got
separated from him.
"It was chaos. There were sick people, people
dying, kids fussing and fighting—horrible stuff," he said. "They shouldn't have
seen the death, the viciousness of how people behave when they think there's no
chance for survival."
After the family resettled, PTSD symptoms
hit Marvin hard. He couldn't sleep. He had nightmares and flashbacks of the
water rising up to the roof. "I thought I was losing it, but I didn't
understand why," he said. "I wondered if I was about to check out. I was having
suicidal thoughts constantly. The guilt was just too much."
couldn't talk with his wife or family about it. After several months, Marvin
decided he needed help. He's getting treatment through the Department of
Veterans Affairs' PTSD program in New Orleans.
helping him find ways to cope with the guilt, and he's taking medicines to
"Therapy is teaching me how to deal with it one day at a
time. I can't stop it, but I can deal with it."
He said the guilt
is worse than anything he felt from his time as a Marine in the Vietnam War.
"I've been in firefights where people were killed, and I didn't
know if I'd make it. There's a distinct difference when you put someone else's
life at risk."
He still has symptoms, and he still cries when he
talks about the experience. But now he knows that crying is a release.
"I just feel like, at some point, I'll be in the driver's seat," he said.
"Counseling has given me the tools. If I use the tools, I can manage the job
He would like to see everyone struggling with PTSD get
"There is help out there. Don't try to be a hero and not
get help. It will get worse."
Marvin's story reflects his experiences as told in an interview. The photograph is not of Marvin, to protect his privacy.
January 9, 2013
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& Jessica Hamblen, PhD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
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