I meant to write about this before, but, well, there have been limitations keeping me from blogging lately. One is Pubmed and its treasure trove of fascinations. The other is the fact that although I can get to the New Post screen from my outdated-and-stubbornly-update-refused Safari browser, I can’t actually type in the text box or view any of the other action buttons. But I lament…
The realization was not mine; it was my counselor’s. I was in session, describing a memory in which I was walking down the hospital hall at oh-dark-thirty on the morning of my hysterectomy, making my way toward the pre-op prep area.
Unexpectedly, a powerful emotion washed over me in which I was instantly teleported back to May 2009, when I had just arrived at the hospital in Saskatoon, Canada, to see my parents less than 48 hours after their near-fatal accident.
This wave welled up inside me, swelling by the nanosecond, becoming infinitely more voluminous, and overtaking me very quickly. Tears streamed down my cheeks, unstoppable, but I kept them on the down-low; I wasn’t sure what was happening, I couldn’t stop it, and with the surgical ordeal that I was about to face myself, I didn’t want anyone mistaking my emotion for fear for myself and worrying about me.
I had used the word “BAM!” to describe the earthquake I felt as my soul was slammed back through 3 years of time and across over 2,000 miles. Suddenly, against my will, I was Back There. Feeling every emotion I felt as a nervous wreck, imagining the worst for my parents, the fear and anticipation one feels when you are seconds and steps away from your first contact with them after a near-fatal crash. I had no choice but to take in the dimness of the early-morning hallway, the beeps, the whirs, the hisses, the hoses, the blinking lights, oscillating heartbeats and brain waves, and the small lights hanging low over nurse’s stations. Oh and the smells…mostly harsh cleaners and solvents, disinfectants and detergents, with no real possible effort to be made to mask the potpourri with more pleasant scents.
I think that the “BAM! I was back there” was what clinched it for my counselor. In what may prove to be a breakthrough moment, he sat back and said, “what you described is essentially PTSD”.
I was dumbfounded. I had not been there. I had not felt that impact, nor sustained those injuries. I had not even been the one following a mile behind like my sister had, only to roll up on the overturned vehicle in the ditch, with its cracked windshield, totaled engine block, belongings strewn, and blood spattered all over the dashboard; I hadn’t had to rummage through the wreckage for the most important items like my sister had. I thought that because I hadn’t seen anything traumatic firsthand or gone through the experience myself, my experiences could not be due to PTSD.
But I was wrong. Apparently, it’s possible to go through one’s own flavor, even if it’s from afar and days afterward. It can hit you just the same. That’s not something they prepare you for when your parents have just been critically injured. And it can stay with you, affecting you, reverberating and ricocheting between your fibers, even years later. That wasn’t part of the deal, either.
PTSD has since ruled a part of my life; it lay dormant for about a year while we finished med school and then it got activated by a compounding factor: starting practice, selling the house, and hemorrhaging money for months on end, while having no possible source of income yet. Hanging in the balance was our very survival. Basic human needs were far from stable and I could assume nothing.
Overnight, I stopped sleeping. I started sniffling and sneezing. I fell apart. My body broke. And soon, it didn’t take much to set it all off. Any little hiccup could do the trick and believe me, when you’re first starting your own business from scratch and it’s all you’re doing (no other backup sustenance), there are plenty of hiccups. And there seems like no way out…and there IS no way around it except through it.
So now what? Now we have a name. Yes, it’s one of those sticky, tricky, slippery-slope labels that becomes all-too-easy to identify with and allow to overtake you, potentially making it more difficult to surpass and transcend later. It’s important not to let it define you or give you a pole around which to mold your life, but it also provides a starting point for a new beginning, an anchor from which to push off. It has been defined and thus it has been limited. That’s part of the conquest, and yes, I’m truly seeking to conquer.