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Sunday, May 3, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 47 (& the Importance of Mental Health)

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It's almost hard to fathom the toll that this whole pandemic mess is having; while we are bombarded with stories related to the physical health of COVID-19 patients, it's easy to forget the emotional toll these days are taking on so many.  I hold myself fortunate in that regard, as I am doing decidedly okay.  I will note though that (as James Taylor sang), I've seen my share of "fire and rain".  Regardless, I do think that once we are out of crisis mode, there will be an even greater need for mental health support by many.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a real thing, and sometimes it doesn't manifest itself until years after the event.  You can learn more about PTSD by clicking HERE.

Changing gears, well kind of, I was in the shower on Wednesday morning and as I turned on the radio, this song was playing:

I don't consider myself a big fan of the whole Southern Rock genre, but I have been known to enjoy some "Skynyrd" from time to time.  In fact, I've probably heard this particular song a hundred or so times, but it wasn't until Wednesday that I really heard the following lyric:

Oo-oo that smell, 
can't you smell that smell?
Oo-oo that smell, 
the smell of death's around you

Not only did I hear the words, but I understood them, maybe for the first time.  

As I am in the shower, radio blaring (Ms. River was already up, being productive as part of her work from the home gig), that line is sung and almost immediately my mind is brought back to late morning on January 5, 2017.  That's when I went to my brother Chris' house to check up on him, at the urging of his boss at the Office of Mine Safety and Health Administration, who had called me with a worried tone to his voice.  Side note:  When you are on a first-name basis with your brother's boss, well, it's usually not a good sign.  Anyway, I was eating a late breakfast/early lunch at Denny's after having spent an hour or so at the gym.  At the time, I was still looking for a new job with few prospects in the pipeline, so part of my daily routine was getting up, putting my to-do list together for the day, checking the job boards, and heading over to the gym.  Anyway, I headed up to Scranton to check on Chris.

By the way, I'm sure I've recounted most of this story before, so I'll apologize in advance for any redundancy.

Arriving at Chris' house in Scranton (I had already tried to call him multiple times), I knocked on the front door to no avail.  Luckily for me, well if you want to call it "luck", the front door was unlocked.  That led me to open the front door, where three things hit me immediately:
  1. I could hear the radio playing upstairs.
  2. I was an icebox in the house, even colder inside than out (it was in the teens that morning).
  3. "That smell"*.
There was no power in the house, and as a result, there was no heat.  The radio that was playing was apparently running on batteries.  As I called for him to no avail, I almost instinctively went upstairs.  Part of the reason why I didn't look around on the first floor, which I now realize, was the smell...I just wanted to find him, make sure he was okay, and then leave.  The smell was over-powering and hung in the stillness of the cold air like a blanket, smothering everything it came in contact with, including me.

I did find Chris, laying across the top of his bed, face down, his face facing the floor.  I was fortunate in that the room was relatively dark, so I didn't see some of what was in the room, including what Chris went through prior to passing away.  I found out it was a somewhat gruesome scene.  About two weeks later, the Lackawanna County Corner's Office confirmed that he had likely died a minimum least 12 hours beforehand, based in part on the fact that his body had been frozen solid when I came upon him.  There's some contention as to the circumstances of his death; while I had a conversation with a detective in the Scranton Police Department a day or so after finding Chris, noting some suspicions on my part (Chris' daughter had similar suspicions), nothing further was said or done in that area.  Part of me thinks that's just as well.  A saving grace in all of this was the fact that I alone found Chris, saving others the trauma...including having to deal with the "smell of death's around you".

As noted above, I've already written about these events before; details can be found in the archive on this blog (see January 2017).  Part of me feels uneasy recounting these details now, but given the circumstances at hand, I think it's somehow important I speak to my experience in dealing with emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress.  Had someone told me 10 years ago that I would end up personally dealing with PTSD, I would have told them that it was ridiculous, that such things were, for example, what returning soldiers had to face.  It's not.  While I don't dwell on the events of January 5, 2017, very often, just thinking about it in order to write this posting brings back memories of that smell...and the feeling under my fingers of his frozen body as I tried to wake him (that of both softness and hardness, is unforgettable).  There isn't a day that goes by though when I don't think about Chris though.  

Bring this monologue full-circle, I know from (the above) experience that there is no shame in seeking help, especially during trying times.  And these are trying times for many.  Trauma isn't something that is easily measured or compared.  I can't say "well my finding my brother dead is worse than you losing your job", mostly because that may not, in fact, be true.  What is true is that we have an absolute obligation to ourselves and our loved ones to take care of our mental health.  We only get one shot at this life thing, and that shot is far too short to ignore problems that can be effectively treated.  

Oh, and lastly, let's be careful out there.

(*) At the time, there were easily had 30+ open cans of honey lager beer in the house, so if I had to describe the "smell of death" it would include a reference to something with alcohol that is sickeningly sweet.

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