The solitary lone figure made his way across the Stalag, and he knew directly where he was headed. It had been going on for several years, but for the past couple of months it appeared to be getting worse—much worse. He wasn't sure which mission had set it off again, since he was always able to ignore the feeling in the past. After all, a man of his rank didn't get to be where he currently was by easily falling victim to his emotions. Still, that didn't seem to change much of anything. All he knew was that each time it happened, he felt completely uncomfortable.
In the past, he had always found a reason, an excuse for visiting Wilson—either somebody in the barracks was sick, or injured, or another similar predicament. This time, however, he had no reason. He suspected that at least Kinch, or perhaps one of the others knew. Still, they respected his privacy, and went about their business as they always had. It's just the way I want it he thought to himself. After all, could they really trust a commanding officer who was prone to anxiety attacks?
He had tried to concentrate on laying out the groundwork for that night's mission, which was a relatively routine and simple one by comparison. Hammelburg + bridge = some more of Carter's explosives. Still, that old familiar feeling had started creeping up on him, until he felt that he couldn't take it any longer. The tightness in the chest; that was always the first symptom. Next, the sweating palms, and finally, the horrible feeling of lightheadedness and dizziness, as though he might pass out at any minute. He wasn't sure how long he could hide it from his men, or if, in fact, they already knew. All he knew was that otherwise he was in top physical condition, as Wilson pointed out to him numerous times. Always the mother hen the Colonel chuckled to himself.
As soon as the debriefing in the tunnels was done, he had tried to slip away inconspicuously back into his barracks, and make his way over to Wilson's. It felt good to have somebody that he could confide in—it was the only time that he made known his feelings. Sometimes the attacks were so horrendous that he thought about hanging up his Papa Bear crush cap for good. Still, appearances had to be kept up, and the last thing he wanted was having his men fret about him. He could just picture them trying to keep him in bed, making sure that he was calm at all times, perhaps even going so far as to request that Klink and Schultz go easy on him. That, of course, would never do. Once they know, the rest of the camp may know as well. That just isn't something that should be discussed he thought to himself.
Upon reaching Wilson's barracks, he was relieved that he didn't have to enter for what seemed like the millionth time that week. Instead, the medic seemed to have a built-in radio that was fine-tuned to his emotions, and he was outside waiting for him. "Another panic attack?" the medic asked, knowing what the answer was before the Senior POW officer could even answer. It was a good thing too, as he felt that, with each passing second, it was becoming harder and harder for him to breathe. Making sure that nobody was around, the medic whispered into his ear, "Just take a couple of deep breaths, sir. Everything is going to be alright. It always is, isn't it?" He could sense just a slight hint of sarcasm in that last question, but he didn't mind it. Joe always seems to know how I'm feeling.
Wilson invited him to casually lean against the barracks, hoping to throw off any suspicion from any of the wandering prisoners. For all they knew, he had brought in a couple more wounded fliers, and was conferring with him about the best course of treatment. He was relieved that none of his men were outside, since they were probably still in the tunnels, putting the finishing touches on their respective roles for that night's mission. Still, he suspected that they knew what he was going through, or at least had even the faintest inkling of an idea. Sometimes I think I should tell them, but what would they say? How would they act? He didn't wish any special treatment to be placed upon him. He wanted life to go on as it always had. "After all, they only come before a mission, and hardly ever during one," he whispered half to himself, and half to his friend. "It's a little funny that way, isn't it?"
"Not at all," came the medic's reply. "Remember, we did talk about 'triggers.' You know that a mission will go smoothly, but you're probably worried about your men. You're rarely worked up over the mission itself."
Suddenly, a thought came floating back to his mind, though the exact details were a little hazy. He remembered the conversation well, however. He remembered trying to reassure his men that an operation would go well, and looking at all of them with his usual look of determination. Kinch had replied something to the effect of, "Don't tell me that you're scared also. If so, welcome to our side." To which he had replied, "Why not? Let's be scared together." It was the first and only time where he had alluded to having panic attacks before a mission. He had made sure never to bring them up again.
A couple more minutes had come to pass, and he found that just having somebody to confide in was beginning to relax him, and the tightness in the chest was beginning to vanish. Thankfully, breathing was coming more easily to him as well. "I'm feeling better Joe—thanks." However, Wilson had become too used to his friend's attacks to know that everything was fine. The medic knew that he wouldn't really divulge how bad the episodes were, or how frequently they came to him. Instead, Wilson slipped him a small bottle, containing some white pills. "I know you're running low, sir. It has been a while." He didn't know whether to refuse them or not, so, without anybody looking, he tucked them inside his bomber jacket. "Thanks" he said with complete sincerity, before walking back in the direction of the barracks.
Going inside and to his quarters, he was surprised to see that Kinch was sitting there, waiting for him. How could I have been so clumsy? he thought to himself, seeing that he had only half put away his old bottle, half-hidden under a stack of papers, in a rush to get down to the tunnels. "Would you like to talk about it?" Kinch asked, hoping that nothing was seriously wrong with his leader. "They're just for panic attacks," he replied quickly, almost too quickly as a matter of fact. All he knew was that he wanted to change the subject—and change it quickly. "This operation will continue as it always has—and that's an order." For a brief moment, he could sense the disappointment from his sergeant at his commanding officer's briskness, but it quickly faded away into his usual expression.
Words would be left unspoken that night, and the mission went off without a hitch. Still, he knew that his second-in-command would take three things into consideration from now on (1) The Colonel should try to be kept calm (2) Kinch had to respect his wishes for the other men on his team to never find out and (3) The operation would indeed go on, as it always had. It was just something that both men would have to live with, until hopefully a cure was found, or the anti-anxiety pills kicked in completely. All in due time Hogan thought to himself. All in due time.
AN: This short story is based on current events in this author's life. I thought it might be fun to imagine how one of the characters would respond if the same thing was happening to him.