1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 29:
Luckily, he still had enough of his wits to remember that she’d now asked him the same question twice. Or maybe it was even three times.
“Friends recommended I come here. Today, because I just enlisted in the army and I will soon be leaving for the training camp. I was involved in the accident at the coal gas plant. Very closely involved. And… well, I am having nightmares. And I keep seeing images of what happened. Very vivid images. They told me I might be suffering from some sort of—of—what is it called?”
Caroline was not smiling at all, now. “Post-traumatic stress disorder. We heard about the accident, of course. That must have been horrible.”
He took a breath. “Yes. It was. Does this mean I might be… ah, going insane?”
She shook her head, very forcefully. “Oh, no, nothing like that. In fact, you may not have PTSD at all. Thorsten, all the reactions you’re having are perfectly normal, after people go through an experience like that. We don’t define it as PTSD until quite a bit of time has passed. It’s only if the symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance—there a lot of them and they vary from one person to another, but those are the most common—don’t fade that we conclude something abnormal is happening. But ‘abnormal’ does not mean insane. There’s nothing at all wrong with your mind.”
She leaned forward still further, lowering her head and pointing to the back of her skull. Which, of course, was also shapely. Thorsten was racked by a sort of thrilled despair.
“Back here is what we call the limbic part of the brain. To simplify some, you can think of it as the most primitive—and most basic—part of the brain. It’s where automatic responses and our animal instincts are centered. But it’s not where thoughts are formed and emerge. That happens here”—she raised her head and pointed to her forehead, using both forefingers this time—“in what’s called the cortex.”
She paused briefly, gathering her own thoughts. “What seems to happen with PTSD is that the traumatic memories get stored in the limbic part of the brain, instead of the parts where they would normally get stored. We don’t know why it happens, really. Or rather, why it happens to some people and not to others. But once it does happen, the problem is that the memories are now locked into a part of the brain that doesn’t think rationally and doesn’t respond to reason. That’s why traditional talk therapy doesn’t usually work all that well, with PTSD. In fact, a lot of specialists—Maureen Grady, who set up and runs this department, being one of them—think talk therapy by itself is more likely to be harmful than helpful. They think all it does is keeping stirring up the traumatic memories without doing anything to alleviate them.”
Thorsten tried to sort through what she was telling him. Relieved, finally, to have something interesting to think about other than Caroline Platzer herself. That would help him… he though the American expression was “keep his cool.”
It was interesting, too, even fascinating. It had never occurred to him to think of the brain as something with different parts that did different things.
“So—perhaps I do not understand something—what you are saying is that there is not much that can be done for me. Yes?”
“No, not exactly. There are some techniques for dealing with PTSD that seem to be successful much of the time, or at least helpful. Using mental imagery as a way of soothing your limbic system before you engage in talk therapy often helps. There’s even”—here she chuckled softly, and shook her head a little—“don’t ask me how it works, because it’s always seem like magic to me. Maureen could explain it to you. It’s a peculiar form of getting a person’s eyes to move rapidly back and forth while they’re undergoing therapy—a lot of times the therapist just has them follow their finger—which seems to decouple the limbic responses. Like I said, it seems like magic. But, however it works, it does seem to work a lot of the time.”
She leaned back in her seat and half-turned, glancing first at a clock on the back wall and then at one of the doors behind her. “Maureen’s seeing a client right now, but she should be free, in a moment. I’ll talk to her about giving you the finger therapy. It’s also useful even for people just suffering from temporary symptoms.”
She turned back to face him, lacing her fingers together. Caroline was the sort of person who gestured a lot when speaking, so her fingers had been fluttering about. Now, for the first time, all of them were still and visible. He’d been almost certain already but now he could definitely see that while she was wearing three rings, not one of them fit the description of a… what did they call it? “Wedding band,” he thought. And none of the three rings was on the finger that, if he remembered correctly, was supposed to hold the wedding band.
He could only hope that that legend was true, at least. Any number of the others had already fallen like pigs at slaughtering time.
“But the main thing,” she continued, “is simply that it’s much too soon to determine if you have PTSD in the first place. You may very well not be suffering from it at all, Thorsten.”
The door behind her opened, and a middle-aged woman emerged, followed by another. From various subtleties of dress and manner—mostly the latter—Thorsten knew that the second woman was the up-timer.
His assessment was confirmed an instant later.
“Thank you, Maureen,” said the first women. “I shall see you next week, then.”
“Yes—but at noon, not the usual time, Cleopha.”
While the German woman passed through the outer room, nodding in a friendly way to Caroline and a polite way to Thorsten, Maureen held her door open. Once Cleopha had left, she glanced at Thorsten and then looked at Caroline.
“Can I speak to you for a moment, Maureen?”
“Of course, Caroline. Come in.”
Once Thorsten was alone in the room, he was finally able to relax a bit. “Relax,” at least, in the way that a twenty-six year old man will relax while his mind seems to have dozens of ideas ricocheting about at random—all of them involving a plot or scheme or ploy or maneuver to figure out how he could possibly manage to see this woman again, each and every one of which he is almost certain is completely hare-brained.