National Nurses United

Registered Nurse October 2006

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PTSD 10/11/06 1:11 AM Page 19 WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME CIVILIAN VICTIMS OF PTSD An Iraqi woman holds her son while waiting in line to show him to a doctor at the Italian Red Cross hospital in Baghdad, Iraq. s current American angst grows over the Iraq War's consequences, so has the attention paid to PTSD among returning GIs. The rising figure, however, represents just the tip of the PTSD iceberg. Suffering in even greater numbers are the civilian victims of war. "War creates refugees," says Laura Vaudriel of the Bay Areabased organization Refugee Transitions. The group works in association with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), founded in 1933 by Albert Einstein—himself a refugee—to provide a safe haven to war victims. "In our country today, we have refugees from every continent," says Vaudriel. And as wars in Darfur to Chechnya to Iraq continue, she adds, American healthcare workers will be caring for substantial numbers of refugees patients, including many children. A Bosnian boy whose family has been aided by the refugee organization recently recalled the ordeal that led to a clinical diagnosis of PTSD. "There was an enemy soldier camped above our village, except he was nice to us. He'd come down and buy sheep. And he never hurt our mom." Restricted to his farm due to the war, the child one day sneaked down to the village square. From behind a tree, he saw the same soldier order a village elder to apologize for cursing. When the old man refused, the soldier raised his rifle. "He just blew that Grandpa's head off," the boy recalled, growing agitated at the memory. "It was all bloody. It cracked open like a pumpkin." While his family was eventually granted U.S. asylum AP PHOTO/MANISH SWARUP A OCTOBER 2006 and so escaped the war, the boy cannot forget what he saw. Like a disproportionate number of refugee children, he was unable to concentrate at school, then began running into trouble with the law. A young teen today, he drinks alcohol daily, echoing the behavior of many war-affected adult males in his community. A PTSD epidemic of similar proportions that hit Bosnia is happening all over again in places like Iraq, according to San Francisco-based Survivor's International, a consortium of psychiatric professionals serving victims of torture and war trauma. In Baghdad, Red Cross worker Ahmed Al Rawi, agrees, reporting that "Iraqis are witnessing a great deal of suffering from the nonstop wars and complete lack of medical care. With sectarian tension escalating, random assassinations are taking place all over our city." With little faith in the future, Iraqi youth are starting to suffer from "psychologically-induced ulcers, hypertension, and even heart attacks," Al Rawi said. "Here at the Red Cross we're doing our best, but because of the tremendous need for services, and the inability to work safely, we respond to medical emergencies only. Our only operating psychiatric hospital is too poor to handle the enormous number of cases seen each day." Today, there are just 75 psychiatrists left in Iraq, none trained to work with children. As in the U.S., Al Rawi reports, Iraqi nurses are taking up the ad hoc burden of caring for thousands of psychologically-damaged patients at urgent care clinics and in the streets. Added Al Rawi, "Here, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder hasn't even begun to be addressed." —c.f. and d.r. W W W. C A L N U R S E S . O R G REGISTERED NURSE 19

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