Civil War years: Whitman encounters trauma

Civil War years: Whitman encounters trauma


[Robert Scholnick] Whitman had enormous
foresight in understanding PTSD. He had no choice. He came to Fredericksburg looking for
his wounded brother and saw the wounded and dead strewn around the battlefield and the hospital. And some of the wounded grabbed hold of
him, convulsively was the word he used, and he said, “I have to dedicate myself
to helping the wounded, those who have been traumatized,
convulsed by the war, and he devoted himself to working
in the Washington hospitals for the remainder of the war. And he was faced with a
medical challenge. How do you help soldiers who are
so traumatized, so shaken that they lose their affect? They have no sense of purpose,
no sense of the future. How do you respond to the dying?
How can you sit with the dying? He devoloped ways which are quite
prescient of responding to the wounded to help them overcome trauma, like writing letters home, by
reading to them, by giving them gifts by sitting with them and offering
what he called a magnetic sympathy. And in his poetry he also looked ahead to what will happen to soldiers returning who will suffer from PTSD like the wounded veteran who wakes
up in the middle of the night, his child is sleeping in the next room,
his wife is beside him and all of a sudden the war
seizes him.

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