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The Bomb That Changed My Life (swombat.com)
460 points by shadowsun7 on Dec 19, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 83 comments

Fascinating account of post-7/7 behavioural trauma, and how hard it was to do the right thing; it shows up both in Daniel's reaction and those of other commenters who've been in similar situations. It's not just bombs ...

Accounts I've read of what happens immediately after a [survivable] plane crash are similar. Many physically uninjured passengers will just continue to sit in their seats, waiting to be told what to do, even if the plane's on fire. Another sizeable minority act through their roles as if the plane had made a successful landing; stand up to grab their carry-on luggage, then form an orderly queue. Only around 10-20% actually behave appropriately (that is, follow the emergency evacuation drill, without guidance: pop the emergency hatches and get the hell out of the danger zone without encumbering themselves).

We are creatures of habit; we have great difficulty accepting the existence of an immediate and potentially lethal threat to our existence, so some of us behave as if it simply isn't there. (Which is why it takes training to instill the right reflexes for dealing with abnormal situations.) And even among those who unfreeze and start moving again, the impulse to revert to "normal" behaviour can be overwhelming.

I literally got this text from a friend "Dude my train just exploded".

I wasn't in London at the time and couldn't ask him what the hello he was on about as the news hadn't broken and the phone networks where down. Maybe 30 minutes after or something the news stories started breaking and I quickly emailed a few people to check on friends/family etc...

My friend didn't know what to do so just kept doing what he was doing. I guess similar to sitting in a seat and waiting, but since he already had a destination he kept on walking like a zombie. He walked the couple of blocks, sat down at his desk and started his morning routine like nothing had happened.

His office had a 40" inch plasma and it wasn't until that was switched the news and other staff started talking that he was pulled out of auto pilot and started to understand what had just happened and emotion and thought returned to him.

I would be one of the bystanders.

No medical training at all, but one of the things I know is that spinal trauma can happen in car accidents. You don't want to move the guys if they are not in immediate danger.

There would always be that fear that if you would just waited and not intervened, that guy would have walked and not live his entire life in a wheelchair.

I'm not saying you did something wrong. Just that, I won't try to move them but would watch helplessly from a distance.

sorry, replied to the wrong thread

There is a whole lot you can do without risk of spinal injury. Just securing the scene (preventing additional vehicles from hitting the vehicle), calling 911, checking for other hazards, and if safe, approaching and talking to the victim (to see if he's conscious/alert, and to try to calm him down), and if not, ascertaining if the victim is massively bleeding, has airway, breathing, and circulation, is good. If someone's not breathing, or is on fire, or has spurting arterial bleeding (e.g. from a severed leg), the potential risk of aggravating spinal trauma is basically a non-issue. You don't shake the head around, and support it in movement, but enh, it's a question of what's worse. It's not like you need special training to talk to someone who was injured.

I'm mostly used to combat casualties (where you also have to worry about enemy action, unexploded IEDs or UXOs, etc.), but I've responded to a bunch of traffic accidents in other places, including one a few hundred meters from my house on the offramp a couple nights ago. It's not really that hard, and basic first aid/CPR training is something most people should have, especially if you have kids.

(also, if you have a car, and you don't carry a flashlight or two, a blanket, a cellphone, and a seat belt cutter/glass breaker, and ideally a real first aid kit, you're really doing it wrong.)

Check on all except for the blanket, thank you for the reminder. Preparation is half the battle with anything.

Incidentally I found it quite hard to find a 'non-toy' first aid kit. Most companies will sell you a crappy set of contents in a very spiffy looking plastic box, that would be mostly useless in any situation beyond nicking your finger while peeling potatoes.

Yeah, I've never found a pre-assembled first aid kit which is worthwhile -- much better to assemble your own, so you know exactly where everything is and how to use it. I used to keep an IFAK on me and also a larger buttpack-style medical kit to put under a pack.

I'm kind of sad that I lost one of my good Italian army blankets at the vehicle accident the other night -- I didn't want it back after it was covered in a random person's blood and glass, and she was still using it. Annoyingly most of the good surplus sources for heavy wool blankets have gone dry.

I keep a minor-injuries kit for definitive care for minor comfort things (some small bandaids, OTC medications, wet wipes, etc.) separate from an actual trauma kit (well, one in cabin and a bigger one in the trunk) (4-8 israeli dressings, 2 Combat Application Tourniquets, some rolls of gauze, sterile blades, catheter/needle for tension pneumothorax, cpr mask (which I'd only really use on sketchy random people who appear ill, otherwise IMO its a waste of time, although in a bigger kit a BVM would be great), some needles, some nitrile gloves, surgical tape, duct tape, 2 SAM splints, hot and cold packs). Add to that the other normal zombie/earthquake/etc. things (heavy trash bags, crowbar, and trauma-causing implements), and I am really happy to have a car vs. take public transit.

