How We “Treat” Trauma


My husband might suggest to you that I’m addicted to the BBC series Call the Midwife, and, perhaps he’s correct. I recently viewed a powerful episode that dealt with the issue of trauma, and more specifically how we “treat” those who’ve been affected by trauma, particularly in our early response to trauma. In my mind, it conjured thoughts of sterile emergency rooms and even more sterile conversations with those required to gather evidence…  of not-so-well-meaning statements of “should’ve-known-better” judgement and “if-I-were-you” advice…  of well-meaning friends who try so very hard, but still fail in their offerings…

In Call the Midwife (series 5, episode 6) a violent attacker is on the loose. Even with support and care, the great weight of shame keeps two women from making a report to the police, and the third woman attacked is young Sister Mary Cynthia, one of the sisters of the local Anglican order that helps care for women in the Southeast District of London in the 1960’s. Upon her return to Nonnatus House, she is at once scolded by Sister Julienne for riding her bike home alone late at night, of course, highlighting the victim-shaming that is often so common in these situations. As she begins to come out of the fog of her attack, Sister Mary Cynthia becomes angry and won’t allow anyone to touch or console her. I watch with frustration, “Why won’t she accept the comfort of those who love her…” but I realize that her anger must work itself to the top and be expelled with all the questions, doubts and fears along with it.

In perhaps the most powerful scene of the episode, Sister Mary Cynthia goes for a bath. Her friends want to help her but she snaps at them as she enters the bathroom. She wants left alone to wash away the grime of the affront against her. They submit to her command, and yet they are worried and beg her not to lock the door. Continue reading