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Coping With Past and Present Medical Trauma in the Age of COVID-19

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The smell of hand sanitizer and disinfectant fill your nostrils. Everywhere you look, you are surrounded by people in surgical masks. Constantly, you are inundated with the words sickness and disease, and words synonymous with respiratory distress. For a moment, you’re back in the hospital. But then you blink and remember that this is 2020. The year the world feels like one giant hospital.

• What is PTSD?

For people who have experienced medical trauma such as an extended NICU stay, time in the PICU, time in the ICU, or any other extended stay in the hospital, the separation between their past trauma and the current reality of COVID-19 are harder than ever to distinguish. As a result, those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) may experience being triggered on a regular basis, which results in flashbacks, increased anxiety and increased depression. The inability to escape the hospital-like feeling brings everything back, and their past trauma feels inescapable.

Then there are the people currently experiencing medical trauma. For them too, there is no escape. They don’t have the ability to have visitors and as a result are isolated in the world of the hospital. Even if they have the ability to meet a friend for something as simple as a coffee date outside of the hospital, there is hand sanitizer, masks and the smell of disinfectant — still, they feel like they have never left.

For both groups, the world feels exponentially more dangerous because of compromised immune systems in either themselves or in a family member. Though the world feels sterile and hospital-like, the threat of sickness is always percolating under the surface of our reality. It is constantly talked about. Peace may feel impossible to find.

Be aware that a simple trip to the grocery store can be triggering. Be aware of the increased anxiety and re-traumatization of these groups of people on a regular basis. Be patient. Be kind. Be aware.

Getty image by triocean

Originally published: October 19, 2020
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