Medical Trauma: A Special Guest

Medical trauma and medical PTSD are two of the most under-identified and misunderstood occurrences in today’s medical system, even in our own developed, educated country. Doctors are supposed to be trustworthy and well intentioned, they even take a vow to do no harm. From day one we are taught to put trust in doctors, nurses, and any other medical professional, trust them with our personal thoughts, habits, and of course our bodies,  our minds; hospitals and doctors offices are supposed to be “safe zones” if we need help… but is this always the case?

From my years of battling chronic illnesses I’ve seen TONS of doctors, specialists, nurses, xray techs, med students, etc. and it’s shocking how some of them treat patients. I can give you handfuls of personal experience with negligence, betrayal, false accusations and biases, and personal traumatic experiences brought on by the medical systems, doctors and nurses themselves. I’ve gotten to a point where I have anxiety over  new doctors, a true fear of admissions to the hospitals who are said to be there for treatment, help, healing. I’ve been denied medical treatments by insurance agents who don’t even have a degree in medicine or pharmacology, but choose money over my quality of life. There’s so much more to the medical system than the average person imagines, and the impact reaches far beyond the exam table.

To share another perspective, I’ve been given permission to quote the testimony of one of the kindest, most respectful and compassionate fellow “spoonies” that I have gotten to know thanks to online networks that let us find one another with just a hashtag.

So, thank you Nicole, and here we go…

“Ever since I started struggling more and more with my medical trauma and also was recently officially diagnosed with medical PTSD so I wanted to spread awareness about how traumatic this chronic life can be. From doctors treating you badly, to traumatic surgeries or procedures to doctors not believing you to life threatening situations there are unfortunately many possible traumatic parts of being sick and/or disabled and it needs to be talked about more.

Vivid nightmares. Anxiety and panic attacks. Depression. Avoidance. Flashbacks and intrusive memories. Always on guard. Easily startled. Trouble experiencing positive emotions. Loss of interest in things that you enjoy. Trouble sleeping and concentrating. Irritability. Guilt.

These are just some of the things that come along with medical trauma or PTSD.

Unlike with some other types of trauma, for us who are complex chronically ill and/or disabled patients we literally cannot avoid our trauma.  We cannot avoid hospitals, doctors, medications, treatments, surgeries, etc. This makes coping with and healing from medical trauma very very challenging. For me even little things like doing my daily line and tube care can bring on flashbacks of sepsis hospitalizations and awake, painful IR procedures and things like new patient appointments can bring on severe anxiety about possibly not being believed. This can cause us to generalize all our trauma and have anxiety and PTSD symptoms around everything medical not just the traumatic event/s. For me I get awful anxiety when I have any kind of medical appointment due to the trauma being brought back through intrusive memories, feeling unsafe and a strong urge to run/get home ASAP, agitation, impatience, feeling like I may literally explode from anxiety and panic and much more.

All trauma, no matter what it is or how severe, is real, valid, important and is deserving of healing, therapy, support, treatment etc.

Medical Trauma and medical PTSD needs more awareness so doctors, nurses, medical professionals etc can be aware that it exists, that is a huge struggle for the patients that deal with it every single day, and learn how to help it and do everything they can to try to prevent it.

We have to strive to make healthcare *Human*Care so that medical trauma and PTSD stops for good and no one else ever has to go through such a horrific condition again! Maybe if medical professionals treated us as actual HUMANS – not just another medical case – many of these traumatic situations could be avoided.”

 

Quote by Nicole P // IG @itsapotsielifeforme

 

Positively Rachel

 

Medical Madness: Survival of the Introvert

I’ve always been a bit of an introvert, my parents often tell me that when I was young, my teachers said I hardly spoke a word, I was polite and hardworking, but quiet as a mouse, which my parents thought was odd since I often talked a lot at home J I’m shy and often have trouble making friends, I have always hated confrontation or having people be upset with me. I worry about running late or being in the wrong place at the wrong time… I’ve got a lot of thoughts and opinions and knowledge, but being introverted and having trouble sticking up for myself in tense or questionable situations, it can be a major downfall when you’re living like I do.

Getting sick at such a young age with conditions that so many doctors don’t even know about let alone know how to treat. Since I was young and still living at home, my parents were always with me at doctors appointments – still are today J — and they were able to help me express things fully and ask all of the questions I needed to, ask for help with whatever needed more attention, but I still often got overwhelmed.