Also, a case or two of water and sports drink (gatorade) is really useful in the car. If nothing else, blankets and a $3 case of bottled water saves a lot of money on road trips and at gas stations.

I fell off of my bike and broke my collar bone a few years back. Up until that point, i was young and naive enough to not be fully aware that not everyone shared the same experiences I had, including basic first aid training from the boy scouts. So when a bystander who saw the crash came over to "help", the first thing he said was "we have to get you out of the street", and he started trying to pick me up and drag me. I had to scream at him before he would listen and put me down. I remember being completely flabbergasted that he had done the one thing they tell you to never do -- try to move an injured person. I had to explain to him that if I had a neck injury, he could have just paralyzed me.

Is there good way of knowing how you'll respond in a crisis? Is it just random, or is it tied to some characteristic which can be observed in normal life?

For instance, I am quite self-regulated and often go against the grain in regular life. I spend a lot more time thinking about the "right way" to do things than do most people, I suspect. I never accept things on blind faith, even if they are told to me by a supposed authority figure.

Does all this mean I stand a better chance of not being a sheep in a crisis?

> Is there good way of knowing how you'll respond in a crisis?

Practice. Get safe but uncomfortable, cause some chaos, and deal with it. Then think about what you did, and why, and what you'll do next time. Or hire an outdoor first aid instuctor to inflict that on you.

> Does all this mean I stand a better chance of not being a sheep in a crisis?

It might. On the other hand, it might increase the chance of you getting blown up while arguing about the right way to escape. There's no easy answer.

I think if you studied people involved in emergencies, the people who knew about the bystander effect would be the ones who made all the difference. It's good to be prepared.

Ive seen this phenemenon in person. I was the 2nd person on scene to a head on collision with two in critical condition. I was trying to open the doors and get the girl out by moving the seat back and testing for breathing and pulse. 5 minutes later I see a semicircle of people around the cars about 18 feet away with paralyzed people, 15 of them frozen. One lit up a cigarette. For 5 minutes.

I asked for crowbars or tools to dismantle the seat so the person could exit. No one moved, it was like a movie to them. I think it is a survival instinct that has atrophied to dysfunction. Playing dead, or waiting for a more experienced leader to emerge with instructions. I was unable to register myself as a leader to those paralyzed brains.

One of the first things we were taught in EMT training is that if you ever need something from a crowd of bystanders you can't ask the mass, you have to pick a very specific person and address them directly. "Someone get me a crowbar" will get no response, but "You, in the red jacket, get a crowbar or something to open this" will usually get the effect you want.

Agreed. This has been studied and documented in the book 'Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion'.

Next time this happens, don't let the circle happen, start shouting orders at people. Become a manager on the spot. Tell them to do anything. Something as insane as telling them to do jumping jacks will work.

I've been in that situation before, I've been the first responder on site and while I have limited medical knowledge I knew enough to check pulses and verify that people were "okay", as soon as the second and third people showed up I started yelling orders at them. For some reason this causes them to do without asking "why" whatever you are telling them to do. Call 911, block off the road, turn on hazards, warn people coming down the roads, get a blanket, get water, I need a knife to cut the seatbelt.

Shout status updates to the person on the 911 call.

In my case a vehicle had caught on fire and I wanted to get everyone away as soon as possible. I started yelling at people to get out of the way at least a 100 ft and get down, I didn't want to risk an explosion (yes, I am aware of how unlikely it is, and it didn't happen this time) but there was a fire in the engine compartment. At that point a doctor had stopped, I was yelling at him to get away when he mentioned he was a doctor, I told him to help me get the person out of the vehicle that was on fire. Two other strong volunteers had made their way over to the other vehicle and were pulling the three people out of that vehicle (which had fared much better).

To this day I still don't remember faces, I don't remember much of what I did or how I did it, but I do remember a police officer telling me that I should consider myself a hero because I did what I should have done. He told me how the other people told him that I was yelling orders like a mad man and that I seemed to have the scene under full control. In reality I have no idea what went through my head, I have no idea how I was able to do what I did and what my thinking was like at the time. I had heard of the "By Stander" effect you mentioned before this, and I had been told what to do, but I have had no training at all.

To this day I still have slight PTSD. I have had terrible dreams about what I do remember, the person on the passenger side of the car which was on fire whose head was so smashed in from hitting the front dashboard (no seatbelt, no airbags) that it was completely missing, blood everywhere (blood is also surprisingly slippery ...) and trying to make sure everyone was safe that was showing up to "help".

You do what you have to do to take charge of a scene like that. I've also had the misfortune of dealing with serious and even life-threatening injuries. I guess I'm lucky because my brain does not shut down, but rather goes into overdrive. So I naturally end up taking charge whether I want to or not.

