10th April sounds such a long time ago It was one of the things that made me angry during my illness; that something that had happened so long ago was causing me problems. But my memories of that evening are still, by and large, very vivid. The difference is that now I can have these memories and live with them. I am not complacent about that. I still check in on my progress from time to time.
As I mentioned previously we heard the explosion at our station and were mobilised very soon afterwards. It was apparent from radio traffic etc that we were on our way to something big. I remember feeling a buzz of excitement and anticipation and this was another cause of the layers of guilt I would later experience. Of course logically it is totally understandable. There is bound to be a rush of adrenaline. Unfortunately logic and reason seems to be overrun by raw emotion. As we approached the incident it became increasingly difficult to establish where we had been actually mobilised to. The damage was so widespread everywhere looked like it could have been the centre of the explosion. Additionally the airborne debris had actuated many automatic fire alarms and fire appliances had also been mobilised to these. However, when we arrived at St Mary Axe it was abundantly clear that this was the centre of the explosion. I have already posted some pictures taken sometime after the event. I do have some pictures taken very early on in the incident but I do not intend to post them. I have them because they were used for my exposure therapy and they are not really for public consumption. The scene was eerie and almost other wordly. The devastation was severe and the amount of scattered debris was phenomenal. There was a massive crater that was filling with water from a burst water main. It was unusually dark for London as the power for the area was out. Here and there were small pockets of fire in the street from burning of escaping gas from broken mains. And in the distance, where there was still power, a cacophony of fire and burglar alarms. An irritating detail that was to feature frequently in future dreams. Another striking feature was the amount of shattered glass covering the scene. This was a feature that was to be a common trigger for future flashbacks.
Clearly the scene was very chaotic and at this stage command of the incident was somewhat fluid. I do not intend or want to give a blow by blow account of everything that I did from this point onwards. An outline will suffice I think. I ended up searching the Baltic Exchange itself with other members of my crew. I am not going to go into specifics but it turned out we should not have been where we were but we were not given this information although we should have been. I was to find out some time later that it had been decided very early on that the building was too unsafe to enter. Neither was it logged that we were there despite the fact we did inform a senior officer of our intention to enter the building. We went in because we very much believed there could be people trapped inside. We found many trails of blood whist we were searching. We spent a considerable time in the building. Eventually, and maybe inevitably, the building partially collapsed around and onto us and trapped us.We had to rescue ourselves. (Fortunately we were able to. At this point we were unaware that it wasn’t known we were in the building. Before this we had been searching is some quite unpleasant conditions. Crawling through very confined spaces to get to parts of the building, wading through a mixture of sewage and oil in the basement etc. In black and white it does not look too big a deal but this is a long story cut short! I do remember feeling frightened at many times. Unusually this was something we discussed amongst ourselves whilst we were in the building. One of the things that was making us nervous was the possibility of a second bomb. In fact a large bomb detonated shortly after 1 am at Staples Corner. I think this is about eight miles away but we heard and felt it inside the Baltic Exchange. By this time we had been in the building for over 3 hours and it would be fair to say we were tired! It was not a fun moment. Anyway, we eventually got ourselves out and immediately encountered the body of Danielle Carter.
Following this we remained at the scene for quite a long time and became involved in secondary searches of other buildings. It was stressful and tiring. But, this was not the first time in my work (and in my previous job) that I had been in dangerous and possibly life threatening situations and certainly not the first time I had seen unpleasant and distressing scenes. There must be reasons why this particular incident triggered PTSD when others did not. I am aware of some of these reasons and I’ll go through them another time. But, as I now believe, a big factor is things that occurred in my personal life in the aftermath; more of which another time. It involves what I find unforgivable behaviour by another person.
I didn’t become ill immediately. I do remember for about two or three weeks immediately after the incident I felt physically and emotionally exhausted. Early the following week the body of Thomas Casey (an employee of the Baltic Exchange) was found at the front of the building as the began to clear the debris. I heard the news and I remember feeling very unhappy and extremely guilty. I felt as though I had failed. Again, logically, I know this makes no sense. He was in a part of the building that had totally collapsed and was impossible to get to on that night. He would also have been dead before we even entered the building. But that does not override the emotion I felt.
I did not begin to notice symptoms that would be described as PTSD until some time after the event. I specifically remember experiencing a lot of symptoms on the first anniversary. These worsened and eventually I was diagnosed with PTSD. I will develop that part of the story in the future.
As a footnote; when I was diagnosed I was strongly encouraged to seek compensation for my injuries. I did not do so. The major reason was that I used to live my life by quite rigid rules. I believed that if you chose a career that you knew would put you in harm’s way you couldn’t complain when you got harmed. But I also now think my reluctance was also down to my attempt to deny to myself that I was actually ill.