Friday December 11, 2015

Sock Drawer Stories: Portraits of Hope & Healing

Listen to Full Episode 27:29

When Teresa Coulter - an intermediate-level paramedic in Calgary - e-mailed White Coat, Black Art to tell us about her experience with post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, I have to admit that I flinched.

Don't get me wrong.  I have a lot of time for paramedics and other first responders who come to our rescue when we are at our worst - only to suffer through the trauma of witnessing up close the horrors that befall us.  As many as one in four first responders will be diagnosed with PTSD during their their careers, and will battle mood disorders, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts as a result.  Vince Savoia, executive director of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust - which supports research, education, training, and provides peer and psychological support to first responders with PTSD - calls it a 'national tragedy.'

We need to hear the stories of these true Canadian heroes who are afflicted with this terrible and often misunderstood disorder.  But the reason I flinched was that sometimes it's hard to listen to what troubles their very souls - even harder to put their tales on the radio and keep you engaged without stripping those stories of those upsetting details that first responders cannot shake if they tried.

As someone who has covered the issue of PTSD more than once on White Coat, Black Art, I wanted to hear a different story. One that offered hope. 

Teresa Coulter provided that, and more. She has more than 14 years on the roads as a first responder, but she always had an artistic side, at one time sitting for other painters.  Over the years, Teresa has had many calls to respond and function in a brutal and horrific setting.  Like many of her colleagues, she learned to cram these experiences away. Her friend, Calgary paramedic Rob Gladney told her he did the same thing -- he called it stuffing the bad socks into the back of the sock drawer. Both of them experienced an incident caused the entire sock drawer to spill out, forcing them to confront long-buried feelings.  

For Teresa, it triggered a period of introspection and also kindled in her a desire to paint her feelings.  It was then that she got the idea to recruit and paint the portraits of fellow first responders with PTSD.  And Rob's image of that over-stuffed sock drawer gave the project it's name. The 12 portraits she painted - men and women from the front lines of health care - form the backbone of an art exhibit entitled Sock Drawer Stories. It garnered rave reviews when it was shown at the University of Calgary in June and has since been shown in Edmonton. 

Check out the portrait of Rob Gladney above  -- who along with Teresa, shared his story on our show.

If you don't like hearing the stories of first responders with PTSD, then I invite you to look at their portraits - and talk about what you see.  It's the least we can do to acknowledge their heroism.