Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Battle Against PTSD is the Battle For Self

I’ve had some bad hands dealt to me in the game of life and I am in no way ashamed to admit that I am one of the millions of people who battle Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In 2009 after a huge surgery and one week in the hospital I was sent home to do open wound care treatment which meant a nurse came to the house each day to take the previous day’s gauze out of the wound and pack new gauze into it. One night after the nurse had been to the house, I was lying on the couch and reached down to scratch an itch at the end of my nub. My hand came back covered in blood. One of the arteries in my leg had suffered a massive hemorrhage and I was bleeding out. I remember being asked by the EMTs if I was usually so pale and them telling me they were going to do a “grab and go” with lights and sirens all the way. I remember arriving at the local hospital and my surgeon being on the phone with the ER doctor trying to figure out if I was stable enough to be transferred. I remember the ride to Baltimore in the second ambulance and I remember the rush into the OR where I was given several units of blood and where my heart stopped briefly. While there are other events that caused me to develop PTSD, that night, the night of the bleed, is the one that haunts me the most.

I go to PTSD therapy once a week with a therapist that I’ve known from day one is a pretty great guy but he really proved it last week. I’d just left his office and was maybe 5 minutes down the road when the car in the lane beside me decided to slam it’s brakes while making a very sharp right turn crossing directly in front of me. What he needed at The Home Depot so badly, I really wish I knew. I managed to hit my brakes and swerve just enough not to hit him but the car behind me didn’t have enough space or time. Her car slammed into the back of my car with enough force that the cast on my left hand actually broke. It also really wrenched my shoulder and as my hand/arm doctor would tell me the next day, the very thing making treating my pinky so hard and the very thing that caused me to need my thumb fused (Joint Hyper Mobility Syndrome) is the reason why I didn’t tear ligaments and tendons. Anyone with normal joints would have had serious damage done to them.

The first cop that arrived told me that he was glad to see that I was calm, cool and collected but as the first of the ambulances appeared on scene I stared into his eyes and said, “Calm, cool and collected is about to go right out the window” and it did. The sight and sound of the ambulances was enough to trigger my PTSD but then to be strapped to a gurney and put inside the ambulance sent me right over the edge and into complete flashback mode. In an instant I was back in 2009 with blood oozing through a full roll of Curlex gauze, 3 ace wraps, 3 abdominal pads and a shrinker sock. In an instant I was once again bleeding to death. My first phone call, when my mind cleared just enough to allow rational thought in, wasn’t to my family. It was to my therapist. I knew that things were going to go from bad to worse and that very soon any ability to think rationally and stay in the present was going to be gone. The next thing I knew he was calling me from the waiting room of the ER telling me to send someone to get him since he isn’t family. Just the words “PTSD Therapist” are enough to get any doctor or nurse to hustle and he was by my side quickly. I only just learned today that he’d cancelled his last session that day claiming an emergency, called his wife to tell her he didn’t know when he’d be home, and spent the next 3 hours of his own personal time in the ER with me.

When I’m triggered I don’t do what the majority of people do. I don’t outwardly freak out other than my hands turning clammy and rocking slightly from side to side. I turn inward, clam up, and zone out. He was able to explain my process to the doctor and nurse and be my eyes and ears while they were talking then would get my attention by putting his face directly into my line of sight and calmly explain what they’d just said.  He also explained the various triggers that set me off to them so they could make some accommodations such as not bringing anything into my room that makes a constant beeping sound unless absolutely necessary. He immediately noticed my reaction to the x-ray techs moving my gurney and knew it was triggering a flashback to the night of the bleed and the journey from the ER to the OR and was able to keep me in a place mentally where while I had one foot back in 2009, I still had one foot in the present as well (no pun intended).  He was right outside the door when the x-rays were finished and saw what no one else did. He looked at me, looked behind me into the x-ray room, then looked back at me and said,“X-rays beep.” I nodded and he simply took my hand as we headed back down the hall to the room. Even after my father finally was able to get through beltway traffic and get to the ER, my therapist stayed. As he told me today, he absolutely hated to see me in that state but it also gave him a very good glimpse into my PTSD process since it’s a process that is different for every sufferer.

Due to events in my past I carry a massive amount of distrust towards anyone in the medical field, which is ironic seeing as I am surrounded by them and constantly headed to one doctor or another. The fact that my first phone call last week was to my therapist and that he was the one person I really wanted in that moment both surprised him and made him feel honored to be included in the very small circle of medical professionals that I trust. He is very well aware that my typical reaction to things is simply to tough it out, act like I’m fine and then fall apart on my own later. I suppose you could call last week progress in it’s own odd way! 

The thing about PTSD is that it's not just a battle for survival and it's not just about the event. PTSD is a battle for self.