Science and Nature

The Skipped over History of Nurse PTSD

This article regarded within the September/October 2021 predicament of Sight magazine as “Frontline Fatigue.” Change exact into a subscriber for unlimited access to our archive.


In February 1945, U.S. Navy nurse Dorothy Aloof modified into a prisoner of warfare within the Eastern-occupied Philippines. Alongside with 11 other Navy nurses, Nurse Aloof supplied admire civilian inmates in a detention heart camp where meals modified into scarce and guards were brutal. Few inmates weighed extra than 100 kilos, and most were death from malnutrition. 

On the night of Feb. 22, Nurse Aloof and the opposite inmates watched as their captors region up weapons round the perimeter of the camp and turned the barrels inward. Other guards dug shallow graves. The inmates had long suspected the camp commander deliberate to massacre all of them, and it regarded the rumors were coming exact. Yet Nurse Aloof and one other Navy nurse reported to the infirmary for the night shift. They had minute tablets or meals to present their sufferers; comfort and kindness were all they had left to give. 

Nurse Aloof heard gunfire the next morning at morning time and assumed the massacre had begun. She steeled herself to assume about out the infirmary window and saw parachutes gliding to the bottom. Liberation had attain correct in time! U.S. and Filipino forces impulsively evacuated the 2,400 inmates to security. 

But that wasn’t the extinguish of Nurse Aloof’s bound. She modified into jumpy by the horrors she witnessed within the detention heart camp, and the trauma caught alongside with her for the rest of her life. Now nursing leaders and advocates are pronouncing the self-discipline of no longer addressing nurses’ mental effectively being desires has again reached a prime level. Nurses were on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, however most aren’t receiving whole mental effectively being screening or medication. Nursing advocacy groups and students who leer PTSD in nursing warn that leaving nurses’ mental effectively being desires untreated may perchance per chance also lead to a nursing scarcity, great because it did after World Battle II.

Taken as prisoners of warfare in 1942, Dorothy Aloof and 11 other Navy nurses supplied health facility treatment within the course of brutal struggling at Los Baños Internment Camp. (Credit: Courtesy of Bureau of Capsules and Surgical treatment)

Suffering in Silence 

Abet within the States, Nurse Aloof modified into tasked with talking at warfare bond drives about the three years she modified into a prisoner of warfare. She came across the skills troubling and requested a switch to Panama, however her memories adopted her to her original post. As soon as in some time, she modified into depressed. Other times, she couldn’t stop pondering all she had persisted. She in most cases cried without provocation and struggled to forestall crying as soon as she had began. On advice of her fiancé, she booked an appointment with a naval doctor. 

Within the route of her appointment, Nurse Aloof instructed the doctor she had been a prisoner of warfare for extra than three years, and requested for a medical discharge in response to the trauma she modified into experiencing. The doctor requested when Nurse Aloof modified into liberated; the date modified into the a similar as the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. The doctor acknowledged those men were heroes, however Nurse Aloof modified into a lady and a nurse, and subsequently, did no longer suffer. Denied medication, Nurse Aloof left the appointment shaking. She vowed she would attend her grief to herself. 

The Navy nurses weren’t the most easy health facility treatment suppliers taken prisoner at some level of WWII. Sixty-six U.S. Military nurses as effectively as hundreds of physicians, pharmacists, and medical assistants were also held captive within the South Pacific. But at the extinguish of the warfare, as the U.S. prepared to welcome home hundreds and hundreds of girls and men folk who served their nation, mental effectively being medication modified into minute — and reserved for men. Nurses, it modified into assumed, did no longer suffer. 

On the time, the U.S. navy modified into the excellent employer of nurses, and it had established an expected code of silence relating to how nurses spoke back to their hang trauma. In 1947, an article within the American Journal of Psychiatry claimed a navy sanatorium modified into a managed atmosphere that insulated nurses from the brutality of warfare. The leer’s creator claimed that nurses’ mental effectively being desires were “less complex,” and that nursing fulfilled girls folk by catering to their pure intuition to admire men: “They were supplying a provider which gay the passive desires of men. And which identified these girls folk with the mum, the loads of other, or the lover wait on home.”

Many nurses, in conjunction with Nurse Aloof, spoke back to the scarcity of mental effectively being medication by leaving both the navy and nursing. The slack 1940s saw an absence in nurses at time when sanatorium admissions rose by 26 p.c. The inability persisted till the slack 1960s when wages began to enlarge.

