The hurricane still haunts Marvin.
He and his wife, daughter, and four grandkids huddled on a neighbor's roof as floodwaters from the storm surges swirled around them. Lashed by wind and debris, they survived by hooking themselves to a rooftop exhaust vent.
"The water just kept rising," he said, beginning to cry. "The kids were crying. We were watching roofs peeling off the other houses. My heart was racing. I was scared to death."
Marvin, 58, feels crushing guilt for not getting his family out of New Orleans when he could. He relied on news reports that said the eye of the storm wouldn't pass directly over the city. He also feels responsible for how they suffered as they moved from shelter to shelter and got separated from him.
"It was chaos. There were sick people, people dying, kids fussing and fighting—horrible stuff," he said. "They shouldn't have seen the death, the viciousness of how people behave when they think there's no chance for survival."
After the family resettled, PTSD symptoms hit Marvin hard. He couldn't sleep. He had nightmares and flashbacks of the water rising up to the roof. "I thought I was losing it, but I didn't understand why," he said. "I wondered if I was about to check out. I was having suicidal thoughts constantly. The guilt was just too much."
He couldn't talk with his wife or family about it. After several months, Marvin decided he needed help. He's getting treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs' PTSD program in New Orleans.
Counseling is helping him find ways to cope with the guilt, and he's taking medicines to sleep.
"Therapy is teaching me how to deal with it one day at a time. I can't stop it, but I can deal with it."
He said the guilt is worse than anything he felt from his time as a Marine in the Vietnam War.
"I've been in firefights where people were killed, and I didn't know if I'd make it. There's a distinct difference when you put someone else's life at risk."
He still has symptoms, and he still cries when he talks about the experience. But now he knows that crying is a release.
"I just feel like, at some point, I'll be in the driver's seat," he said. "Counseling has given me the tools. If I use the tools, I can manage the job better."
He would like to see everyone struggling with PTSD get better.
"There is help out there. Don't try to be a hero and not get help. It will get worse."
Marvin's story reflects his experiences as told in an interview. The photograph is not of Marvin, to protect his privacy.
Current as of: January 31, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Jessica Hamblen, PhD, MA, NIMH - Psychology, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder