Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

The Bridge: Facing Disaster in Your Own Backyard

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

The Bridge: Facing Disaster in Your Own Backyard

Article excerpt

The Bridge Facing disaster in your own backyard

By Patrick Dougherty

Wednesday, Day1 I got home from my yoga class about 7:30, feeling refreshed and ready to make some dinner. I turned on the computer and looked at my e-mails. There was one from a friend in California that said, "Oh, my God. Your bridge! What a nightmare. I pray that you and your family are well and all of you are safe." I had no idea what she was talking about.

I went to the TV and turned it on. There to my horror was a bridge that IÕd crossed hundreds, maybe thousands of times, and it was sprawling in a twisted heap. Bridge 9440, located only a few miles from my home in Minneapolis, had collapsed into the Mississippi River. A semitrailer was on fire, next to a ruined school bus. People were milling around, some obviously in shock, some bloodied, some carrying stretchers, some in the water. Ambulances and police were everywhere. I was stunned. Bridges donÕt fall down, especially just a few miles from my house.

I thought of my kids, but I knew where they were and that they were safe. I wondered if anybody else I knew was in the midst of the wreckage. I sat mesmerized in front of the TV for more than an hour, with the growing urge to do something. Sitting alone, watching and feeling helpless, was terrible. I wanted to go down to the bridge, but I knew the area was in turmoil and I knew IÕd only be in the way.

Thursday, Day 2

I turned on the television as soon as I got up the next morning. There were still only a few known dead, although there were many injured and missing; exactly how many was still unknown. I found myself haunted by the idea that some clients might not come in, ever.

My first client of the day, Dan, talked about the bridge for 15 to 20 minutes. We swapped stories about what weÕd heard on the news. I donÕt think I could not have talked about it with my first client. The bridge was only about three or four miles away, and my heart was aching. I was quite preoccupied with the tragedy unfolding as we spoke.

Then, when he shifted the conversation to talk about his marriage, I felt a surge of irritation and judgment. How could we talk about his usual "issues" when all this was going on? I was disappointed and judgmental that he didnÕt want to talk more about the disaster and its aftermath. I took a deep breath. Where was this was coming from? Clearly, whatever his needs, I still needed to talk about the bridge. If I couldnÕt be at the center of the aftermath, I wanted at least to feel myself a part of it in my office, but I reminded myself that my clients werenÕt required to share my agenda.

IÕd been seeing my next client, Kate, twice a week for more than 10 years. As soon as she walked in, she began to weep and said, "My God, do you know anybody who was there?" I answered, "Not that I know of." She cried some more and then said, "Whatever you do, donÕt turn this on me and make it therapeutic. This is happening to both of us." Very relieved, I assured her that idea hadnÕt crossed my mind. So Kate and I spent the entire hour on the events going on around us and what people throughout the city must be going through. She did a lot of the talking, but I did a fair share, too. I was relieved to be able to say so much, to be able not to have to stay locked into an emotionally neutral therapeutic role. In fact, just being another human being who wasnÕt magically immune to the devastation that had taken place seemed the most "therapeutic" thing to do--therapeutic for both of us.

During the lunch hour, I ran over to the Red Cross, and stood in line with many others. At least here I could do something that would directly benefit the victims. I filled out a questionnaire, waited for a long while to get called in, and then sat down with a woman while she took my blood pressure and I answered about 50 questions. Everything seemed fine until the second-to-last question. Twenty-five years ago, IÕd lived in Northern Ireland for a few months, and because IÕd been exposed to mad cow disease back then, I wasnÕt allowed to give blood now. …

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