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    Volume 9 Issue 25| June 18, 2010|

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Special Feature

The Burden of Trauma

Farhana Urmee

Shubho waves his eyes twinkling, as if he wants to talk.

Shubho, sitting on the hospital bed with severe burn injuries throughout his body, has a smile glued to his face. The smile seemed a bit incongruous considering that he is one of the victims of the Nimtali fire and a father who has lost his only daughter.

“The day she died...” Shubho starts talking.

“I don't know why she was playing so much on that day; she played all day long, she laughed and laughed. I only remember her laughter,” says Shubho.

The way Shubho continues it seems as if nothing had happened. But it is obvious he is still reliving the memory of June 3, the day the devastating fire broke out at Nimtoli. The fire at Nabab Katra killed 121 people and left hundreds with severe burn injuries.

Photo: Anisur Rahman

Shubho lost his four-year-old daughter in the fire and is now undergoing treatment at the Burn and Plastic surgery Unit, Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH).

It is not how dreadful the fire was or how much material loss he has incurred or even how much pain he is in physically, all he can talk about how lucky he was to have been blessed by such a special child, whom he loved more than anything in the world.

“My child Hafza was poor in reactive communication as she had an autistic tendency. She was also suffering from a heart complication; yet she was full of life. She meant everything to me,” he says. An employee of Dhaka City Corporation, Shubho describes the cheerful hours he and his family had spent on June 3 just before the fire broke out, the last day with his daughter. His wife is in a critical condition at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in the city.

Psychologists define Shubho's behaviour after such a disaster as a 'Defense Method' to cope with the crisis. Especially in cases like Shubho's where a person has lost children in a disaster people often try to forget the very scene of the disaster and tend to 'replace' the horrifying memory with good ones.

Terming the problem 'Post Traumatic Stress Disorder' psychologist Maleka Parvin says victims might react in various ways after facing severe trauma. Such cases need to be addressed in a different way, by being more empathetic to the victims rather than sympathetic, suggests Maleka.

After going through such a huge loss of life, seeing neighbours and relatives dying, having lost all material possessions and being ruined in every sphere it is hard for a human beings to forget the whole scene and at that stage a person can suffer from extreme depression and stress, she says.

The experience of going through such a disaster may also cause a sense of deep insecurity among the sufferers and lack of trust in one's self and in others. This often translates into a loss of interest in life and longing for death, observes psychologist Maleka.

Kohinur is such a case.

“Bring me some poison”, cries Kohinur expressing her desire to die as she can no longer bear the pain.

Kohinur, 30, who has 15 percent burn injuries from the same incident grons in her hospital bed and begs her husband to help her die. As if the fire is still burning on her body, as if she was is still trying to escape the fire that trapped her inside a room, as if she is reliving the day of the inferno.

She is one of the 150 fortunate survivors who have been treated at the DMCH Burn Unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital after suffering various degrees of burns.

“My relatives and neighbours are blessed as they died in the fire. I am the unfortunate one,” says Kohinur. “I tried three times to get out of the room in which I was residing, but could not make it until I was finally rescued, and now I am dying every moment”, Kohinur sobs.

“After being rescued she was almost unconscious and could not talk too much, but now while she is recovering from her injuries, she screams in pain throughout the entire day,” says Kohinur's husband Khokon who was at work when the fire engulfed their home.

Photo: Anisur Rahman

Fortunately their 17-year-old son was staying at the city's New Market area and was saved from the fire.

The patients with burn injuries need dressing on their wounds on a regular basis, and as Kohinur knows the healing process can be just as painful.

Victims often lose self-esteem and lack the power to control their lives. Swapna, who lost her husband in the fire, lives in such a vacuum.

Swapna, an 18-year-old girl from a lower middle class family was living with the dream of a better life just six months earlier when she was married to Jagnu. She quit studying, as her parents were unable to bear her educational expenses and started a new life with Jagnu, also becoming financially dependent on him.

Even after the fire was doused, as relatives identified their deceased relatives, injured were rushed to hospital, and Swapna, knowing her husband was present in the very building where the fire broke out, was not daring to think about his death.

Until 12.00 pm the next day she still had a faint hope of her husband being alive. “Had he got burnt badly or handicapped, had we not found his dead body lying down in the drain…,” sighs Swapna. “I see my life before me with no hope.”

Talking about the post traumatic behaviour of the survivors and affected people from a disaster like the Nimtoli fire, psychologist Maleka Parvin highly emphasises the need for proper counseling. Maleka, also a teacher in the Department of Psychology, Dhaka University describes the different stages that a survivor or a victim of any kind may go through after seeing such a devastating fire before their own eyes.

Despite the practical and material losses, the victims are enduring an immense psychological crisis and simply material support is not enough to heal their pain, she adds. Mental health counseling is required, which should follow some common strategy to help the victims. The strategy might be helping the victims in relaxing, reducing stress, replacing the image of the disaster with normal life images, and helping the victims to not be stuck in the bad memories of the incident observes Maleka.

Maleka says that in the wake of such a huge tragedy in which so many lives have been lost and resources are limited, volunteer teams can be formed by academic institutions or by institutions that deal with mental counseling. This kind of counseling along with material support can help the victim to recover soon and go back to a normal life.

The Army Camp working as the coordinating agency at Nimtoli area is helping out the victims and affected families with necessary support. Captain Z M Mahmudul Islam on duty at the camp says, “As losses are huge first of all we are trying to tackle the physical loss and then going for providing psychological help to the victims and affected people”.

“The victims are given material support and to some extent psychological counseling to bring back their mental soundness is also provided”, says Capt Islam while trying to console a crying woman in front of his desk.





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