Being sick so long I’ve begun running my doctors into retirement, and of course with that comes the need to begin the draining search for new doctors, a task that brings difficulties in many ways. You’d think that after almost 8 years I would be able to do this on my own, to handle doctors and keep focused and calm and get everything out of it that I need, but that’s just not the case. You never know what you’re walking into with new doctors; each has their own protocols for testing and treatments, they believe in different approaches, and you have to explain your history in detail, which gets longer each time.

There are so many biases against girls like me with “invisible illnesses” simply because of my age, gender, and appearance, and the worst part is that those biases and judgments don’t just come from stupid high school kids or young adults, they come from doctors, from insurance, from pharmacies, from all of those who are supposed to be the ones making my life, making my body at least feel a bit more comfortable, a bit more active, a bit more NORMAL.

After a few bad experiences with doctors and nurses and hospitalists, some being members of my own care team, the medical professionals who hold my life in their hands, and that kind of brutal betrayal can lead patients like myself to extreme anxieties and even medical PTSD, which makes finding new doctors a terrible thought, a stressful time for me, and on top of that, I have to be brave enough to get through these appointments feeling like I’m in good hands.

Doctors are supposed to “do no harm,” but that concept is flawed and misinterpreted sometimes; “do no harm” isn’t a pledge meant just to protect us from doctors intentionally causing harm, doing things to make us sick or cause us pain, etc., it means do all you can to help your patients no matter who they are and what they have. There’s so much that happens behind the scenes of the medical system, doctors with prejudices who feel they have a right to be rude and judgmental and negligent when we know something is going on and we are asking for help. Negligence is a crime just as serious as purposeful, physical harm.

Why do you get to decide what I’m feeling, what the symptoms or side effects can or cannot be based on a decade old case study instead of putting trust into the patients, the ones living this, the ones suffering every day while the professionals get to wash their hands and go home without another thought of how their actions or lack there of are affecting us. I may not be a medical professional, but I am definitely a chronic illness expert, and if doctors could truly understand that, we could work together, creating trust and mutual respect.

A wise woman once told me that I need to remember that doctors work for patients. I think doctors forget that and take advantage of their position and their capabilities, the things that only they can do or get their hands on. We need doctors, we need the resources they can give us, but they need us, too, and they need to keep in mind that those of us with chronic illnesses aren’t your average patient, and we know our stuff.  No one knows chronic illnesses better than the patients themselves.

Since there are no options for spoonies to join the medical field based on our personal knowledge and research, it would be incredibly beneficial if our doctors and insurance agencies and dieticians, pharmacists, etc. would take us seriously and use our advice, consult with us more so than just making the decision and saying that’s that.

We do so much of the work, so much of the research, and all of the first hand experience, yet we still rely on the “professionals” who are making these decisions without listening to the answers we are offering.

Chronic Illnesses: Who Knows?

In the past few months I’ve seen increased frequency and severity in my symptoms and even new symptoms coming to light. When I have flare ups or new issues I often become more aware of my current physical state, and ironically, while doing so, I usually think I’m better off until these harsh realizations, moments of brutality that shine a light on the fact that no, I’m not better, I’m actually worse, but I’ve just gotten used to being sick, used to this flare up that just never left, that became my new “normal.”

Though I’m used to high levels of pain, severe nausea, frequent migraines, fatigue, etc. when I wake up and have new symptoms or symptoms I’ve had before all of a sudden “amplified,” it can be super frustrating, discouraging – not to mention painful. But when these “flare ups” come about and decide to stick around for more than a day or two, the mind starts to wonder….

Is this a flare? Are these symptoms going to go back to “normal?” Is there something more serious going on?

Pain is a hard thing to talk about and understand because everyone has a different relationship with pain, everyone’s “scale” is their own – my 6 could be your 9 for example – and you can’t really know what anyone else’s is unless you’re living it. My pain has been a totally new phenomenon the last couple weeks, my body is searing, my head is killing me, it’s just relentless. This pain is different from my “normal” pain, though, so it’s kind of hard to compare them severity wise, it’s hard to simplify it to a word like “throbbing, stabbing, burning, etc.” or a number 1-10 – I’m in severe pain and discomfort all over my body and it won’t give me a break — I wish that were enough to figure out a way to help, right?

