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Think seeing traumatic events doesn't faze first responders? Think again.

Stress can be deadly, even to the strongest individuals. That's why they're learning to talk about it.

Think seeing traumatic events doesn't faze first responders? Think again.
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Starbucks Upstanders Season 2

"I'm good to go" is a phrase that Marines and first responders like Mike Washington are usually all too familiar with.

It's often the knee-jerk response to the call of duty, even if emotionally they're anything but "good."

"As firefighters, as law enforcement, as military, we try to play that tough image," explains Washington, a firefighter for the Seattle Fire Department. "And we wouldn’t share if we’re having a hard time dealing with something. We internalize it."


Mike Washington, Seattle firefighter. All photos provided by Starbucks.

Washington's been a firefighter for 29 years, and before that, he did four combat tours with the Marine Corps. He always sought a life of action, but what he didn't consider was how other people's traumas might affect him.

"Seeing that level of human tragedy, of a car accident or a shooting or a murder — it takes a toll," Washington says.

But it was losing his son in 2008 that was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Washington and his son.

While at work, he learned his son, Marine Sgt. Michael T. Washington, had been killed in action in Afghanistan. Even though he was completely devastated, he didn't let anyone see him cry, not even at the funeral.

But this time, the strain of emotional suppression was too much to bear.

He began drinking heavily. He got into bar fights and fights with his colleagues. He'd even run through red lights on his motorcycle in hopes that someone would hit him and end his suffering.

Washington at his son's grave.

After several years of witnessing this distressing behavior, his veteran friends knew Washington needed help.

They organized a post-traumatic stress retreat to a place called Save a Warrior — a weeklong detox program designed to help veterans cope with their trauma.

Through counseling, he began to come to terms with the years of trauma he'd experienced and even uncover incidents he'd buried so deeply that he had no memory of them.

"You will see things that you can't un-see," Washington says. "We ignore it, but they're ticking time bombs. And if we don't learn ways to deal with that stress, to work with that stress, eventually it's all going to catch up to you."

Slowly but surely, Washington began to recover — and it didn't take long for him to realize the best way for him to continue healing was to help other first responders.

Washington with first responders in Critical Incident Stress Management.

So he joined the Seattle Fire Department’s Critical Incident Stress Management Team, a national effort to help first responders relieve their emotional stress by talking through it.

The goal of the program is to show first responders from day one that they don't have to keep it all inside. There are much better ways of coping that will keep you healthier and happier on the job.

That's why Washington is as candid as possible when describing his own trauma with those he is trying to help. "I don't want another firefighter to be in this situation where I was, and the way to do that was to just lay myself out and just say 'here it is,'" Washington explains.

And so far, Washington's support has helped several of his colleagues, including firefighter Denny Fenstermaker.

Fenstermaker had been a firefighter for 39 years, but in March 2014, he witnessed destruction and tragedy like he'd never seen before.

First responders on the scene of the Oso, Washington, mudslide.

Oso, Washington, a town near where Fenstermaker was fire chief, was devastated by a mudslide, so he led in a crew to rescue survivors. In the process, Fenstermaker wound up uncovering bodies of many people he knew, and the experience took a toll on him — to the point where he felt like he was losing his ability to lead.

Thankfully, Seattle’s Critical Incident Stress Management Team came on the scene, and Fenstermaker met Washington. They connected right away, and Fenstermaker started opening up to him.

"This is a guy that understands exactly where I'm at because he's already been there," Fenstermaker explains.

Washington talks to a veteran with two other firefighters.

Washington feels like he's a better person and firefighter because he's no longer keeping his traumas inside. His all around courage is helping so many others find their way again.

Trauma can affect anyone, no matter how strong they are. But talking about it is the first and most important step back from the edge.

Learn more about Washington's story here:

Upstanders: The Firefighters’ Rescue

This program is making mental health a priority for firefighters.

Posted by Upworthy on Thursday, November 16, 2017
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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via Fox 5 / YouTube

Back in February, northern Virginia was experiencing freezing temperatures, so FOX 5 DC's Bob Barnard took to the streets to get the low down. His report opens with him having fun with some Leesburg locals and trying his hand at scraping ice off their parked cars.

But at about the 1:50 mark, he was interrupted by an unaccompanied puppy running down the street towards the news crew.

The dog had a collar but there was no owner in sight.

Barnard stopped everything he was doing to pick the dog up off the freezing road to keep it safe. "Forget the people we talked to earlier, I want to get to know this dog," he told his fellow reporters back in the warm newsroom.

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Courtesy of CeraVe
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"I love being a nurse because I have the honor of connecting with my patients during some of their best and some of their worst days and making a difference in their lives is among the most rewarding things that I can do in my own life" - Tenesia Richards, RN

From ushering new life into the world to holding the hand of a patient as they take their last breath, nurses are everyday heroes that deserve our respect and appreciation.

To give back to this community that is always giving so selflessly to others, CeraVe® put out a call to nurses to share their stories for a chance to be featured in Heroes Behind the Masks, a digital content series shining a light on nurses who go above and beyond to provide safe and quality care to patients and their communities.

First up: Tenesia Richards, a labor and delivery nurse working in New York City who, in addition to her regular job, started a community outreach program in a homeless shelter that houses expectant mothers for up to one year postpartum.

Tenesia | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com

Upon learning at a conference that black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women's health, Richards decided to take further action to help her community. She, along with a handful of fellow nurses, volunteered to provide antepartum, childbirth and postpartum education to the women living at the shelter. Additionally, they looked for other ways to boost the spirits of the residents, like throwing baby showers and bringing in guest speakers. When COVID-19 hit and in-person gatherings were no longer possible, Richards and her team found creative workarounds and created holiday care packages for the mothers instead.

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