CopShock: Second Edition
Surviving Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

by Allen R. Kates, MFAW, BCECR


Chapter 6:  Shootings (continued)

Ian said, “There was a lot of noise. Screamin’ from the office. There was fucking gunsmoke all over the place and he was yelling and screaming. A lot of blood.”

“You got something on your face,” said Eric.

Ian touched his forehead and his fingertips came away black. He was so close to the robber’s gun when he fired, it peppered his skin with lead shavings.

In minutes, the lobby filled with cops. Like before, they wanted to see the shooters, the cops who fired their guns and survived. Ian noticed “they had that look.” Soon Ian’s boss arrived at the crime scene.

“Look, Ian, how you doin’?” he said.

“All right, everything’s all right.”

“You okay to talk?”

“Fuck, I wanna get a drink and forget about this.”

“Let’s get the money off the mutt,” said his boss, “and go in the office and count it, okay?”

They searched the gunman’s pockets as he lay on the floor “like a mangled rag doll.” They counted the money, most of it covered in blood, not talking much about the shooting, not talking at all about Ian’s anguish over it.

In the bathroom where the perp had emptied the wallets, Ian scrubbed the blood off his hands. Then he went to the precinct. He had paperwork to do. At least he could be alone to sip a coffee.

After writing up the shooting report and noting the late hour, Ian signed out. He went to a bar, alone, and then he went home.

“I went home and stood in one spot in my kitchen,” he said. “My wife was still up and we talked about the children, shopping, anything but what happened. I didn’t tell her. My wife said, ‘Ian, you’re going to wear a hole in the rug. I think you’re drinking too much.’”

Ian wanted to deny it but he couldn’t. A drinker since a teenager, he drank more and more after joining the Stakeout.

He went to bed. It was now a few hours after he shot the HFC bandit. Unable to sleep, he lay in bed thinking about right and wrong.

“I was brought up a practicing Catholic,” he told me. “And I had these ideas that God set out certain rules, and I didn’t know if I violated these rules and was guilty of the biggest sin. Like should I have sacrificed myself more before firing the gun? I was always thinkin’ like that when I had a few drinks.”

He finally dozed off and dreamed. He dreamed in slow motion...

          The bandit sailed around the corner.

          “Police” yelled Ian.

          A gun flashed.

          Ian pulled the trigger of his shotgun and out the end of the barrel
          a slug waltzed lazily a few feet and tumbled to the floor.

          “What’s wrong with the bullet?” mumbled Ian.

          He fired again.

          Rotating to the end of the barrel, the bullet fell out of the gun...

From repressing his feelings of vulnerability and fear, Ian could not untangle his many conflicts. In a sweat, he awoke from his nightmare with a distressing question on his lips. Is it right to further your career in a detail that engages in violence? He had no solution, and his nightmares continued for many months of nights.

The HFC incident was a turning point in Ian’s life in the Stakeout Unit. He told me, “I never really come to terms with it. I started questioning every little thing regarding that area of my life.”

Before long, Ian’s inner turmoil announced itself in a way he couldn’t ignore or control. “I was driving over the George Washington Bridge on the way to work and I couldn’t breathe no more,” he said. “I was choking, and I felt like I was going to pass out, like I was going to die. I was way up in the air. I couldn’t pull to the side. When I got to the other side, it didn’t subside. I was sweating. Heart racing. I thought I was going to faint.”

Ian’s panic attacks occurred frequently throughout his third and final year in Stakeout. And they didn’t only occur on the bridge. Sometimes when he was out for a walk, he would suddenly be overwhelmed. He’d become dizzy, nauseated and his heart would pound like it was in his throat. Feeling like he was smothering, he got chills or trembled for no apparent reason. And always, he believed he was going to die.

“Did you see a doctor about it?” I asked.

“I didn’t want people to call me a whiner or say, ‘Well, what is he, nuts or something?’ ” Ian didn’t consult a doctor or tell anyone about his stress reactions.

“What did you do?”

“I lived with it. I rationalized. I kept saying, ‘Wait a minute, you didn’t die last time. You’re not gonna die this time.’ The only way I wouldn’t get the attacks is if I had a few drinks.”

Ian experienced panic attacks and exhibited posttraumatic stress reactions common to combat soldiers and victims of violent crime. He said, “I had difficulty falling asleep. Difficulty staying asleep. Had night sweats. I got irritable and angry, but I got quiet. I didn’t want to break my wife’s chops because she didn’t deserve it. My blood pressure went up. I had adrenaline rushes. If I drank, I had those little sad times and cried.”

Ian told me he experienced depression and tried to deny feelings of guilt and remorse for the shootings. Sometimes images from shooting scenes unexpectedly invaded his thoughts. He tried to avoid thinking about the shootings or driving by places in which they happened.

At times his feelings fluctuated between wanting to scream to withdrawing into himself. Ian lost interest in doing things and stopped exercising. He became mistrustful of others. His sense of smell became quite keen, especially if something was dead nearby, and he could detect even the smallest trace of gunpowder in the air. Ian sought to medicate his symptoms by drinking too much.

All rights reserved. Copyright © 2008, 2022 by Allen R. Kates

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