By Karen Wittwer
Independent Staff Writer
The physical evidence of Tuesday night's tornado will be gone long before the full impact of emotional trauma is known.
With that in mind, a psychiatrist and five psychiatric nurses from St. Joseph's Hospital in Omaha volunteered their services to help people cope in the tornado's aftermath.
Several members of the disaster crew provided counseling services during the Omaha tornado in 1975.
At the first of four public sessions at St. Francis Medical Center, Dr. Maggie Tweddle said that many people won't be "back to normal emotionally for a long time." Nature has violated their lives and it may take months or even years for some people to work through their feelings, she said.
According to the counselors, elderly persons and children are most vulnerable to damaging emotional after effects. At first many people may be too numb to really feel much of anything for several days but later reactions may include shock, disbelief, anxiety, inability to sleep or even slow down, fear, anger, depression and disorientation.
Tweddle said children may be more afraid of the dark and night and often have difficulty expressing their fears openly. Children need a great deal of reassurance and support during this period and their fears shouldn't be brushed off as silly, she said.
Although the games may seem gruesome at times, children should be allowed to act out the disaster during play if the want, Tweddle said. Just as children need to feel involved in the clean up, they also need to have time for fun and taking the role of a civil defense director may be the key, she said.
For the elderly, disorientation is likely to be the greater problem, said Dede Johnson, a psychiatric nurse.
All too often children try to protect their parents and won't tell them the full truth, Johnson said. Children may say only a portion of the house was destroyed when the home was really leveled.
Honest, straightforward discussion is important in helping everyone cope with the disaster, Johnson said.
Tweddle also emphasized that honesty is important. People need to know what's going on so they can get their lives together again, she said. Over protection will not help.
People use a variety of coping mechanisms and it's important to remain non-judgemental, Tweddle said. Some jokes may be in poor taste but it's important to remain tolerant and remember that everyone has his own way of coping, she said.
Maintaining a routine schedule is another effective way of dealing with the disaster, Tweddle said. Such basic things as keeping regular bedtimes and meal times can help, she said.
And people should not forget how beneficial a good cry can do, Tweddle said.
The disaster crew will lead two more public sessions at 2 and 6:30 p.m. Friday in the St. Francis cafeteria. Anyone affected by the tornado, including those who may be feeling some guilt for not having suffered any damage, is welcome.
Although the group will be returning to Omaha this weekend, counselors at the Mid-Nebraska Community Mental Health Center will be available.