More than ten years later, she still gets choked up when she sees medical helicopters in the sky. Although not combative, the environment in Korea was intensive. “The majority of my patients were drunk and got hurt because that’s what you do in Korea. When you’re not working, you drink. It’s not a war zone, no gunshots, no explosions, none of those types of injuries. It was emergent in another way,” she explains.
No longer working with a medical group like she did in Iraq as a combat medic, Rachel felt the tremendous weight of being the only medic onboard the helicopter as a flight medic. “Us medics were constantly working in rotation,” she tells Colin. “That is what started to wear me down mentally. I was always working so I had this heightened sense that there would be a call.”
After her deployment to South Korea, Rachel arrived to Fort Drum in New York. She felt at home. “I loved it. It was near Vermont and they had this medical training building that when you go inside it, it looks like you’re in Iraq.” she recalls. “They even played the sound effects from Black Hawk Down!”
Yet, it was here that Rachel’s struggles materialized. “I had a panic attack when I was getting ready to go into the training building… I was standing outside the door and I began to sweat. I couldn’t open the door. They were waiting and waiting. I finally went in. When I was finished and got out, I burst into tears and I remember thinking, ‘What’s wrong with me?’”
Within the next few months, her mental state worsened. “I remember getting to work one day and asking someone, ‘How do you deal with all of this; The stress, losing patients, etc.?’ It wasn’t really an issue for them. They seemed fine with it, which wasn’t super helpful for me. If they can deal with it, why couldn’t I?”
By February of 2008, Rachel recognized some suicidal tendencies within herself, called her mother to come take care of her son Alex, and told her boss, “I am thinking of killing myself and I know that’s not normal.” However low of a moment that was for her, Rachel pokes fun at the way in which she had to ironically organize and “plan her breakdown.” Her boss drove her to the hospital where she admitted herself into Inpatient Mental Health for ten days and what she calls “one of the best vacations of my life.”