So I’ll start by saying I don’t actually have experience with diagnosed PTSD in my line of work, but I do have experience to share and it may resonate with those of you who have had a traumatic medical issue or event.
2 years ago, I had a procedure that went very wrong. The nerve ablation to my SIJ which had worked so well twice before, this time caused my bones to swell up so much that a few weeks later I could no longer walk. I can’t describe the pain, but it lasted intensely for 6 weeks (2 of those I was hospitalised with morphine every 4 hours not making a dent), and then I spent 2 months regaining the ability to walk unaided. No-one knew if it was an infection or caused by AS (ankylosing spondylitis). Frankly, I am still unsure and have had a number of different opinions.
That excruciating August weekend when I was helped into A&E by an Uber driver (I was refused an ambulance even when I explained I had lost the use of my legs!), I had actually planned a nice day out with some friends to visit the lavender farm in Surrey… yesterday I made it there and it felt lovely.
I didn’t think about post trauma until much much later as I was SO focused on just getting better, but I’ve seen people have physical relapses almost a year to the day post injury and there’s no doubt our bodies remember. In my work with post-natal clients I am often struck as to how massively traumatic incidents during birth are skirted over as just ‘something that happened’ and then we wonder why the body takes longer than expected to heal. We need to talk about this and take it seriously, but not dwell at the same time.
I’m careful to remember what happened to me and recognise that I may have an emotional wobble or a bit of a flare-up around the anniversary, but equally I don’t want to train my thinking that this WILL happen. It might not, and I hope not. On the worst days of that time, I was alone in hospital, having an MRI and/or CT scan was truly the most harrowing thing I have experienced as laying flat was so painful for me I was crying, shaking and going into shock and I had to stay still for 45 minutes or more. Only the radiographers saw this and so it’s hard for those around me to understand just how bad it was. Some of the stories I have heard from my post-natal clients have also been truly distressing and often recounted with a very matter-of-fact attitude as if it was supposed to be normal. As if coming close to death while in excruciating pain was in some way to be expected and then you just get on with life!! Similarly, I was discharged from hospital (still requiring full care as I was not even mobile enough to turn on my side, let alone get into the bath) and received no medical assistance or follow up help… thank goodness for Mum! If I did have the suspected infection, sceptic arthritis in joints is extremely dangerous and up to 60% of older people who contract this sort of infection die. I’m glad I didn’t google this at the time!
It takes some time to get your head around this sort of information. It takes time to recover from experiencing the sort of pain most people cannot imagine, let alone the recovery from the physical effects of what caused it. The psychological left-over from this sort of trauma must not be glossed over and as I say, although we don’t want to keep thinking about it and re-traumatise ourselves, we need to process it in order to move on. I think it is very important to allow ourselves to recognise just what happened to us but I think it is more important to realise we are now safe and cannot change these events. We also may not be able to rely on our memory 100% so we must look forwards with the benefit of our learned experience so as not to get stuck at that point of struggle. I do not think talking constantly about the details helps us to move forward, so once it has been recognised, we must work on letting go and not allowing triggers to remain.
It’s hard to say if the aching I have in my body today is the result of driving for a couple of hours, too much sugar or if it’s the time of year. Either way, I’m doing better than expected and I hope next year that I won’t even remember the date!