You're absolutely right about crowd mentality, too. You have to expect that most of the bystanders will be almost useless and order them about. I never told them to do jumping-jacks, but I do give specific instructions to specific people and that works a lot better.

But I know what you mean about seeing horrible things. I try not to think about Grandma lying in a pool of blood, even though I saved her. I hope I never see another compound fracture again.

Jumping jacks was an example I used because it is completely out there, but most people will find it an insane request and their brain will snap out of it. Generally becoming helpful at that point.

I've always given direct orders to anyone that I saw. Either by pointing at them, or by naming something they are wearing.

I guess I've never had to snap people out of it, I just started organizing them myself. It sure doesn't seem to take much to throw people into a panic, though.

(Not really directed at you calloc)

I would love it if anyone could provide any information or studies of behavior opposite of the "bystander effect". I don't really even know what to search for. What causes people to take action in emergency situations? What separates them from the crowd?

I don't know honestly, but the reason why I believe I jumped into action was because honestly I am a good and caring person and I will always attempt to help anyone that I can help.

I am unfortunately very much a push over in that regard as well, even-though I've been bitten multiple times I still continue to lend money to people that need it, I still continue to take my time out of my day to help them move, but most of the time I know that they wouldn't give me the time of day.

I just know that eventually it will pay off. I could have continued driving along without stopping, but I would have hated myself for it.

I have seen exactly the same effect. My girlfriend and I were chatting with a friend on the porch when we witnessed a car piling into parked cars by a driver who was suffering a heart attack.

I pulled up my cell phone and dialed 911. Two nurses who coincidentally happened to be taking their baby for a stroll came to the scene and peered into the driver's side window for well over a minute before my girlfriend asked them to open the door. In the end, those two nurses ended up saving the man's life with CPR until emergency workers arrived from the fire station a couple blocks away.

This is actually a social pehomenon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bystander_effect

The poster did help, so the bystander spell should've been broken.

You can't just call for non-specific help. You need to point at individuals, directly address them. Say "you!", not "someone?".

My brother the paramedic, is well practiced in getting strangers to do what he needs. Only a few calls are dramatic or dangerous, but I guess a lot of his daily work involves getting people to move back or hold a door open, or stuff like that.

Being with him in his civilian clothes in, say, a crowded shopping mall and barking out "Excuse me! Coming through!" because people are blocking his route to the coffee shop or something, and seeing the sea of people just part in front of him is impressive. Having an authoritative voice and a lot of self-confidence does wonders, apparently.

I've tried doing the same. Doesn't work for me. :(

Bizarre. I had almost the same experience in the south of France.

I was first on the scene of an accident where a car had taken a corner too fast and rolled. The car was upside down, the roof was partially crushed and petrol was pouring out of the car but the engine was still running. The single occupant was a young woman who appeared semi-conscious but was bleeding where shards of glass were embedded in her chest. I checked her vitals and then wanted to switch the engine off. Because of how she was positioned (half out of the window and without a seatbelt) I could not reach the ignition to turn the engine off. I was worried that the petrol pouring out of the car might ignite. I had to squeeze myself through the passenger side window but the roof had partially collapsed. After a bit of a struggle to reach I succeeded in turning the engine off.

By the time I had extricated myself from the car and returned to the driver a crowd had started arriving and were simply gawking (but not helping). Then someone lit a cigarette and I flipped. I'm the least aggressive person you could meet but I pretty much clouted him, gave him a mouthful of abuse and then when back to the driver.

It was a weird experience because "normally" I have a really bad phobia of blood. I can faint just hearing someone talk about the circulatory system (I'm not kidding, this has happened).

In this case my brain seemed to switch into a different highly-organised purely logical mode.

An eloquent description which captures the essence of one possible reaction. Mine was different (I live in Israel, had a similar encounter) but the core experience is similar.

It seems cliche, but there is a fundamental truth to the fact that most westerners are simply unaware of what the "I fear for my bodily integrity" sensation is and does to your life. OP's newly-discovered appreciation of how crowded buses present a potential security threat is a great example. It isn't that you suddenly see your life in a whole new light, it's that you regard various mundane things with a new, orthogonal parameter: is this situation more likely to result in harm to me?

Like all things, eventually you become inured and looking at a situation from a security perspective becomes a routine thought passing through your head along with "shit, I forgot to pay the gas bill." Without getting into Israel/Palestine, this is a slice of what living in Israeli society is roughly like.

I've spent a considerable amount of time in Iraq in the US military; it's very tough to explain to people how much energy I now spend assessing threats presented by very mundane acts/situations. It's exhausting. I constantly have to remind myself that I'm not in danger. So tired of it. I feel sometimes that if I were still in a combat zone or a constantly embattled place like Israel that energy wouldn't be expended for nought.

I was taught something really cool by a police friend of mine, and that is the traffic light of awareness. There is green, orange/yellow and red.

