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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - a short story about coping with a harsh reality

Updated on July 26, 2013
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What are the symptoms and treatment for PTSD? Often sufferers bear them quietly without letting their loved ones know about it until they manifest themselves. Here is a short story about how PTSD can affect a person over a long period of time.

Part One

Kyuusoku!” The gruff instruction to go faster from the gruff, stubbled Japanese soldier in his trademark flop hat resounded angrily in the ears of the Chinese men they had rounded up in an overnight operation. He added to the harsh command with a quick prod of the butt of his bayonet on the back of the prisoner in front of him. The young Chinese Man could do nothing but groan in pain and force his legs to carry him forward.

The young Chinese, Lee Kok Shung, gritted his teeth and hung his head. He was prepared for whatever befell him; he only hoped that his death would be a release from what was becoming hell on Earth. After being goaded by Japanese soldiers the whole night and seeing his family become victims of their atrocities, he was actually looking forward to this ending. At least, he would not have to think about the perennial suffering any longer.

Dragging their feet along Changi Beach was literally walking along the road to damnation.

Many collapsed and were callously left by the roadside, being a fly less for the Japanese militia to swat. Kok Shung loved dearly to be in that position; perhaps he could pretend to be dying so that he would be left alone and be able to make his escape later. A plan began to form in his mind as he stared at the painful welts on his shin. The painful cuts on his back, courtesy of the bayonets the soldier dearly loved, were a source of motivation for him to formulate a devious but painful plan to flee.

Tomaru! TOMARU!” The command to stop came like an abrupt, harsh bolt of lightning. The line of weary men and their Japanese tormentors ground to a halt. The Commanding Officer in front was seen stopping to meet a subordinate who stopped him along the way. As the younger, junior officer made a deep bow, the commanding officer became irate as he noticed that the young Japanese soldier had forgotten to take off his cap while making a bow. “Baka! You moron, haven’t you been trained to greet your senior officers?” In his anger, he grabbed the young soldier by the arms and swung him around wildly. With the strength that could surpass Hercules’ he threw the man up in the air and pierced him with his bayonet. The soldier fell limp at the side of the dirt road.

Kok Shung was used to the horror. He closed his eyes, drew a deep breath, and prepared for the command to move on. The scene concretized his determination to run away from the ever enfolding nightmare.

As they approached Changi Beach, the whole group was made to stand in line in one of the clearings. Unceremoniously, they were each thrown a “changkul” or garden tool meant for digging. “Make a trench!” spat one of the officers nearby, shoving Kok Shung hard. “I don’t need to tell you how!” The plan of escape in Kok Shung’s mind became even clearer.

The long line of Chinese men took almost three hours to make a deep trench, the effort completely exhausting, leaving more to collapse by the side. Kok Shung’s eyes became more alert. The Commanding officer prodded the Prisoners of War to line up in front of the trench, with a soldier behind each of them. After what seemed like an eternity, the commanding officer finally growled with a sneer, “Utsu!” One by one, Kok Shung’s Chinese companions fell into the trench, embracing their burial ground.

Kok Shung had timed his fall perfectly, falling into the trench just before the bullet hit him. He was alive, but barely. He dug his way out with conviction and crawled his way to the dirt road nearby.


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Part Two

Kok Shung, come out for dinner,” came his mother’s shrill voice. Kok Shung ignored the cry, lost in thought. Memories of what had just happened were still fresh and, it seemed, were refusing to vanish. The looks of horror on the faces of his dead comrades were nightmares that haunted him every night. He ignored his mother and stared outside the window of his room.

She came in, patting him gently on the shoulder. “Don’t you want to eat? It’s not much, but it was so difficult to get food from the black market. Don’t waste it.” She left the room quietly, leaving Kok Shung to his reverie.

He finally managed to bring himself to eat, all the time thinking about the trauma that had just befallen him. Eating quietly, he tried to ignore the conversation that was going on at the table. “Kok Shung,” his father’s voice was droning like a tired wheel.”I want to get you away from this place as fast as possible. I’ve arranged for you to be married. You can take your wife and both sneak out of this tortured country by boat. I want to see you married before anything happens to me.”

Kok Shung nodded his consent. WIth a look of disinterest and exhaustion, he left the room.

A Veteran's Story of PTSD

Part Three

Kok Shung and his wife, Mei Yee, a quiet girl from a nearby kampung, were married quietly in a secret ceremony that the Japanese would not know of. The two were quickly ushered off to a a quiet stretch of beach along the East Coast of Singapore where a sampan (tugboat) was waiting.

Under the cover of darkness, the two bade goodbye to Kok Shung’s parents and boarded the Sampan, which would carry them all the way to a remote island in Indonesia. Kok Shung stared at the petite, gentle woman before him. In other circumstances, he would have greatly appreciated this beautiful new wife; with images of death still in his mind, all he could do was hope that he would be able to give her a good life.

Part Four

Kok Shung and Mei Yee remained in Indonesia for a good ten years before finally making their way back to Singapore’s shores. The horrors of war had never really left Kok Shung’s mind; it would never leave the mind of anyone with first hand experience. The couple, who had a son named Kok Kiang in the interim, never discussed Kok Shung’s experiences with atrocity.

Never verbalized, the visions of trauma continued to fester and haunt the now experienced businessman. His pride never allowed him to discuss them with his wife or his son, and they became a sorrowful part of his life to be put in the closet of his mind.

To his family, Kok Shung was a responsible, loving but quiet father. The quiet man’s demeanor drastically changed, though, when Kok Kiang brought home a toy gun one day.

