PTSD, Setting Free, & Getting Sleep

June 5, 2016

     As we prepared for the week of clinics ahead Dr. Bina read a few excerpts from Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land by Joel Brinkley on post-traumatic stress disorder in the Cambodian society. Brinkley writes "Several research studies have demonstrated that one-third to one-half of all Cambodians who lived through the Khmer Rouge era have PTSD, borne of their traumatic experiences then." Although we have toured S-21 and the Killing Fields I did not realize the extent to which the trauma has radiated through the Khmer people. I thought back to all the patients we had seen in clinic with chief complaints common with symptoms of PTSD including insomnia, headaches, and anxiety. It seemed to me the statistics matched with our pool of patients yet I wondered how individual’s who did not live during the Khmer Rouge experienced such traumatic events. My question was answered with another excerpt: "But in fact, Cambodia is the only nation in the world where it has been demonstrated that symptoms of PTSD and related traumatic illnesses are being passed from one generation to the next." I had never thought before of PTSD being a cyclical process when left untreated. This was eye opening to me.

     I thought back to one of our clinical sessions in which Binh Ngo and I saw a 65-year-old woman complaining of headaches and insomnia. We asked her when was the last time she had slept and she told us she had only slept a couple hours in four days. We asked her what kept her up at night and she told us it was worrying about her family. She was so sleep deprived she even started to hear voices. After consulting the supervising faculty we informed her we would give her some medicine to help her sleep. Immediately her face lightened and she repeatedly thanked us saying “agkoon, agkoon.” The relief on her face showed me just how much we really are helping the Khmer people. It also revealed to me the work still to be done here. I hope to help in anyway I can in the coming week. I am so eager to record and experience everything that I am having a hard time trying to find time to sleep as well. I want to return and do more research on how PTSD is passed on from generation to generation. The people here have suffered and survived through so much yet are so strong and thankful for the care we can provide. The more I learn about the Khmer people the more my heart breaks for them as we can only be here for such a short period of time and there is still so much work to do. My only wish is to give back to the people at least half as much as they have given me. 

                                                              Free Cambodia

"Be careful because Cambodia is the most dangerous place you will ever visit. You will fall in love with it, and eventually it will break your heart." – Joel Brinkley

Cassandra Hensel, Undergraduate Student

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