What you are describing is living above "red". It doesn't matter where you are, what you are doing or who you are with you are constantly looking at peoples hands, faces, posture, and constantly assessing threats. Many people in law enforcement and military have the same experience as you.

The way I have heard it explained is as such:

green = this is where you feel most safe, this would be when you are home in bed, or when you are back in your old childhood room at your parents house.

orange = You are slightly alert, this can be your condition while driving, or walking on the street. You are aware of your surroundings, but you feel comfortable and at ease.

red = You are highly alert, you are scanning every single person, you are scanning all situations, you are watching for unexpected movement, you are watching facial expressions and body language, you are looking for exits, you know what locations would be safe and what locations wouldn't be safe. Some people have said they experienced a sort of tunnel vision in that you don't nothing anything but potential threats.

People that spend a long time in the red zone can have significant issues with PTSD, it can put you on edge, make it difficult to function in society. The reason why law enforcement feels like such an outsider compared to the general citizen is partly due to constantly being in the red. When they are around other police officers they can let their guard drop a little and feel less stressed.

I hope you soon start feeling like you don't have to do what you are doing. I've heard from friends that were in the military that for them it went away after a year or two of being out, but it has been difficult for them, you forever see all situations and people in a completely different light. Best of luck to you.

Note: I personally spend a lot of time in orange and red modes, part of this may be my life long martial arts training as well as having had attempted muggings. Even while at home I never leave orange, I have a hard time finding a place where I feel completely at ease/in the green.

This is a great explanation and very apt. I'm generally at a red on this scale. I don't call that PTSD, btw, though a lot of laymen might. I just think it comes from the understanding that bad stuff happens regardless of how prepared you are, but you can minimize the damage if you're ready to react.

I don't know you and haven't seen anything like combat so sorry if this is presumptuous, but have you considered psychotherapy? A good therapist could teach you strategies to control your level of anxiety/stress/alertness whatever you want to call it. Doesn't mean you're crazy and there's no shame in it. thanks for our service.

Some cultures (US, in my personal experience) spend quite a bit of time convincing themselves that terrible things can't happen to them. For instance, I could be hit by a bus tomorrow in a freak accident and suffer a more painful end than a soldier in Iraq. That's not to say that Iraq isn't much more dangerous, but danger exists for everyone.

I feel for the soldier you're replying to because he is at odds with society in this regard. However, he's not at odds with reality because bad shit really does happen and I admire his not being so quick to label it some kind of illness.

Accepting that random dangers outside of our control exist is actually entirely different than the hypervigilance. Your bus example: Do you go into a panic at the sight of a bus? Do you check that every bus you see comes to a complete stop & doesn't have faulty brakes? Do you wait for buses to leave the area before you proceed?

With hypervigilance you are identifying threats that do not likely exist given the current context of the situation. Classic post-war examples are where someone needs to check their corners before exiting an aisle of a grocery store or fears slowing down at an intersection because it leaves them vulnerable, even though they are in their hometown. It can interfere greatly with someone's quality of life.

But you see what I'm saying? "quality of life" is an illusion because danger exists in those situations. my point is not hypervigilance, as you say. my point is... enjoy your life because it could be very, very short

The poster you were responding to sounded like he may be dealing with hypervigilance, which is why I brought it up. Hypervigilance is one facet of PTSD. PTSD should not be poo poo'd. People with PTSD cannot just say "oh life's short, I should enjoy it" & then get on with their lives.

The poster didn't sound like he's in such bad shape and doesn't deserve to be labeled as diseased. If he decides he needs that, sure, it should be taken dead seriously. He may not. Just let the man live his life and decide what he can or cannot say

There are bad things which can happen all the time. I don't think being "extra vigilant", as long as it doesn't cross over into clinical hypervigilance, is really that wrong. Driving, in particular, is incredibly dangerous, and treating really bad drivers like they might be VBIEDs seems to be consistent with safety.

It does wear off after a few years; at least it did for me. Now I can hear a car backfire without dropping to the ground (yes I did this once and felt pretty foolish). But I still freeze for a moment when I hear a distant firework or other load bang, and my mind immediately tries to identify the "weapon" sound signature. But I still feel uncomfortable in large crowds, and always scan for an easy exit.

I'm no expert, but both roquetman's and mattdeboard's stories sound like they might be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (symptoms include "Having an exaggerated response to things that startle you", and "Feeling more aware (hypervigilance)") [0], for which treatment exists that's apparently effective at least for some people. Continuing the recent suicide-prevention theme on HN, "Going through a trauma may increase a person's suicide risk. Studies also show that suicide risk is higher in persons with PTSD." [1] So please, if people find themselves having symptoms like this, consider getting help.

