By Joyce Alexander, RNP (Retired)
I was thinking about 9/11 and the horrible burns experienced by some of the victims who did recover. Being a registered nurse practitioner with a wide variety of clinical experience, the burn units had always been the one place I did not want to work. The terrible pain experienced by the victims of burns always tore at my heart, and even my professional distancing from the pain of my patients could not keep me from “feeling” their pain.
On the day the U.S. mourned the fall of the Twin Towers, I started thinking about the analogies of those 9/11 attacks and how they are so much like the attacks on our lives by the psychopaths, and the injuries we suffered are so much like those burn victims.
The physical wounds to the body and skin caused by burns are classed as first-, second-, third-, and fourth-degree. Most of us have experienced first-degree burns when we got a sunburn that turned our skin red and hot. Many of us have also experienced second-degree burns when we got a sunburn that peeled our skin, blistering up the top layer of skin into weeping blisters. Few of us have experienced third degree, though, in which the entire thickness of the skin is burned, and fourth degree is where the underlying fat and muscle is burned
The damage done in each of the first two levels of a burn are extremely painful because the sensitive nerve endings are injured and “scream” in pain. In some third- and fourth-degree burns, there is only numbness because the nerve endings themselves are injured in such a way that they can’t send signals to the brain, which is where pain is perceived.
I see how our emotional injuries in the aftermath of the psychopath’s attack are like the burn victims in the aftermath of the attack on the Twin Towers. Some of us are like the victims of a large sunburn. We are not severely injured in terms of medical danger, but the pain is extremely acute. There is no way we can lie down and not lie on that sensitive, burning skin. Only by standing in a cool shower can we receive any relief from that pain, but it will pass in a comparatively short time without much injury to us, except a memory that encourages us not to repeat the same behavior that got us burned in the first place.
With burns a bit more severe, maybe from staying out in the sun all day and being tender skinned to start with, we get a second-degree burn that blisters up our skin. We are in acute agony for days and days, maybe even in some medical danger if the burns are large or we get a subsequent infection. When they do start to heal, the new skin forming under the blisters is tender and raw, unable to stand pressure from lying down or even a cool shower. If a large enough area experiences second degree burning, the person may have to be in the hospital or require expert medical and nursing care for treatments.
With third-degree burns, the entire integrity of the skin is ruined, and it requires that the damaged skin and tissue be “debrided” from the wound as it starts to heal. The dead tissue must be carefully removed as the wound starts to form scar tissue to replace the burned skin. This kind of healing takes a tremendous amount of time, and depending on the depth of the wound may require skin grafts to diminish the scarring.
Many victims of psychopaths are I think like the victims of the third degree burns … we require the debridement of the dead tissue of our charred selves. We are very raw and tender as we start to heal, and sometimes the “treatment seems worse than the injury,” as we are required to experience the healing debridement of digging out the burned debris of our former selves from the wound. The people who are invested in helping us to recover prescribe the “treatments” such as No Contact, but we don’t want to listen because those treatments are painful. Since we only experience immediate pain from those treatments, and no perceived immediate benefit, we don’t want to go through those daily treatments. We want an “instant fix” to our pain. We want the pain to end NOW! We want to be restored to health and a pain-free life NOW! The caregivers of people who have been burned know that without the daily, or even hourly, treatments, the victims of large burns will become infected and die. Yet those very treatments that will ultimately save them are incredibly painful.
The debridement and cleaning out of our old ways of looking at things, the debridement of our most cherished memories of our love for the psychopaths and the way in which they betrayed us, tore at our core selves, are so incredibly painful in the now, but necessary to our healing and our very survival, in the long run.
There are some things that cannot be “rushed” or “speeded up,” no matter what we do. You can’t get a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant, and you can’t speed up the healing from burns, they both take time for new growth to be accomplished. We also can’t “speed up” the healing process from the damage done to us by the psychopaths, and some of that healing does require the painful debridement of damaged emotional, financial, and even physical damage to ourselves.
As we peel off each layer of damage to our emotions, our finances, and even our physical selves, the pain is intense, and the new skin underneath is tender and raw, barely tolerating any touch at all. We may become angry at those who reach out to help us; we may not want to listen to therapists or friends who advise us. Yet, that new growth in our spirits, our finances, and our physical selves will be the thing that sustains us, allows us to grow and recover.
There may be scars left that are visible with the naked eye that others may see when we walk down the street, or our the scars may be covered by our exterior clothing, only to be seen by those intimate enough to see us without (emotional) clothing, or they may not be visible at all, only felt by ourselves, not seen by even the most intimate significant other. Our bodies, minds and spirits may forever be changed by the experience of our painful injuries and our even more painful recovery, but by surviving, even with the changes in ourselves, we are demonstrating that we are stronger than the attackers, that we will recover and grow again.
We had no choice about being attacked and injured. It was the choice of the attackers to injure us, but we have the choice to heal, to recover, and to endure the painful treatments to remove the dead tissue of our old selves so that the new tissue of healing can grow!