Shocking news – How we coped

The images of London’s Westminster Bridge after the carnage wrought by a terrorist shocked me as did the images from Berlin (Dec 2016) and Cannes (July 2016). These news reports instantly take me back to when I got a call from a surgeon asking for permission to undertake surgery on my daughter, Emily, after a traumatic event.  Shocking news but we coped……

Shocking news - How we coped

As I watched the traumatic scenes of devastation on the 6pm news I thought of the parents and relatives that were having dire conversations with doctors and nurses that no-one wants to imagine. The shock and grief that come hand in hand with trauma, the grief of loss, the shock of injuries that may lead to physical and mental disability, stress and ill-health. It took me back to a moment in time when I heard the words “she’ll never walk again.”  At that time I was motionless with grief, as tears ran unchecked but the message is …..we coped and most importantly Emily coped.

Shocking new - How we coped

Shocking news – How  we coped

My thoughts are with the families involved in the London event as I remember Emily’s trauma 5 years ago. I readily acknowledge I denied the severity of Emily’s injury as I was convinced she would recover as a strong, fit, young girl. But traumatic injury has no regard in terms of age, gender, fitness or strength and spinal injury is devastating in its cruelty. We have worked hard to rejoin society – Emily as a wheelchair user and I as a primary carer.  I have learnt from experience that in acutely traumatic events no-one can quickly ‘make things better’ especially when injuries are severe – but I am hoping this blog will be shared so others can read our positive story. Our story tells how slowly life returns, slightly different, slightly harder but life continues. 

Shocking new - How we coped

No – one can be prepared for unexpected catastrophe or trauma but I do know we can pull through with support from family and friends. I have written an e-book ( Suddenly an Everyday Carer) addressing coping for an unexpected role including coping strategies at the end of every chapter.  Here are some initial coping strategies for acutely traumatic situations :    

Shocking news – How we coped


  • Slowly take a deep breath to calm yourself through fluttering panics or chin wobbles.
  • Solo 24-hour vigils are unsustainable; take turns if possible.
  • Take a break, walk away from the bedside to gather perspective and revitalise.
  • Get real sleep in a bed if possible as rest helps you think more rationally.
  • Eat small meals even if you don’t feel hungry as you need to fuel yourself.
  • Restrict intake of caffeine and alcohol as they can heighten anxiety.
  • ICUs are reactive, dealing with unstable, complex situations that are unsettling for everyone. Talking can be calming but make sure you talk to an experienced counsellor or consultant.
  • Catastrophic trauma needs endurance, so pace yourself.
  • Getting into rehabilitation is not a race; healing time in the ICU is important.
  • Delegate. A friend arranged for Qantas ground crew to walk me through LAX when I travelled through to Chicago. Anxiety, fear and sleep deprivation inhibit coping ability so accepting help is essential (see Chapter Three in Suddenly an Everyday Carer).
  • ICUs don’t usually allow flowers or pot plants for sanitary reasons. Helium balloons can be rejected as flammable so disseminate that information through your pyramid of communication (see Chapter Three in Suddenly an Everyday Carer). Flowers and balloons are wonderful later in rehabilitation.
  • The future hasn’t happened so don’t dwell on it. Focus on what’s in front of you today.
  • You don’t have to understand everything.
  • Cling on to hope and don’t let it go.

Read more about adaptation and resilience after trauma – Suddenly an Everyday Carer – coping with an unexpected role…

Shocking news - How we coped

Emily returned to work at Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (SCIA)

Shocking news – How we coped

Further reading and resources:

Progress this year shows Emily blossom into post-trauma independence and I celebrate.

Coping with change and acceptance post-SCI.

I sold my skis today, two years, four months and seven days after Emily’s ski accident.

How to cope with worry as a carer … I ‘slam dunk’ worry.

 Shocking news – Resources:

Toll-free hotlines are available in most countries for anyone in emotional distress:

Lifeline crisis support (Australia) 13 11 14

Telefonseelsorge (Germany) 0800 111 0 111

Lifeline 24-hour telephone counselling (New Zealand) 09 5222 999

The Samaritans crisis support (UK) 116 123

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA) 1 800 273 TALK