[0] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001923/ [1] http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/ptsd-suicide.asp

Indeed, but not every one of the reactions described idan, mattdeboard, or roqetman is attributable to a disorder. For example, freezing and trying to analyze the sound whenever an explosive noise occurs (or even ducking for cover) is not necessarily a pathological reaction - it could simply be a learned and throughly ingrained response. The patterns you learn in situations where your life depends on a trained behavior tend to be imprinted very deeply.

There are a couple of other things that need to go wrong until the diagnosis of PTSD is applicable. Sadly, this is not exactly made easier by the fact that people tend to have vastly different reactions and symptoms.

Yes; I do not believe I have combat-related PTSD. However I do believe that an early adulthood -- 18 to 31 -- spent in the Marine Corps does deeply ingrain certain modes of thought. When those modes are cemented by lengthy combat tours they can be hard to shake.

I think for me personally it is a highly anticipatory, self-protective mode. I am constantly assessing and "war gaming" where scenarios/situations might veer. This includes my daily commute, shopping trips and unfortunately romantic relationships.

Eh it's been 4 years for me now.

Are you implying that somehow the vacuity of this acquired reflex in a reasonably safe place and its associated tiredness makes you wish to go to a dangerous place, if only to make that reflex have a purpose, a meaning?

Yeah something like that

I have this same thing, but from playing too many video games. Constantly looking for sniper positions, cover, and I always have this feeling I want to walk sideways (strafe) around corners.

Yes, but this is the crux of his reaction:

There was something about the idea that I might have died in a grey train full of grey commuters, having not truly lived, that I could not stand.

I can't even imagine what it must be like living in a place where this threat is constant and tangibly real...

I wouldn't really describe it as a "constant and tangibly real" fear. Most Israelis will never see a terror attack in their lives. I can say that I spent the 25 years of my life in Israel without seeing anything like a terror attack, or gunshots or anything.

It's just a bunch of hype.

Wanted to clarify.

Israel is a very safe place on the whole. You are far more likely to die here as a result of the horrifically bad drivers than of any other cause. Day-to-day, it is not "walking around on alert" as various (ex?)military members have related above.

What exists is a higher level of awareness, certainly for those who have ever been in close proximity to some… event—but also for society at large. I don't know what it's like in the UK, but I don't think there are bored underpaid security guards at the entrance to every mall with handheld metal detectors and an "open your bag, sir." this kind of casually intrusive security is simply unknown in the US outside of airports, at least until the DHS collectively lose their shit over a plot to bomb a mall using chewing gum, bleach, and a tweezers.

So yes, there is hype, particularly if your information is gleaned secondhand from the media; they only show pictures of things here when they're on fire. That doesn't conflict with my (personal, biased) experience that society here has a deeply-ingrained sense of "be on the lookout." I certainly felt it in Tel Aviv during the wave of bombings around 2000/2001 and intifada II, and I saw firsthand how America tried to come to grips with this unfamiliar sensation in New York during 9/11.

I don't want to bring politics into this discussion, but as a Palestinian American, I certainly experienced the effects of Israeli paranoia during my visit around the second Intifada. IDF checkpoint interrogations became standard practice and inconvenience and intimidation became a normality. Thankfully, things have improved since that time period, but it's certainly a bleak reminder of the consequences of security. My hope is peace can eventually find it's way through, and both the Israelis and Palestinians can continue negotiations and finally live together in a civil humane society without constant fear and intimidation, one equal to all.

Plus fucking one.

Fellow Israeli here.

I wouldn't call it "a bunch of hype," but I agree that most of us don't live in fear. I object to the word "hype", as those that have experienced terror attacks don't forget them. The fear isn't exaggerated, but the frequency is.

> I can say that I spent the 25 years of my life in Israel without seeing anything like a terror attack, or gunshots or anything.

...but how? Did you never spend significant time in Jerusalem (before they finished the separation wall)? I only spent a total of a few months in Jerusalem and saw one suicide bombing and was a few blocks from a shooting. Have you never been to the west bank? One of the two times I went to Hebron I saw soldiers shooting at...who knows? But they were shooting. If you live near the northern border or near Gaza you must have been exposed to rocket attacks at some point. The only way I can imagine you don't encounter violence over 25 years is if you live in a safe area and don't venture out much. Still, you must have friends or family who are exposed to violence. I find it incredible that you think it's just 'hype'.

I had a coworker fly from Baghdad, Iraq to downtown London on 7-5-05. He seemed kind of pissed about the whole thing (although I don't think he was on any of the vehicles).

I almost went to Thailand just before their little redshirt coup thing on vacation from Iraq, too. Fortunately I couldn't get a flight, so I watched it on TV instead a few days later.

Thanks for posting that. It brought my awareness to something important.

I worked in 1 WTC and was about to get into the elevator when the first plane hit on 9/11. I was outside on the corner when the second plane hit.