After three years as POWs, the Navy nurses were liberated in 1945. Here, they talk with Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid after their delivery, and are confirmed subsequent to the plane that introduced them from the South Pacific to Hawaii. (Credit: U.S. Navy Bureau of Capsules and Surgical treatment)

A Looming Crisis 

The COVID-19 pandemic has intended that for the main time since WWII, the huge majority of U.S. nurses are embroiled in combating a overall enemy. It’s a worrying and emotional wrestle that advocates recount adds a deeper stress to an already taxing job.

Correct by blueprint of the nation, nurses were caring for sufferers death from COVID-19 who stop no longer hang the strengthen of family at their bedside due to the customer restrictions. “The nurses are in overall those that are serving as the cherished one and serving to the affected person navigate the extinguish-of-life bound,” says Holly Wood worker, a senior policy consultant with the American Nurses Association. 

As effectively as to caring for death COVID-19 sufferers, Wood worker says, many nurses were no longer well equipped at the peak of the pandemic with the deepest protection tools compulsory to take care of away from infection. These nurses lived in effort of being contaminated or transmitting the virus to cherished ones at home. 

And on high of these stressors, nurses are also mute coping with the identical old requires of the job. “There are the issues that hang continually been there — long shifts, in most cases major overtime, a workload that’s heavier than you’re contented with, having to work by blueprint of breaks or lunchtime, having to attain in early and stop slack,” Wood worker says. 

Earlier than the pandemic, be taught estimated that as many as half of of indispensable-care nurses experienced post-traumatic stress dysfunction (PTSD). For the explanation that pandemic began, researchers hang came across the crisis has amplified symptoms of mental effectively being concerns. A 2020 leer in Frequent Clinic Psychiatry came across that 64 p.c of nurses in a Unique York Metropolis medical heart reported experiencing acute stress. 

“Acute stress incorporated symptoms savor nightmares, incapacity to forestall pondering COVID-19, and feeling numb, peaceful, and on guard,” says leer chief Marwah Abdalla, a clinical coronary heart specialist and assistant professor of treatment at Columbia University Medical Center. “Here’s pertaining to. We know that if these symptoms persist for extra than a month, it would lead to PTSD.” 

Some nurses experienced PTSD sooner than COVID-19, however the conditions of the pandemic hang amplified mental effectively being concerns. (Credit: Eldar Nurkovic/Shutterstock)

An particular person is diagnosed with PTSD if they meet standards outlined by the DSM-5, the psychiatric profession’s first rate book. Requirements encompass experiencing, witnessing or finding out a couple of traumatic match (equivalent to death, excessive injury, or sexual violence); intrusive symptoms savor dreams and flashbacks; avoidance of reminders of the match; negative changes in thoughts and moods; and behavioral changes. An particular person may perchance ranking PTSD if they’re repeatedly uncovered to minute print of a traumatic match. 

Plagued by undiagnosed or untreated PTSD is a life-altering condition with various ramifications, and can lead a nurse to leave effectively being care. “We’re potentially surroundings up an occupational effectively being care crisis,” Abdalla says. “This has long-timeframe implications for the effectively being care industry and our capability to ship ample effectively being admire our sufferers.” 

Wood worker says effectively being care organizations desires to be proactive with screening nurses for symptoms connected to dread, wretched, and PTSD. Such screenings desires to be confidential and attain with the peace of thoughts that a nurse’s license or job may perchance per chance also no longer be compromised. Organizations also prefer to work to destigmatize mental effectively being prognosis and medicine. 

“Traditionally, nurses are continually regarded upon as the healers and the helpers,” Wood worker says. “They finally feel they may perchance mute be solid for other of us. What stop you stop when the hero desires attend?”

For Nurse Aloof, attend by no manner came. She left the Navy and nursing, married, and had three childhood. She returned to nursing within the slack 1950s after her husband died without warning and she compulsory to strengthen her family.

Easiest within the 1990s did she initiate talking about her experiences in interviews with oral historians and documentary producers. She also wrote a memoir, however kept the story light and did no longer allege her intensive struggling.

The profession has stepped forward since Nurse Aloof’s 1940s charm for mental effectively being strengthen modified into rejected. “We stop quiz the fat PTSD, compassion fatigue, and burnout of nurses. It’s been chronicled now and we comprehend it,” Wood worker says. 

Now the self-discipline is encouraging every nurse to quiz and receive attend. In every other case, advocates warn, their effectively being and wellbeing will proceed to decline, and history may perchance per chance also repeat as wired nurses leave a strained profession. 


Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi is a journalist within the Chicago blueprint and the creator of Here’s Truly Battle: The Amazing Correct Chronicle of a Navy Nurse POW within the Occupied Philippines.

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