Any plan can be urgently disrupted in a moment. When trauma is involved, it takes many people to help a survivor. This is one survivor’s story of helping IU Health patients.
By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, email@example.com
Around her neck hangs a gold charm. The message is short but speaks volumes of Erica Buck’s focus: “Present over Perfect.”
The physical scars are not visible to casual acquaintances. Even the emotional scars are carefully hidden. But every part of her being knows and remembers the pain. Buck was a victim of an attempted rape and stabbing. She can’t share too many details because a court case is pending. She also can’t remember every detail.
What she does remember is being transported by ambulance to IU Health Methodist Hospital. Trauma team members and police detectives surrounded her. A forensic team member photographed her wounds and collected evidence.
The incident changed her life forever.
“Before the incident I befriended everyone. I trusted everyone. Now, I keep my circle of friends tighter and closer and I am hyper vigilant about keeping an eye on my surroundings. Having a repairman come to my home or even going to the grocery store can cause anxiety,” said Buck, 45. Part of her circle includes her parents, sister, brother-in-law, and nieces. A native of the Midwest, and graduate of Indiana University, Buck spends more time with her family since the attack.
One of those people who was part of her trauma team was IU Health Chaplain, Thomas McDorr. He not only helped her work through her immediate pain, he also followed up with her during her recovery.
“I was in shock and like many survivors, I wondered why it happened to me. A few months after the attack I received a letter from Thomas asking if I would consider being part of the trauma team’s peer visitation program,” said Buck. “I was on board.”
May is National Trauma Awareness Month, a time to encourage others to share their experiences as they walk the road to recovery. It’s also a time for caregivers to advocate for support of those recovering from trauma.
Through the Trauma Survivors Network (TSN) Buck received training as a hospital volunteer. The TSN also facilitates connections between trauma survivors. In addition to TSN training, Buck shadowed McDorr and team member, Tiffany Davis, who is the Methodist Hospital trauma services coordinator for injury prevention.
Once a week Buck comes to Methodist Hospital, wearing a gray vest – the uniform of TSN volunteers – and her IU Health badge. She reviews a patient list and various notes about what brought them to the hospital, and then she begins making rounds. Sometimes she may see half a dozen patients in a day. They come with different causes of trauma – gunshot wounds, broken bones, car accidents – some caused by domestic altercations and violations such as rape or sexual assault, some violated in prison, or through street violence. “Every patient is different but they all have one thing in common: They are victims of trauma. Trauma is something that hurts you and comes out of nowhere. That’s what happened to me so we have an instant bond,” said Buck.
She pulls up a chair alongside their bed and reassures them that they are safe. She asks if they are ready to talk. She helps them take an inventory of people who might support them outside the hospital.
“They may remember all the details of the horrific incident or they may be dealing with emotions that they can’t explain. If they were in a car accident they may be afraid to get back in a car and drive home. They may have triggers driving past the site of an incident,” said Buck. For her own recovery, she has adopted a mini Aussiedoodle named, “Maverick.” He serves as an emotional support dog and is also being trained to work with other trauma patients.
In addition to a listening ear, Buck offers “tools” that can help toward a patient’s recovery – encouraging deep breathing, visualization, and meditation. The TSN website offers a variety of resources including a “traumapedia” – lists of topics, terms and articles – survivor stories, a recovery assessment, and social media site.
Buck hears different words from different patients. Sometimes she hears the word, “grateful” that they survived. Sometimes she hears the word “guilt” for an accident that could not have been prevented. Sometimes she hears the word “fear” because their lives are forever changed and they are uncertain about the road ahead of them.
“My role with trauma patients has helped in my own healing,” said Buck. “It makes me feel more like I’m not alone and that’s how I want them to feel. I’m still in therapy and I still see my own scars and recognize my emotional wounds. I’ve learned to choose to be present in my life over being perfect.”