Emergencies at Home

| July 05, 2005

Making a plan like this is not a welcome task, but it’s a necessary one.

“No one likes to talk about this,” Smith says. “But it makes sense to have a plan in place for the possible ‘what ifs’ that no one likes to think about.” So get together with spouse, children, relatives, close friends, your employer, your pastor and anybody else who might play a role and figure out how your family and you will respond to events you pray will never happen.

First, think about how you want to be notified.

“People differ in how they want to hear sad or traumatic news,” Smith says. “For example, when a person dies in the military, the protocol is to go through the Red Cross. But some people say they don’t want to hear it from a stranger; they want to hear it from somebody they know.” Do you want your dispatcher to be the bearer of bad news via QUALCOMM, or would you rather hear it from family or close friends via telephone?

Also, think about when you’d like to be informed. Is right away OK, or would you rather wait until you’ve stopped for the night? As a matter of safety, many drivers leave cell phones off while driving. Do you want to hear about a tragedy in a phone message?

Learn your employer’s policy for drivers who are on the road when a crisis happens at home. Know what to expect from them, and show them you’re concerned about this matter.

The next consideration is how you will react immediately upon receiving bad news. If you’re not driving at the time, make sure to get focused before getting behind the wheel. But if you are driving, “the driver’s first decision is taking care of his safety and the safety of those around him,” Smith says. “Get to a safe place, and stop driving the truck.” A rest area or a truckstop is best, but a vacant lot or a ramp shoulder will do.

Then start talking to others. “Most of the trauma counseling literature will tell you that it’s a real good idea to talk with people,” Smith says. “Don’t be afraid to reach out and tell somebody you’ve just received some very bad news. Most people want to hear about it because they want to help, by listening or calling a family member or friend for you.”

After receiving very distressing news, the worst thing you can do is continue to drive or isolate yourself by pulling off where nobody is around. “I don’t recommend any of that,” Smith says. “We do know that talking about trauma is the best way to begin to deal with it. That’s why they send teams of crisis management people to disaster areas: to get people to talk about the event as soon as possible.” Smith says this reduces stress and the chances of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “This is fairly well supported in research,” she says.

Of course, people respond differently to different situations. “It depends on how close the driver is to the deceased or how much he valued the house that burnt down,” Smith says. Some people might remain undisturbed; others might be incapacitated by grief and shock. But there are some “aftershock” symptoms you can watch for in yourself that will alert you that you’re under stress.

The most obvious of these will be confusion and trouble paying attention because your mind is overloaded with trying to process the tragic news. If these symptoms occur while you’re driving, you’re in an emergency situation so stop the truck before you cause a second tragedy.

Other symptoms include becoming physically ill, crying without warning or developing a twitch. “These are all possible responses that are perfectly normal,” Smith says.

Other symptoms might develop right away or within a few hours or days. Some of them might reflect the tragedy. For example, if you lost your house to a fire, you might become overly upset at the sight of a driver smoking near the fuel island. If a loved one was violently attacked, you might become hyper vigilant, noticing every movement and sound and being suspicious of everybody you see. You might visualize the tragedy in your mind and replay it over and over again, and sleeping might become difficult.

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