We Need to Start Talking About Medical PTSD
First, do no harm.
It hit me out of nowhere. One moment, I was petting my dog, Ole, and the next, I sat breathless and terrified, my heart beating out of my chest. Transported to the darkest memories of my childhood, I felt like an 8-year-old again — a child who would be rolled through the double doors of the OR without much explanation beyond,“We need to fix something that’s wrong with your body.”
In truth, that something often involved osteotomies and casts and drug pumps that failed. On more than one occasion, those double doors saved my life. What do you mean it’s traumatic?
Memories flashed of being held down as I got knocked unconscious, one after the other, in rapid-fire succession. I could smell the chemicals of the anesthesia, taste the saline, and hear the familiar sounds of beep beep beep that would radiate from heart monitors. I felt the sheer sense of fear in those final seconds of consciousness knowing when I awoke, I would be overwhelmed by excruciating pain. I felt all of this as if it were happening again in the present moment, despite the fact that I was safe in my home.
This is medical PTSD.
It’s real — and terrifying.
It’s funny because as an adult who has gone under general anesthesia 30+ times since birth, I can generally go through those same double doors without much thought. I make small talk with the nurses about my college classes, my travels, my dog — and sometimes, I do this while anesthesia is rushing through my body. But in those two hours, I became a child again. I was so overwhelmed that I was tearing up at my desk, and even the thought of calling my dog to comfort me took too much brain power. In a word, I felt broken.
But I’m done feeling broken.
I’m on a mission to make medical PTSD known and acceptable — not just to validate others but to validate myself.
My cerebral palsy is, in the words of one of my physicians, “a little bit complicated.” My hips came out of socket four times; I acquired a severe form of clubfoot, and my spine became so curved it nearly collapsed on itself. That’s not even counting two baclofen pump overdoses from which I very nearly died — and I have to have a repeat pump placement in August.
Every single one of those required major medical intervention.
Every single one required the sounds of beep beep beep.
Every single one was traumatic.
As real as these issues are, they’re seldom discussed. Maybe it’s because of the oath physicians take to “do no harm.” Maybe it’s because we’re so conditioned to “be strong.” Maybe it’s because we don’t want to admit we’ve been traumatized. But one thing I do know is that I’m not alone.
If you’ve experienced these things, know this:
I see you.
This story originally appeared on This Life on Wheels.
Photo by Victority via Getty Images.