Ending the Nightmares Long after a Crash Victim's Physical Pain Subsides, the Mental Healing Continues
Stobbe, Mike, The Florida Times Union
In the recurring nightmare of 12-year-old Carl Harris, he and
two cousins are in a speeding pickup truck on a curving road in
northwest Nassau County.
The truck runs off the road. It hits a tree. His friends are
When he wakes up, Carl feels the burning sensation in his
fractured left elbow and the pain in his broken pelvis, left hip
and left knee. And remembers it was not a dream.
It was a fatal crash that occurred on a Saturday evening last
October, on Murrhee Road near the small town of Hilliard,
minutes from Carl's home.
That crash killed the driver, 22-year-old Kevin Forrester. It
killed another passenger, 8-year-old Wade Leon Harris Jr. It put
Carl in a hospital intensive care unit, then in a rehabilitation
hospital and now in a wheelchair.
Now, five months after the accident, Carl goes to a physical
therapist three times a week, still trying to remaster walking.
But perhaps the boy's toughest struggle has been with the
nightmares, anger, irrational guilt and the other psychological
baggage that came from the crash and resulting injury.
That is where Kamela Scott comes in.
Scott is a psychologist at Jacksonville's University Medical
Center. Last year, hospital officials took the unusual step of
assigning Scott part-time to the trauma center, a specialized
unit next to the emergency department that handles the most
severe emergency cases.
Scott's assignment is to become full-time by this summer.
While other trauma center staff help patients heal from
physical injuries, it is Scott's job to help the patients -- and
their families -- overcome the related psychological wounds.
"We're probably one of only a half-dozen trauma centers in the
country to do this," said Joseph J. Tepas, a pediatric trauma
surgeon who pushed for Scott's re-assignment.
"We've got a good system here," he said. "If you show up in my
trauma center with a gunshot wound to the chest, we will save
your life if it's at all possible. But whether we save your
sanity or help you avoid depression . . ."
Scott's is an innovative assignment, said William Samek,
chairman of the Florida Psychological Association's Hospital
At some medical centers, there are psychologists and
psychiatrists who work elsewhere in the hospital and can be
called to the emergency department or trauma center when they
"[But] a lot of hospitals don't call psychologists to the
emergency department, even as a consult," Samek said.
"Generally they don't call anyone. Or, when they do, it's a
psychiatrist who gives the patient a pill."
Scott's task is to find a more enduring way to deal with
post-traumatic stress disorder, a chronic mental condition that
affects people who have gone through extreme stress. Symptoms
can include anxiety, depression, nightmares, outbursts of angry
or violent behavior, and an inability to form close personal
Soldiers get it -- young men or women who are haunted by what
they've seen in battle for years afterward. But it also can
affect a young girl who saw her mother get shot, or a boy --
like Harris -- who saw friends die in a motor vehicle crash.
Some psychologists say the condition can be more debilitating
for children, who may not have felt heartache before or have
trouble understanding the malice behind a shooting or the
carelessness behind a crash.
Also, because children have their whole lives ahead of them, it
can have far-reaching impacts. …