The Road to Discovering a New Way to Resolve Trauma and Emotional Pain
This is an excerpt from Tom’s latest book
There is a saying that necessity is the mother of invention. I had a personal experience that made it necessary for me to invent a new way of resolving emotional pain and trauma.
On December 7, 1993 I went to answer my front door at about 6:00 in the evening. I was living in a small town called Fairfield, Iowa in the USA that had a population of about 10,000 people. It was generally a peaceful place but not so that evening.
I had a large oval decorative glass window in the front door and through the window I could see that there was someone at the door. It was a stranger. Someone I had not seen before.
As I started to open the door this stranger brought his hand out from behind his back. He had a large handgun in it. “Oh God! He’s got a gun.” I shouted as my wife and daughter were also in the house.
I slammed the door and turned the handle to lock it but the stranger stepped over and shot through the oval glass. The bullet hit me in the chest and the impact of it knocked me back with its force. I found out later that it was a .44 caliber gun, which is a very powerful weapon. Hunters use this kind of gun to kill bears. “I’m hit,” I yelled.
I stumbled into an adjacent room and fell to the floor. As I did I yelled as loud as I could to my wife to call the police hoping that this would discourage the assailant from trying to come into the house. And then in a somewhat softer voice I said, “And an ambulance.”
My wife ran straight to the phone and called the police requesting that they come and also send an ambulance. Then she came to see what had happened. Fortunately the stranger had turned and fled after shooting me. But I didn’t know that. I could hear the tempered glass of the door that the bullet had gone through crackling as it does when tempered glass gets broken. All the gunman would have had to do was to tap it and it would have shattered. He could have then reached in and opened the door and come in to finish me off and then the family. These were the terrifying thoughts that were racing through my mind as I lay on the floor waiting for the police and the ambulance to get there. It seemed like it was taking forever.
As I waited for the police and the ambulance to arrive I did my best to put pressure on the bullet wound hole. I had seen something on TV that it was good to put a lot of pressure on such a wound or even put your finger in the hole. I tried putting my finger in the hole but that didn’t work. So I just pressed on it as best I could and waited, continuing to be terrified that he might try to come in the house.
Finally the police arrived and then the ambulance. I was taken to the local hospital where they bandaged the wound but this was too complex a case for the small local hospital so they sent a helicopter from the University of Iowa hospital in Iowa City, which was the closest major hospital in the area. It seemed like it was taking forever and the local doctor didn’t want to give me pain medication so with every breath I had a sob of pain. Then I was told that the first helicopter had developed a gas leak and was forced to land somewhere else and another helicopter was being sent from Cedar Rapids.
Finally the helicopter arrived and I was airlifted to the university hospital in Iowa City. There I had a big abdominal exploratory surgery because the bullet had hit me in the chest right next to my right nipple but the bullet was showing as being lodged in the bone near my fifth lumbar vertebra on the right side. They didn’t know what organs the bullet had gone through so they opened me up to see what damage had been done.
As I was recovering from this surgery and just beginning to wake up from the anesthesia, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I remember having the thought, “Oh great! Here I’ve survived getting shot and now I’m going to die from not being able to breathe after the surgery!” Then I went unconscious again. Of course I didn’t die from either the bullet wound or the surgery, as obviously I wouldn’t be here writing this book if I had.
After about three days, the assistant surgeon stopped by to check on my recovery. We talked briefly about how I was doing and then he said to me, “Tom, you know you are really quite lucky.” “Excuse me!” I replied, “I just got shot in the chest, explain what you mean by being lucky.”
“Well,” he replied, “If you are going to get shot in the chest at close range with a .44 caliber handgun, I’d say that about 1 in 100,000 people would survive such an assault and about 1 in a million would come out of it without loosing any organs or limbs as you have.” “I guess in that context I can see what you mean by lucky,” I said.
Regardless of my miraculous escape from being killed, this whole experience was very traumatic. Although at that time I didn’t know it was called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) I had all of the typical symptoms – nightmares, flashbacks, startle response, anxiety. My legs shook at night and I had a lot of trouble sleeping. I couldn’t answer the door if someone came to it and I couldn’t see them. So I started a long and slow recovery process.
But I was determined to find a solution. I wanted to find something that would truly cure the PTSD, not just cope with it. I didn’t want to live with these terrible PTSD symptoms all my life. It took a while to find an answer but I was about to make an incredible discovery.
Here’s the rest of the story… Finding a Real Solution to Post Traumatic Stress