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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 August 2005, 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK
'I want my life back'
By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

Graphic of commuters
Four weeks ago to the day, four bombs blasts shook London. As the city moves forward, what about those still trying to cope?

More than 850 calls and still they come. Some people ring in the middle of the night needing to talk to someone about the bombings. More than 500 others have walked in off the street looking for help.

Set up after the 7 July attacks to help those affected, the Family Assistance Centre in central London remains busy. While a lot of people are back on public transport, back on the capital's streets, working and socialising, many are still struggling to come to terms with what happened.

Horrific injuries have been suffered, including lost limbs, blindness and burns, but even those who emerged from the train or bus wreckage physically unscathed are experiencing serious repercussions.

Composite picture of victims

The psychological fall-out of such events includes everything from nightmares to feelings of helplessness and panic. And the process of working through it can be long and hard.

Thursday's four-week anniversary is only expected to increase anxiety. Often significant dates highlight how emotional people still feel and how little they have moved on, say support workers. With this in mind, a website aimed at linking people with the support - and information - they need has been launched on Thursday (see Internet links on right).

Still raw

"Significant milestones like this can be extremely hard for people," says Janet Haddington, from the assistance centre. "They resurrect pain and are a poignant reminder of what people have lost."

Rachel from north London was in the bombed carriage of the tube travelling from King's Cross to Russell Square. She says that up until now the initial shock and the euphoria of surviving the attacks has cushioned her from having to deal with what happened.

I want my life back! But I know it will take a bit of time and I need to be patient
Rachel, north London

"It is as if I have to feel it properly, fully, whilst my body reactions are set on ordinary rather than shocked," she says.

"I need to somehow integrate it into all the other memories I have. Then I can put it to one side. But at the moment, it is very raw. It has taken me three weeks to even allow myself to consider it without mentally flinching and pushing it away."

What happened not only dominates her thoughts, but what she does. On Saturday she got on public transport - a bus - for the first time since 7 July.

"I stared at everyone on it, of course. Re-ran the sound of the bang of a bomb in my head all the way there. I couldn't face the return journey and I walked home in the rain for two miles instead."

Recurring dreams

Cynthia Bobb-Semple from east London was caught up in the Edgware Road bombing. She still isn't able to talk properly to her family about what she went through, get on a Tube or travel into central London.

"I have dreams nearly every night about getting on a Tube and not being able to get off," she says.

"Even walking down the street I'm more nervous than I've ever been. I know I need to face up to what has happened, but the shock is only just sinking in."

Evacuation at Kings Cross, taken by Alexander Chadwick
Survivors are haunted by what they saw
For the workers who dealt with the aftermath of the attacks, coping with what they saw is also still an issue. While many have been trained to deal with emergencies, the reality and the intensity of what they experienced lives with them.

Alan Samuels, a nurse who dealt with casualties immediately after the attacks, says he still has flashbacks to what he saw.

"Your training as a nurse and your experience teach you how to deal with what you see at work, but this was different," he says.

"I have treated people who have lost limbs, been crushed, burns victims, people who have lost their hearing or sight. But some of those brought in after the bomb attacks had suffered all of these injuries. It was traumatic.

"I can't forget a young woman I had to look after as she came round from an operation. As she woke up she started to relive what had happened to her and became hysterical. Her screaming was so distressing.

"After going through that I feel a strong connection to her. She doesn't remember me, but I make a point of checking how she is and following her progress through the hospital. It isn't something I have ever done before."

Prince Charles and Cynthia Bobb-Semple
Cynthia Bobb-Semple meets Prince Charles in hospital
But while the anniversary will be hard, it could be a catalyst for people to seek the help they need. It is when such milestones are reached that those struggling to cope realise they feel no better and look for professional help, say support staff.

"And with each month that passes, new needs will surface and continue to do so for a long time," adds Janet Paddington.

Authorities in Spain are still operating a support centre after the Madrid train blasts in March 2004, in which more than 190 people died and 1,900 were injured.

But for survivors like Rachel, dealing with the minefield of triggers in everyday life is among their immediate priorities. It may be the wail of a police siren or the sight of a large rucksack. "Then the fear is back."

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