“What concerns me the most is the unknown….it is just too overwhelming to think about…”

When my symptoms cause me to be even more “disabled” than normal, when I can’t get up or out of the house for a week or more, I’m hardly able to be around others because of the pain and stimulation, and I’m sleeping excessively or unable to sleep at all, it can be hard to find motivation, hard to force yourself to get up and get going, doing something as simple as shower or change into fresh pjs…

“No one really explained to me the depth or the magnitude of that diagnosis, no one explained how serious and life changing this chronic illness can be….”

There are so many unknowns with chronic illnesses, and most of us learn all about that through personal experiences, not from doctors or even google doctor! Living with conditions that even doctors don’t know enough about can be scary, all of a sudden everything you know is just swept out from underneath you, you’re left with so little understanding and no control over your own body, your own life. This is all shocking, it’s devastating, and you have got to find a way to embrace it, conquer it, and grow right along side it, otherwise, it will break you through and through, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, mind, body, and soul.

Not Just a Patient

I am a person.

I may be sick, I may be a professional patient, but I’m also a person, but sometimes I feel like less than that when doctors, nurses, or insurance agents treat with disrespect, have biases against me before even seeing me or getting to know me, or neglect my physical or mental health because I am a challenging, serious case on the inside and a young, blonde, smiling 22 year old on the outside; invisible illnesses, especially in young women, often lead to many instances of mistreatment from medical professionals.

I’m almost never late to appointments. I have never missed, skipped, or forgotten an appointment. I email doctors with updates, questions, and reminders so that I can keep things going as efficiently as possible. I fill my meds, do my feeds, and try pretty much every alternative therapy suggested. I treat doctors with respect, no matter what. Not to sound stuck up, but I truly can’t think of much I could do to become a better patient, but honestly, that’s not my job in all of this. I am the patient, and I pay for these doctors to help me.

The idea of “doctors working for me,” is something I had never thought of before about a year ago when someone said it to me after I had a doctor say some hurtful things to me; I don’t work for the doctors, they work for me. They have no right to treat me with any less respect than they expect me to have for them or than they would have for another doctor, a friend, or a family member.

In fact, they should be treating me with great respect even if I’m not being extra outgoing or outwardly friendly. I don’t get paid to be sick. I don’t want to go to the doctor all the time. I’m often traveling hours to see them for just 10-15 minutes and they’re often not even able to help me or offer me anything new, so if I’m upset or not talkative, it’s just out of disappointment and frustration with my situation.

But doctors have chosen to be there, to help people. They choose their specialty, choose where they work, what age they work with, and they get paid very well for what they do. But just because they get paid and because they went through medical school doesn’t mean they are better people or even that they know what’s right.

Having invisible illnesses is hard. Many of these conditions are rare and under researched, doctors in small towns and even doctors who work in highly respected hospitals but aren’t specialized just don’t know these conditions. I’ve been to endless doctors who can’t pronounce the names of my conditions, don’t know what they are or what the symptoms are, or think they know and insist they know but are downright incorrect.

Sadly, a lot of girls with conditions like mine deal with doctors being rude or curt, abrasive, neglectful, biased and judgmental, and even abusive. Whether doctors are just having a bad day or whether they think they can speak to us in hurtful ways just because we are young or pretty, appear healthy, or smile and laugh like “normal” people and aren’t bald or in wheelchairs 100% of the time, I don’t know, but I do know that their actions and words can affect us for a long time.

When we are treated so poorly by people we have put our trust into, it isn’t just upsetting for a moment, it often affects our ability to put our trust into doctors and the medical system in general. Sadly, the only way someone like me can live at all comfortably is by seeing a multitude of doctors and working very hard to find treatments and medications that help minimize symptoms. We’ve put our lives in the hands of these people, we literally cannot go on without them. There is no excuse for them to treat us poorly, but when they do, we lose trust for them and we lose what faith we had in the system.

Doctors can go home and take off their white coats and eat dinner with their families, never having to think again about how that day went or what a patient said or did, but we go home and have to deal with the consequences of appointments for days, weeks, months. We rely on doctors and nurses and insurance agencies not just to be alive, but to have any comfort on a day-to-day basis. It’s not an option whether or not to have doctors or treatments, so if we lose one doctor, we have to work hard to find another one who is as good or better and willing to take on a tough case.

Conditions like mine mean you sometimes have to be both patient and medical expert, which is frustrating and exhausting. I don’t ask my doctors for magical treatments or cures that aren’t out there yet, but I do ask them to treat me with respect and dignity. I’m a person, not just a patient.