When my head started to clear some time later--a week? two?--the clearest thought I had was: if my last act as a human had been connecting a data input form to a database table, it would have been a tremendous waste of my life.

Shortly thereafter I entered a new career and a new trajectory through life. The last 10 years have been amazing.

Living with the visceral awareness that sudden death is possible has changed me in many ways. Mostly for the better.

I do have some symptoms of PTSD. Low-flying planes freak me out intensely, as do sudden loud noises and low vibrations strong enough to shake things.

On balance, though, it has catalyzed tremendously positive change in my life. I'm glad that you've been able to make the same of it.

Cheers to being alive.

(Bizarrely, I was also in London on 7/7. A bomb squad truck nearly ran me over (on my bike) going the wrong way down the road near Liverpool St. station, and my wife was very nearly on the Hackney Wick bus.)

I am curious, what was your previous career and your new career? and what was wrong with the previous one?

I'm actually on my second career since then.

At the time of 9/11 I was an enterprise Java programmer. We built software for MBS desks: trade capture, portfolio management and risk analytics.

Finance is hugely interesting, but I was not learning any of it. I was building CRUD operations hooked up to Swing UI and a black-box (to me) analytics backend.

There wasn't (and isn't) anything "wrong" with that, objectively. But I possess two things: one, a strong need for self-determination--I need to eat what I kill; and two, a love for learning that can manifest as antipathy toward using things that I don't understand.

I ended up getting into finance proper and spending six years as a multi-asset prop trader at a gigantic hedge fund and then a gigantic bank, living in NYC and London.

I've ultimately realized that I want to help build stuff that people use, so my lovely wife and I moved to SF and are building a life here.

I do have some symptoms of PTSD. Low-flying planes freak me out intensely, as do sudden loud noises and low vibrations strong enough to shake things.

Are these really PTSD symptoms? I have the same thing, though perhaps not as bad. I was 5 miles from the attack, and in fourth grade at the time.

I'm not a doctor, but my understanding from talking to doctor friends is that the difference between a "Disorder" and a "quirk" is how much disruption it causes your life.

If when you see a plane flying low you hit the ground and start screaming, that's certainly a disorder. If you glance up at the plane and feel "hrm, I don't like it much", that's not really a disorder. In between those two extremes is found the difference between PTSD and "I don't like low-flying planes since 9/11".

I have about 3/4 of a panic attack if a big plane flies low near me in an urban environment. It has to be low enough for me to feel (or imagine that I feel) the vibration from the engines in my body.

Now that I think about it, I also get freaked out in moving crowds now, which I never did before. (I can be in crowded places, no problem--it's just when a lot of people are moving and mixing, like at a parade, music festival or busy shopping district.)

The airplane thing is totally manageable; I just need to stop and take a few deep breaths. The crowds thing starts off that way, but can get outright panic attack inducing if I don't get somewhere less crowded, and quickly.

I'm with OP. It seems that to be a 'disorder' it needs to have outwardly visible and functionally maladaptive outcomes on your behavior.

If you want to know what constitutes PTSD "officially", then just google around for the DSM-IV criteria: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/pages/dsm-iv-tr-ptsd.asp

Thanks for that. My girlfriend at the time, got off at Euston when they evacuated the station and decided to try take a bus to get to work. While waiting for her bus, a bus exploded not far from where she was standing. Her reaction was to walk through the city to work, asking for directions along the way, walking even past my office. I couldn't reach her because the mobile network went out of action. She didn't want to come to my office because she knew I traveled in early to make it to a meeting and didn't want to disturb me (the meeting obviously got canceled). It's been hard for me to understand the thought process that made her want to take a bus when the station was being evacuated, and made her want to walk to work after that. I think it's been a case of the initial evacuation making her worry about getting to work on time and even though she didn't know about any explosions at that point she was already reacting in a panic. With the trauma of being near a blast, it must have anchored that thought process into becoming the most important mission for her to accomplish.

I was on a train when they started evacuating a station, and I was praying to myself that the train leaves the station quickly in case the evacuation was for a bomb. Little did I know the bombs were on the trains themselves and not in the station, but my initial reaction was to get out of that station and to get out of the train network and away from public places and crowds as quickly as possible. This article helps explaining this thought process to me.

That's exactly what I did, I used to get the Piccadilly line from Kings Cross going south around the time the bomb went off. The trains on that line at that time are really packed, about 4 to 5 people per m2, I can only imagine what it must have been like down there. But, I was 10 mins late that day and couldn't get on the tube to connect at Kings Cross. People were running out of my normal station but I ignored that and walked down to Kings Cross thinking 'stupid Northern Line I'll get on there'. When I got to Kings Cross there were lots of people milling around and walking away from there, I think I asked someone and they said the station was closed. So I just got on a bus on Euston Rd and went to work as normal. I bumped into a colleague on the bus and she said she had been walking past an air vent outside Russell Sq station when there had been a huge inrush of air and a deep rumbling sound. I remember saying to her that it was probably just the power supply going out, maybe a transformer explosion or something (we had just been discussing mitigation of transformer explosions at work a few days before). Obviously, it was a weird day at work, nobody did anything really. It was too far to walk home, I ended up getting 5 different busses, partly because the service was all over the place and partly because I had to get off one because I thought someone looked suspicious. I grew up in London and the three lines and the bus route that got bombed were ones that I had used regularly all my life, I took it quite personally that they had attacked 'my places' in 'my city'.

