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Sudden Impact

Chris Hartlove

Sudden Impact (continued)

PALS made MacKenzie realize that in order to reach patients with all kinds of support information in a timely manner, she needed a nationwide network. Getting trauma centers around the country to buy in and implement TSN could be that vehicle, an attempt to reach out and pull together trauma centers large and small, so they could promote and offer earlier psychosocial interventions.

For patients, TSN may serve as a bridge to long-term recovery. Many say they’re too drugged and disoriented while in acute care to even comprehend what support services they’ll need, and those who go on to inpatient rehab (just 30 percent of all trauma victims) generally aren’t offered routine psychological services.

“At [the rehab hospital] that was never addressed; all the talk was about physical rehab, ‘you’re going to see the PT, you’re going to see the OT,'” says 44-year-old Mike Mutchler, who, along with his stepdaughter and fiancée, was severely injured in a head-on crash in June 2009. His injuries required more than 15 surgeries.

“I was at enough of a level of consciousness when I was there that it would have been extremely helpful,” says Mutchler. “I’d go so far as to say I wouldn’t even make it an option; I’d require that a psychiatrist come down to talk with a patient, even if it’s just for five minutes, to determine what type of help you might need. Because everyone who goes through this needs something.”

The Trauma Survivors Network may be that first step. MacKenzie’s team is now studying its impact on outcomes, especially TSN’s use of support groups, self-management programs and peer counseling.

MacKenzie’s PhD student, Anna Bradford, says those data are vital. As a social worker, Bradford established and ran a trauma support and peer visitation group at Inova Fairfax Hospital for 15 years. Called “Rebuild,” it was a TSN-like precursor, and part of Bradford’s efforts included selling other area hospitals on incorporating the program.

“My gut said everything I saw was making a difference, but I didn’t have any data at all,” says Bradford. “So I’d go around to these various hospitals, tell them about the support work, and they’d say, ‘Oh, what a cool program. Tell me a little bit more about the research.’ And I’d go, ‘Excuse me?’ That’s why I went back to school, and that’s where Ellen comes in.”

Bradford is hoping the data will bear out what survivors like JR Black already know—that the opportunity to join with others in the trauma community will further healing. At the very least, says Black, such support could keep others from making the same seat-of-the-pants mistakes he made during his recovery—such as suddenly stopping his narcotic pain meds because of the side effects.

 “I had been home a few months, and I decided I was going to stop ‘cold turkey’ and not tell anybody. Just sticking the medications in a tissue and hiding it in the recliner I was in because I couldn’t sleep in a bed then,” says Black, who was recovering at his parents’ Hagerstown home.

“That was the worst month and a half of my life. It was July, 90 degrees out, and I was sweating, then freezing, and depressed, constant mood changes, no one to talk to. It was nighttime and I couldn’t sleep, and the nerve pain was tingling so bad it kept me awake, screaming in the middle of the night.”

 Despite the agony, Black, unaware that weaning himself slowly from the meds was the correct option, refused to relent. “I felt like [going back on pain meds] would start the side effects all over again. I just wanted to get back to ‘normal’ again. What I didn’t know at the time was that what I was doing could have killed me easily.”

Experiences like these gave Black, a longtime professional musician, the desire to become a volunteer recovery coach, someone who could reach out and counsel newly injured trauma victims. That’s a desire shared by everyone sitting around the table with Black. They’re all taking part in TSN’s volunteer peer-to-peer training, their freshly minted ID badges a symbol that Shock Trauma values the input these survivors will soon be giving to its patients.



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Good Hearts, Good Spirits

Soon after Nicole Lawrence was injured in a car crash, the Trauma Survivors Network connected her with J.R. Black, a fellow survivor who helped in her recovery.

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