July 15, 2024
Surviving Trauma
Listen to the BBC The Why Factor PTSD podcast

On the 26th December 2004, I was caught in the Asian Tsunami on Koh Phi Phi island, off the west coast of Thailand.

The following account is taken from my “trauma narrative” which was a key part of my Trauma Focused Cognitive Behaviour Therapy with Dr Jennifer Wild at Oxford University. I was on holiday on Koh Phi Phi island, when the waves of the Asian Tsunami hit. From the moment the first wave hit until the following morning we were cut off from the outside world. Throughout this time I was involved as a first responder in the rescue and care of some of the most seriously injured on the island.

The following is the first 5 minutes of that day.

Trauma Narrative

“The Alarm”

I wake up, I feel groggy and stoned from last night. I roll over on my bed fumbling for my phone. It’s 10:00 am, I’m meant to get up and make sure I get a ticket for the 11:30 am boat to Koh Lanta. Then come back, shower, pack and grab some breakfast on the way to the pier. I’m still a little stoned, fuck this, I’m going back to sleep.

“The Screams”

People are screaming, I’m awake again. It’s the day of the Full Moon party. People must be “getting it on” ridiculously early, those jokers. I try to doze off again but the screams don’t seem right. Something’s wrong, those aren’t screams of people partying. I get up, I still feel hazy from the two joints I managed to score on the way home last night. I stumble on to the balcony.

“The Balcony”

I’m on the balcony still in my boxer shorts. I don’t know what’s going on. I can see people screaming and running down the footpath between my guesthouse and those on the opposite side. People are becoming more frantic, I can feel the fear and panic, some people are running up the viewpoint footpath. I’m sure it was there before, but I didn’t register it until now… I can hear this almighty roar. I can’t see much from my balcony, the palm trees and the other guest houses are obscuring my view of what people are running from. I can’t see the beach, but I can see the water.

“The Water”

I see the water, it’s running down the footpath. Where the fuck is the water coming from? People are still screaming and running, the water is up to their ankles. Shit, the islands water reservoir must have burst, that’s why people are running and screaming. The water is rising, people are still running through it. I hear the roar getting louder and louder. “Shit, shit, shit!!!” The water is rising rapidly and now it doesn’t look like just water. I see a white tourist, he’s a big bloke and he’s managing to walk out of his room while water is filling in. I can see him struggling, but he’s managing to hold his ground, he must be as strong as an ox. There’s wood from beach huts and branches from palm trees being dragged along with the water which doesn’t seem clear but muddy. The water level is still rising and now people aren’t running through it they’re being dragged along with all the mud and debris. People are getting dragged under, all I can hear are screams everywhere and that fucking roar. What the fuck is happening?

“ The Fear”

It’s only been a couple of minutes, and now the water level only 3 or 4 feet below my balcony. I can’t really move, I look down. My hands don’t seem to be working properly. They are gripping the balcony rail to the point where my hands almost hurt. I can’t see people running anymore. I hear people screaming in French. The screams are really close, they aren’t just muddled up with everyone else’s. I can hear a female and a male voice so clearly, fuck they’re in the room below me! The screams are terrifying, they’re going to drown if they don’t get out the room. I can’t do anything, if I jump down, I’ll just get dragged off before getting to them.

“Mate I’ll pull you up!!!”

It’s the French girl, she’s being dragged out the room. I lean over the balcony trying to grab her, I can’t reach her. The force of water is too strong, she’s been dragged away! She’s naked with horrendous cuts all over her body like she’s been whipped or something. They were being tossed about like they were in a washing machine, that’s why she’s cuts all over. She’s screaming for him, I can hear him. He’s right below me now. He’s managed to grab the wooden post that supporting the balcony. The water has now risen literally just below the balcony. Move fast, you can reach him. I lean as far as I can over the balcony. “Mate I’ll pull you up!”, he looks up, he’s so close but I can’t reach him. “Don’t let go!” I shout as I run back into my room. I grab the towel on my bed, I’m back on the balcony and he’s still there. I throw the towel to him, we’ve both got a good grip. “Come on, mate I’ll pull you up!” I shout, I reposition my feet to get better leverage. I can get him….

Listen to the BBC PTSD Podcast I participated in.

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