Very well written.

I had a similar experience with the tricks the mind can play after a bad car accident a few years ago. Although I didn't know it at the time, I had broken almost everything except my left arm and neck. But I could quite plainly see that my right femur bent in an unnatural curve like a floppy puppet's leg. Yet still I insisted that the rescuers couldn't phone my wife because she was 7mths pregnant and had gone back to bed that morning after feeling sick.

Subconciously, my brain was thinking I shouldn't bother her with this and I'd be patched up and home for dinner. I just couldn't process the obvious inputs like a normal rational person.

Also, although I remained concious throughout, I don't remember much of the incident and had no idea how they got me out of the car until I saw the police photos. The mind is a strange thing.

My friend, gravely injured in a nasty accident, told firefighters not to mention anything about the accident to his mother becuase she would be scared - just 5 minutes before he died. It seems that his brain worked the same way as yours after the accident.

I'm really sorry to hear about your friend. It gives me goosebumps to think that I might have reacted the same way but with a far worse outcome. On the other hand, it's comforting to know that others have taken the same attitude in similar circumstances.

To this day my wife still hasn't forgiven me. The accident happened at 0930 and she didn't get to see me until 1600hrs.

This is really great writing. Brings back very vivid memories from that day, which in retrospect I can't believe I never wrote down.

I was playing hooky from school, in a flat in Kings Cross, with my then-girlfriend, after a very late night. I was alerted to what had happened around 10am, when I answered the phone on perhaps the 7th ring, figuring I was in trouble for sciving.

I think my mum had already started planning my funeral by that stage. There's probably a decent chance that, had I gone to school, given my lateness, I might have been a bit closer to the action - the moral of which I take to be "skipping school saved my life"

Looking back now, I remember how the sense of relief I felt very quickly turned to a sense of despair and numbness, as more and more pictures came on the TV and more details emerged. The entire city was bleeding, but in a very strange way, much like what the writer of this post describes, a kind of zombie-like state where everything feels disconnected.

Amazing writing, thanks for taking the time out to lay out every detail. It is hard to put yourself into an event like this when you at home sitting on your couch watching it on TV. I watch and see numbers (56 dead) and it is hard to really get emotionally involved with people who you most likely don't know when you have such generic details. Reading this, I feel like I was there, even for a moment.

Thanks again for putting something horrible like a bombing in perspective. I'm glad to hear you came out of it stronger on the other end.

Very well written thank you for sharing, very few people can put this into words. What changed my life about 3 years ago was getting hit by a car (was my fault ran across a street to catch a streetcar). I clearly remember the whole thing, rolling over the hood, having the foot broken by the wheel. Lying on the pavement with people around me. Changed my life for the better.

Funny thing, I was carrying a sandwich I just bought and got pretty upset when paramedic stepped on the bag where the sandwich was!

'I should be 1 of those people who can help others in this situation, not just a passive, helpless observer. I can help'

Kudos Dan.

I've noticed first hand as both a first-responder & bystander the different ways people react. It's broadly in 2 categories, those paralysed by the automatic Fear/Flight/Freeze response and those Individuals who shape the instinctual response with a trained response, overriding the Survival Stress Reaction [0] most people exhibit. You see 2 groups of people: those frozen by instinct and others who run towards trouble. People who are trained to respond run towards trouble.

The story Dan has written is a natural human story telling response to traumatic events. Re-telling the story(s) lets you make sense of what has happened and re-gain control over their own destiny. Safety is also being sought here. Control, safety & the knowledge you won't die.

Which brings me to my next point. Not everyone wakes up thinking, today's the day I'm going to be injured or killed then watch other people get injured or killed? Police, Ambo's, firemen, soldiers are exposed to this threat every day. They train hard and have the necessary support structures (sort-of) to survive. Civilians don't, so Scar stories of survival fulfil an important role.

People who have been in situations such as @swombat as a civvie or @mattdeboard in the military or @idan living in a potentially dangerous environment, the key thing they are striving for is to feel and be safe. Being safe is something you don't know you have until it's not there.

[0] SSR or Survival Stress Reaction is where "a state where a ‘perceived’ high threat stimulus automatically engages the sympathetic nervous system.", Siddle.,B. "Sharpening the Warriors Edge: The Psychology & Science of Training" http://www.amazon.com/Sharpening-Warriors-Edge-Psychology-Tr...

