Omar Delgado, 45, Greater Orlando, Florida. Pulse nightclub shooting, June 12, 2016.
It was well after midnight when Omar Delgado, who was working patrol in Eatonville, Florida, responded to a distress call in nearby Orlando. Now, more than a year after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub, Delgado is struggling with post-traumatic stress and has been terminated from his job, six months before he would have become vested in his pension. If he’d made it to 10 years’ employment with the Eatonville Police Department, he would have been able to collect 64 percent of his salary and benefits for life, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Now he’ll only be able to collect 42 percent of his salary, starting when he’s 55.
I’m taking six medicines to try and help me sleep and I can’t. I have nightmares every single night. Picture having a nightmare every single night since June 12. I wake up screaming and yelling and sweating. It takes a toll. I only sleep three or four hours night and it doesn’t matter what medicine they put me on. It knocks me out quick, but then I wake up with nightmares. It’s not a way of living.
A friend of mine reached out to me and said they knew a therapist, and I started seeing her for a bit. Then my department said, that’s not working, we’re going to sent you to the University of Central Florida, they have this great program that they use for PTSD veterans. I was the first first responder to ever join their program. The only reason I did it was because my department was paying me to go and I needed money. I don’t know if it helped. In a way, it made things worse, because I kept reliving [Pulse] over and over again every day. It was a horrific thing. I don’t want to disrespect UCF, but it wasn’t for me. It might work for veterans, but it wasn’t made for a first responder who suffered through Pulse.
I’d never seen a mental health professional before and I didn’t know what it would entail. As a police officer, you’re strong, and as a male you really just don’t go pour your heart out to an individual. I’ve been opening up slowly, but it’s a long process.
I’ve been on medication for seven or eight months now and it’s still the same. People say, ‘It needs to take time, Omar. There are people that take years after they experience a horrific tragedy.’
It’s a struggle to get out of bed every single morning. It’s changed me with my family. Sometimes they walk on eggshells around me, because anything sets me off. I don’t go to my kids’ baseball games or softball games or practice with them or take them to the pool. Little things that I used to do constantly are now a struggle.
I’m going to give it time and stick with the program, but I’ve never been in this situation. I don’t know what’s working, what’s not working. I guess when it finally works, I won’t have any more nightmares. I won’t be irritable. I won’t be having anxiety attacks when I’m in a restaurant. I know I don’t live my life the way I used to, and that bothers me.
I don’t want to ever give up on this fight, but I understand why people do. It gets tiring. You can only do something for so long.
As told to Erin Schumaker. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. The introduction to this post has been updated to reflect Delgado’s termination.