PTSD has lasting effects. It does not simply go away with time. It can come right back at any given moment. I was reminded of some of the lasting effects from being raped just over 4 years ago. It sent me spiraling back to that day and it has been lingering and continuing since it started on Sunday. For Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month #SAAPM I don’t want to focus on just the challenge, I want to focus on the blessing I received from 2 strangers this last week.
I ended up in the ER on Sunday, turns out I had appendicitis and they needed to remove my appendix. When I came out from being under anesthesia I panicked. I had one of my worst panics that I had ever had, I could not get grounded no matter how hard I tried. It all felt like it was happening again, that my arms and legs were being grabbed, I was thrashing around, occasionally I would hear someone try to talk to me, but it would all start all over again. They had to sedate me and once that happened they realized it was the blood pressure cuff and the pressure cuffs around my legs that were sending me into panics. They removed those, made sure that I was calmed down, and watched my vitals, they then moved me upstairs to my room.
Being in the hospital was one of the hardest things, I was being checked on and watched frequently, I had to wait for assistance to get out of bed to go to the bathroom, I was in pain, and had frequent pain meds that made me feel floaty. When the pain meds would begin to wear off or I had pain while I was sleeping or feeling ultra floaty it would send me into a panic. I had multiple panics that first night. But, I had 2 amazing nurses. They were both patient, kind, and compassionate. One of them came in and spent a decent amount of time talking to me. She told me about her dogs, she got to know a little bit about me. She listened when I said that I had PTSD and that I hadn’t had panics like this before. She reassured me that I was safe and that they were going to take care of me while I was there. Panic attack after panic attack one of them came in, they talked me down, they would hold my hand, they would patiently and calm talk to me. They would ask questions to help get me grounded. They would bring me ice, water, popsicles, chapstick, and give me more pain medicine. They would talk to me after the fact to be sure that I was calmed down. The two of them were my heroes. I never felt like they were judging me. I felt understood, cared for, and safe. I know that their voices quickly became calming to me. It was a reminder that I was in the hospital and being cared for even in the panics.
That next morning at shift change a different nurse came in. One who did not have the same level of compassion, perhaps she didn’t have any experience with panics and did not know what to do. I know that in the back and forth between panic and short seconds of awareness, that she had grabbed my wrist a couple of times, that made me panic more. She said that if I didn’t talk to her she couldn’t help me. She said other things, I don’t remember what they were but she seemed really frustrated and mean during the process. One of the night nurses who had helped me all night, she came back in, she got me calmed down. She was off the clock and did it anyways. She asked me what was going on, and when the other nurse came back in and I started just crying she had her leave. I told her that she was not nice and that she grabbed me and that I did not like her. She went and got the charge nurse who listened and said she would reassign me to another nurse. The nurse from the night before told me that I would like her and that she would take good care of me. Once I was calm and sure the night nurse left.
The second night one of the same nurses was there again. She came in during the night and kept me calm when I needed it. She brought me popsicles, she would help me get grounded. She made me feel safe. Even though she had dealt with the same thing the night before she continued to be patient, compassionate, and caring. Two strangers, two people I had never met before made me feel loved, and cared for. They went above and beyond their jobs to do more than meet the needs from my surgery, they met my emotional needs, They were my guardian angels for the time that I was there.
This is the conversation that needs to happen. How can you support someone who has PTSD? Patience. Kindness. Love. Gentleness. It isn’t about having the right words, it is about continual presence and care. It means treating the person the same even when you have seen them at their worst, when they are trapped in another world. It means learning what is helpful to the individual person. Then reminding that person time and time again that they are safe. Reminding them that it is okay to ask for help. Reminding them that they are not weak, that they are strong because not only did they survive, but they survive the reminders day after day. It means learning their triggers and avoiding them even when it is inconvenient or means not watching certain types of movies, shows, not listening to certain music, it may mean avoiding crowds, it may mean not going to a haunted corn maze, it can be anything and is dependent on each individual’s experiences.
Ask questions, get to know the stories of those around you. If they do not know how you an support them, research ways, ask others who are close to them, and if nothing else try with a gentle, kind, approach. This week I learned that it takes a village, and sometimes the people in that village are strangers. Sometimes they are people who just cross your path for a short period of time. Sometimes, those people are there in some of the most crucial moments and they are guardian angels. I am confident that God had those two nurses there so that I could experience his love and care in a new way. This is just another way that in the midst of the dark there is light, and that in the midst of the ashes there is beauty.