Daniel, do you still think that following the driver's advice to not look right was a good decision?

I ask because I don't think, in the same situation, I would have been able to resist it, and I honestly have no idea what effect that sight might have.

When you do feel fear on public travel now (and I guess it was even worse in the past), what goes on in your mind? Is it one of those things where you know really that your worry is foolish but you can't help yourself, or is your entire brain telling you that you could be in trouble?

> Daniel, do you still think that following the driver's advice to not look right was a good decision?

Yes, absolutely. Considering the impact this had even without throwing in the horror of seeing mutilated bodies, I think that was the right decision. It might have felt like I was in control and sane enough to handle it at the time, but considering how I spent the next 2 hours wandering around london zombie-like, I clearly was not.

When you do feel fear on public travel now (and I guess it was even worse in the past), what goes on in your mind? Is it one of those things where you know really that your worry is foolish but you can't help yourself, or is your entire brain telling you that you could be in trouble?

I know that it's foolish, I know that the chances are infinitesimal, and I know it's biased and unsubstantiated and based on racial prejudices which I abhor. And yet, I'll find myself reminded of that feeling of paralysis, and of being stuck in the tube those 45 minutes. It's not a pleasant experience, so when I change tube, you could argue I'm running away from the experience rather than the danger...

The London Underground drivers and station staff are trained to do that. Suicides happen quite frequently on the tube and the staff are trained to distract people from what's happened and to make people quickly pass the scene and ensure they look the other way. There must be some psychology behind it.

>>Daniel, do you still think that following the driver's advice to not look right was a good decision?

Advice: I know people with PTSD and believe it is a good thing if you can avoid getting it yourself.

Personally, I can handle blood. But as a Scandinavian, I have a hard time seeing suffering even for a Westerner.

It seems like iskander's account is hellbanned, I think it's one of those rare false positives. Anyway, he replied to your comment:

"On the other hand, seeing violence up close gives you a better understanding of experiences many people outside the affluent west have to deal with. I ran back toward my bus after it blew up in Jerusalem and I mostly don't regret it. I hav been haunted by the experience since (the smell most of all) but I also feel like I gained a lot of sympathy for people whose situations were previously totally abstract to me."


Not everyone's meant to be a reality junkie. A body can only handle so much (like heroin). http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2011/07/dispatc...

On the other hand, seeing violence up close gives you a better understanding of experiences many people outside the affluent west have to deal with. I ran back toward my bus after it blew up in Jerusalem and I mostly don't regret it. I hav been haunted by the experience since (the smell most of all) but I also feel like I gained a lot of sympathy for people whose situations were previously totally abstract to me.

Thank you for writing about this experience. I'm sure it must not be easy to relate something so traumatic and intimate to thousands of strangers, even six years later.

Many people who experience something like this never find the lesson from these experiences as you have, instead ending up with PTSD or similar; I hope that our governments can begin to respond more humanely to tragedies like this and help those who aren't able to find their own path out of fear with counseling and other assistance.

Our response to terrorism over the years has largely been one of fighting the threat (and understandably so). We should add to it a response of compassion for those who, through misfortune, find themselves harmed mentally in a way that most of society cannot understand.

Captivatingly written. I know what the author means regarding taking, "paralyzed by fear" as something figurative, not literal, until it actually happens to you.

I remember a few years ago (2006) seeing two very large military transport aircraft flying incredibly close together, very low, and directly towards the building I was in (on the 10th floor). I literally stopped mid sentence - they obviously turned away and went on to the nearby RAF base but for a while my brain just seemed to freeze. After the event, I felt a bit of a fraud and worried people might think I'd done it for dramatic effect, but it was totally involuntary - I just sat, motionless looking out the window for about 5 seconds.

My wife worked in the city for one of the big banks. A chap who worked there was in a similar situation. He missed the train that had the bombers on board, but he decided to grab a bus to work instead. This also had one of the bombers upstairs which moments later detonated killing most of the people on the bus. What made it even worse is that everyone who died that day was taken to a makeshift morgue on Moorgate which is overlooked by the people who worked in his team. A really shocking day.

I was in the tube that day (but at a station far from the actual bombs) and probably because of that plus travelling the next day, I saw almost nothing of the coverage or what actually happened. I only noticed that something had happened after exiting the tube and getting stopped when trying to get back down at Piccadilly. It's a strange thought to look back and know that only through random chance did I happen to be on a train that wasn't involved.

Incredibly powerful writing, even more so when combined with that track.

Thank you for sharing this - I was 17 and away from home (and news) when this happened and it never really struck home what happened that day.

Thanks for posting this. A poignant reminder.

Well written by a regular HN contributor, but not hacker news. If somebody is interested in Daniel's writings, they can just subscribe to his RSS.

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