MIKE MASTERSON: New threat arises

For cave survivors

Those 12 members of the Wild Boar Soccer Club in Thailand and their coach rescued from deep inside a watery cave are safe physically.

Some say their rescue by Thai navy SEALs, volunteer divers and hundreds of others who assisted was nothing short of a miracle born of worldwide prayers. I say prayer never hurts in any circumstance.

Yet while the physical bodies of these youths ages 11 to 16 were returned to the light after spending 18 harrowing and uncertain days inside the labyrinth, some may face a new possible threat to their lifelong mental well-being--post-traumatic stress disorder, according to widely respected psychiatrist Dr. Prakash Masand.

He is the founder and CEO of Global Medical Education and co-founder and chairman of Centers of Psychiatric Excellence.

PTSD is a potentially very serious mental health condition caused by a traumatic event. Masand writes that three aspects to their rescue could trigger symptoms. The trauma, anguish and deteriorating physical conditions are sufficient to do so. Secondly, being rescued under such conditions when some boys weren't swimmers and were unfamiliar with scuba gear and underwater breathing while being shepherded through very narrow cavern passages could be another reason. "The final factor is the aftermath. As the world waits to hear from the boys and the media bombards them with interview request[s], they are being thrust into the worldwide spotlight and have become overnight public figures. Each one of these situations on its own is difficult to handle, let alone all three put together," Masand writes.

Masand says the condition can cause flashbacks, nightmares and intense anxiety. No one knows why some people in similar circumstances will develop PTSD while others won't. "Our brains are unique in the way each of us [interpret] and respond to these types of events, but whether or not someone develops PTSD depends on intensity of the trauma, length of the trauma, degree of personal injury, proximity to the event, individual control of the events, and most importantly, the amount of help and support obtained after the trauma," he says.

This means each of those saved will need to be examined for at least a year to determine if the condition has manifested. PTSD can occur immediately or usually within months of experiencing the trauma.

Regardless, it's something to be taken very seriously, having led to suicide in some instances when left untreated. "For perspective," Masand writes, "34 percent of the Oklahoma City bombing survivors developed PTSD, 18.7 percent of Vietnam veterans suffered PTSD, and 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives."

I've also read that younger people like those on the team are especially prone to face mental health issues after such a struggle since they don't have the life experience and coping abilities an adult might possess.

Masand believes getting professional help is the only way to alleviate the condition. "This includes psychotherapy like cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy, as well as medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and Prazosin, a medication that helps reduce nightmares. This is important not only to reduce symptoms and feel better," he writes, but because "left untreated, PTSD increases the risk of suicide."

Sam and Jane

Those who've enjoyed Rupert Sheldrake's intriguing book, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, know how dogs appear to share an uncanny sense of connection and even premonitions with their owners.

So it was three years ago when Jane Yancy of Omaha visited friends at their rural home and encountered a Great Pyrenees with a mixed litter of 10, about six weeks old. One black-and-white puppy loped up to her immediately. She scooped him into her arms and held him for several minutes.

Then she realized she could not make herself put him down. And the little dog felt likewise. He clung to her as if she was his lifeline. With a dog already at home, Jane felt she couldn't afford another one. But try as she might, she could not put the puppy back on the ground. So she took him along and named him "Sam."

A week later Jane called to see if any of Sam's siblings had been adopted. The woman on the other end said all of them were "gone," along with the mother. "She told me the pups had followed their mother down the road and a man who lived nearby had shot every one of them because they supposedly had been bothering his chickens."

I didn't write this today to talk about what kind of foul human being would do that to puppies and their mother or as a post mortem to say what, if anything, happened to him for those killings.

Instead I'm pleased to simply to report Jane and Sam are happy together and take note of the fact that somehow, they each intuitively realized on that day three years ago, she absolutely had to take him with her.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 07/24/2018

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