Recovery: The Real Challenge with Surgery

The past two weeks have been even more challenging than my “normal” for both my body and my mind. I had surgery two weeks ago to place a new/additional feeding tube and we ran into some challenges and now I am trying to heal and recover.

I’ve had to spend more time in bed since getting home from my surgery because I’ve been unable to move much on my own. For the first week I couldn’t sit up, stand, walk, sit down, go to the bathroom, brush my hair, or do anything for myself. Being 100% dependent on other people is really hard, regardless of the fact that I was already disabled and very dependent on my parents for so much even prior to surgery.

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Kevin needs his new tube placed!
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Baxter alerting me.

I have to admit that the first week or so post- surgery is all a blur. There was lots of pain, many doctors, a painful car ride home (or two), a lot of sleeping, medications, ambulance, pain, another ambulance, an awful ER, pain…. But what I do remember is that both of my parents were right there by my side the whole time. There was never any talk of hiring a nurse to do the hard work or asking another family member or close friend to come help so my parents could go back to work. Every day I had at least one if not both of my parents there taking care of me, no complaints or mention of using up their sick days.

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3 tubes?!

For the first many days I slept 20+ hours a day with the help of pain medication, nausea medication, and sedatives, which all together helped make me more comfortable. After my ER trip on Monday/Tuesday I stopped taking the heavy pain medications because they delay gastric emptying so I also stopped sleeping and instead started having major insomnia again. By Wednesday/Thursday I was starting to walk on my own and eventually getting out of bed by myself, too. Although I run out of energy quickly and my pain levels are still severe, every step forward is worth a celebration.

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Our one and only trick or treater 🙂 My favorite visitor!
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Always blessed and spoiled by my parents’ coworkers!

Having such a supportive and involved family made all the difference for me; I didn’t have to worry about keeping up with meds or finding a good nurse or anything because my parents and sister were on 24/7 “Rachel Duty” for as long as I needed them. We also have an incredible community that supports me by sending cards, flowers, and gifts but they also support my parents at work and through facebook and texts/calls of support and well wishes. Being the parents and care takers of a young adult as sick as I am is no easy task and it’s extremely important to have that support.

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Mom sleeping in the ER.

Surgery is tough, but recovery is hell. Waking up each morning in major pain and knowing it’s not going away isn’t easy on anyone physically or mentally, but each small improvement or sign of progress gives me hope. Life is precious and every day that your body is functional and pain free is a gift; I encourage you to take advantage of every day and live life to the fullest, always follow your heart and do more of what makes you happy. Find joy in every day.

Xoxo

Desensitized to The Diagnosis

Yesterday I got a new diagnosis. But in all honesty, a new diagnosis doesn’t phase me much anymore. When I was 16 I got my first diagnosis, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), but I had no idea that 5 years later I would have more diagnoses than I can count on both hands.

In 2016 I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a genetic condition that affects connective tissue and collagen in your body. For me, this diagnosis explained a lot. I had already been diagnosed with Dysautnomia/POTS/NCS as well as Gastroparesis and generalized dysmotility in my colon and intestines. I had been struggling with unexplained chronic joint and nerve pain and I finally had an answer; although EDS wasn’t an easy answer and it meant I will likely never be completely free of illness, I finally had answers.

You probably won’t understand this unless you’re chronically ill, but after receiving that diagnosis, the ones that followed haven’t been surprising to hear or hard to accept. EDS has a lot of co-morbid conditions, and as mine has progressed and as I’ve seen more specialists, I’ve collected a nice array of conditions. Because I know my illness and understand what it can cause, I’m prepared for all of the co-morbid conditions it can bring on.

It’s never good news when I get another diagnosis, but I like to think that a diagnosis simply means we are moving forward towards treatments and answers, it doesn’t actually change anything symptom wise. I’m the same as I was before the diagnosis, I just have more answers and another syndrome/condition on my records. Usually a diagnosis actually brings me more relief because doctors actually start treating a conditions once it has a label and is no longer just unexplained symptoms.

I don’t mean to minimize the severity or seriousness of chronic illness; every illness I have I take very seriously and we treat each to the best of our ability. But after being sick for so, so long and being diagnosed with so many things, there is a desensitization to the process. Maybe it’s a protective mechanism, a coping mechanism, or maybe it’s just because it becomes your life, but just because I’m progressively ill doesn’t mean I have to let each diagnosis set me back.