Anthony W. Pahl


We sit inside the smoke filled room
and on the boards outside the ward
and talk of things long past and gone,
our minds a raging storm.
Someone bangs a door!
The police chopper overhead!
Our back is turned then someone speaks.
Our heart – it fills with dread.

Remember the good times or not at all.
Talk of the fun we had.
But taboo our minds to remember times
that nearly sent us mad.
We set our mind to do a task
but forget the reason now;
It takes us hours to do simple things
or we simply don’t know how.

The smell of puke – a loo not flushed
sends us in a rage.
Reminds us of the mates we lost;
our memory like a page.
A page inscribed indelibly
in the memory of our life:
A page that no matter what we do
holds symbols of our strife.

Our mates have died!
How come we live?
Why them and why not me?
Across our face and in our minds
our guilt’s for all to see.

We join our mates down at the pub
and drink till we are numb.
But the next day when the morning dawns
to the memories we succumb.
We sweat and pant and gasp for breath
and rage blocks out our minds.
And those we love – they wear the brunt
of the insanity of our crimes.

So avoid the talk – avoid the past
and forget about the future.
Today we exist! Today is now!
We’ve nothing left to nurture.
Time for bed, so take the bombs
and hope that we won’t dream.
But three or two or one hour goes
and we waken with a scream.

But we are wrong! We feel these signs
and think that we’re alone.
We have to hold on to the hope
that one day they’ll be gone.
Time out! Time out – our minds demand.
So we gather in the ward
and join the programs designed to help us
cope and face the world.

And we gradually find a new relief
from the fear of normal life.
We start to come to terms
with the stress of inner strife.
These symptoms are of one complaint.
This knowledge gives us hope.
PTSD is what it’s called!
This knowledge helps us cope.

But most of all – above all else
two things we start to know.
We’re not alone in your stormy world
and there’s help when we are low.

Author’s Note: I was an in-patient in the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital undergoing treatment for PTSD in the first program of its type in Australia. Towards the end of the 6 weeks for which the program ran, one of the Psychiatric Nurses asked if I could write a poem describing the more common symptoms of the illness and that, although there was (and still is) no cure, we could learn to cope and to live a productive life.