Misfortune at Fort Hood

The subject header was marked URGENT. The first email asked if I could, as a military/family life consultant, leave immediately for a 30-day rotation at Fort Hood. Much as I wanted to go, a month away from patients might severely test the reliability of the object. The second email, from a crisis response agency, asked if I could leave immediately for a 5-day rotation, to which I agreed. As of this writing, we are in stand down mode, as opposed to "standby."

I wondered what it would be like to minister to the survivors, families and their comrades. As a mental health professional with military affiliations, just like the shooter, I considered that the boundaries between external and internal might feel blurry, a conscious or unconscious confusion as to whether dangers were without or within. I imagined the rage towards the perpetrator that might simmer below consciousness and, perhaps, erupt, ricocheting towards the therapists now administering psychological first aid and symbolizing the shooter. The psychiatrist had violated their trust as a doctor, dedicated to their care, who instead had destroyed them. From that day forward, on military bases everywhere, people would walk in fear, unsure whether the sergeant in the mess hall, the psychiatric nurse at the infirmary, or the private in the next bunk might be, not a colleague, but an enemy with a terrible, dark streak.

How could no one have known about his pathology? Why didn't someone intervene? How could this have been prevented? These would be the angry and tearful questions asked. There would be guilt, conscious or unconscious, for having seen or heard something and failing to take action to corral him before he exploded. People would brush up against the hard edges of their own grandiosity and omnipotence. There are some things beyond our control. This awful, sad, shocking carnage may or may not have been preventable.

And so it is that every day we do our best, for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for our patients. Sometimes, it's enough. And, sometimes, it isn't. I'm thinking of a souvenir ceramic ashtray my parents picked up in Rome many years ago. It's a charming piece of artisan pottery, painted with a shattering aphorism in Italian: The errors of doctors are covered by earth.

Cleopatra Victoria, MFT

In November 2006 Col. Kauer was mentioned with regards to the Coming Home Project. He has since written and asks that his name not be associated with the organization.