TORONTO – Frontline soldiers aren’t the only members of the military who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Linford was a Canadian Forces’ trauma nurse and suffered from PTSD for 20 years.
As a trauma nurse deployed to a field hospital in Rwanda in 1994, Linford saw the incredible suffering from the genocide first hand.
He said dealing with the constant stream of severe injury and deaths while working 16 hours a day was hard, but the suffering of the children, he said, led to his diagnosis.
Some children showed up at the hospital, brutalized, starving, or hypothermic.
“It wasn’t uncommon to have each one of my staff including me holding a small infant under our arm to try and just provide some body heat,” said Linford.
Linford said 44 children died while in their care during his 100 day deployment.
But he blames himself for the death of one child.
He said the severely malnourished child’s face was the size of a small avocado. He was not used to dealing with infants and lacking sufficient training for it, He incorrectly inserted a feeding tube into the baby’s lung, not her stomach. She passed away within a minute and there was nothing he could do.
He said her death replayed in his head for years.
“Always ending with the death of that child and me helpless and having caused it,” said Linford.
He suffered from PTSD in silence, hiding his insomnia, anger and hypervigilance out of fear it would hurt his military career. But after a decade, he couldn’t take it anymore.
“I was sure I would probably kill myself,” said Linford.
So he finally opened up and instead of being shunned by the armed forces, he was supported and helped. With extensive therapy and medication he was recovering.
But in 2009 he was deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan. While there he saw children suffering, and dealt with severely injured Canadian soldiers.
“It was really a sight to see what an IED does to a human body,” said Linford.
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Halfway through his tour he stopped sleeping, which he said was a sign his PTSD was back. He doubled, tripled and quadrupled his sleep medication, trying to get even five hours of sleep a night.
As soon as he returned to Canada he sought help again.
“You realize, my God, I finally told someone and someone believes me and they are not going to judge me negatively.”
Linford is speaking about PTSD and has written the book “Warrior Rising” so others with PTSD hear the message he finally realized: if you come forward you aren’t weak, you are courageous.