Seeing it in the boy’s hands, Kok Shung abruptly snatched it from him, pointed it at the boy and snarled. “Throw this away. Right now.” Meekly, the little child complied and the gun was never spoken of again.

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Part Five

The nightmares that Kok Shung was experiencing were known only to himself. Reticent by nature, he successfully managed to mask the torture recurring in his nightmares the whole time his young son was growing up. The incident with the gun was long forgotten, with new situations and endeavors in the life of the family to keep them busy. Kok Kiang grew into a fine, well-spoken, intelligent man who took over his father’s business.

Then came the news of the Gulf War. The fact that it was taking place in a country far away did not stop people from catching the news on television. Kok Shung was no different; relishing the latest news, he would comment on it at the dinner table, providing nuggets of entertainment for his elderly housewife mother.

Kok Shung, though, became extraordinarily quiet. He retired immediately to his room as soon as the news came on, leaving the family to believe that he was being his usual, quiet self. Papa’s usual reserved behavior, thought Kok Kiang. Oh well, Best leave him alone.

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Part Six

The screams coming from the kitchen woke Kok Kiang up with a start. He ran to it to discover something that he’d hardly expected - or wanted - to see.

His father was pointing the toy gun he had discarded many years ago at the head of his mother, who was whimpering like a cornered puppy. It occurred to Kok Kiang that his mother was not crying out because she was afraid of being hurt; rather, she was afraid of what her husband had become. He grabbed his father’s shoulders with as much gentleness as he could muster in the situation and bade him to go to his room.

He then ran to turn on the computer at his desk and keyed the question “What are some signs of trauma?” in the search box. The search returned interesting results - he discovered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. The symptoms of avoidance, irritability and sudden explosiveness looked hauntingly similar to the ones his father was experiencing.

Without his father’s knowledge, he made an appointment with a doctor at the Institute of Mental Health.


Part Seven

The next day, he ushered his father to his Nissan Sunny, telling him that he was about to take him somewhere interesting. He drove the car into the underground car park of the hospital, not wanting to alert his father as to the real intent of the journey just yet.

Something finally dawned on the old man when he saw nurses in white uniform. “Son, is something wrong with you?” He faced Kok Kiang with a quizzical look. Kok Kiang played it to a hilt. “Yes, Pa, and I need your company.”


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Part Eight

In the doctor’s office, all was finally revealed. Kok Kiang, in detail, spoke to the doctor about the symptoms his father was displaying - the quietness that, over the years, became avoidance, irritability and manifested themselves in a re-enactment of the trauma that had happened before.

“Sounds like your father could be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Why didn’t you consult us before?” The doctor gave Kok Kiang a searching look.

Kok Kiang was embarrassed. “Pa’s usually rather quiet. He never talks about his experiences during the Japanese Occupation, even though they must have been traumatic for him. We never ask either.”

The doctor chortled, startling Kok Shung who was a little miffed at his seeming insensitivity. “And there lies the problem. Because patients sometimes refuse to talk about what happened to them, the nightmares and trauma can fester and continue to be his demons.”

Kok Kiang was irritated. “Alright. So what can we do to help Pa, then? Is there medication for it? What IS it?”

“The name speaks for itself,” the doctor gestured to some pamphlets on the table on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “Your father’s reaction seems eerily similar to some of these symptoms.PTSD happens when a person's traumatic experiences, say of war, rape, or witnessing a murder can trigger symptoms of withdrawal or even manifest themselves in a reenactment of the traumatic event.Take these home for a look.

“As for treatment, there is no medication as yet - what I can recommend you is a colleague who can take your father through the trauma. I’ll set up an appointment for you.”

Visits to the psychiatrist, stationed at the hospital, proved to help Kok Shung a little with his recovery. The therapist armed father and son with coping skills needed to survive the devastating trauma associated with war.

Kok Kiang was taught to listen actively to his father while he gradually helped the older man to speak up. There were times when the older man suddenly broke down in the sessions, revealing how guilty he was feeling about surviving while those around him died.

With little steps, the doctor got Kok Shung to accept the fact that he had been a war victim and that it was over - there was no need to be overwhelmed by it.

“Remember that it’s important for you to come here regularly with your father for visits,” the psychiatrist advised. “The support family gives to sufferers of a trauma can be so important to his recovery. Also, do remember not to criticize his reaction or say that he is being silly - the experiences are real and will remain so. Be sensitive.”

“All right, doc,” the younger man grinned. “We’ll take your advice. But is it okay if we eat Japanese food?”

The doctor shook his head with a cool smile.


What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can affect anyone who has had a very traumatic experience. Sufferers would include victims of rape, war, abuse or witnesses of murder.

What are the symptoms?

  • Hyperarousal - behaving as though threatened by an event similar to the trauma
  • Avoidance - trying to avoid talking about the event or withdrawing from people
  • Helplessness
  • Memory Problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Intrusiveness - the traumatic event intrudes into the sufferer's life
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Upsetting dreams about the event
  • Flashbacks

Treatment

Cognitive Therapy

  • Do not criticize the sufferer's reaction
  • Family emotional support
  • Listen patiently to the sufferer when he tries to talk about his trauma
  • Talk to the sufferer and help him or her realize that though what happened is a real event, it need not overwhelm.

Exposure Therapy

  • If the patient is afraid of loud noises because of his experience, gradually expose the patient to theses noises.
  • Focus on talking about memories that are less traumatic than the more traumatic ones.

Copyright (C) by Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin

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