I had a 'crash' of Post-Traumatic Shock Syndrome (PTSD) a few days ago, when I was trying to reformat my first book, No More Tears: A Physician Turned Patient Inspires Recovery. It is my Memoir of regaining the ability to talk and walk after a horrific car accident that has now left me primarily bed-bound for the last 8 years. I started to rewrite it as a Proposal and by Chapter Two, I don't know where it came from. But somewhere in the core of the core of the pit of the pit of my heart and my stomach, the whole car accident, and all the years since, flashed before me like a fast-forward movie. Head trauma patients drooling at the table. It was all too much, too fast, too all-encompassing, too memorable. Choking on my food. Too real. Living with a PICC line for 3 1/2 years (See Figure 1). Never knowing if my battery or my bag would run out. Ironic, just sooo ironic to be a Stanford-trained anesthesiologist watching drips of saline go into my patients before, when now I had to keep the iv going into my own arm, with the iv line ending in my heart, left atrium to be exact. Nuts, but I wanted to live. I wanted to raise our daughter.
Figure 1. Peripherally-inserted central catheter (PICC) line.
An anesthesiologist's dream? Or and anesthesiologists nightmare?
I had to stop. I can't do it. I can't pick up the book and look at it again. I lost too many things: the ability to walk, to talk, to balance, to hold on to water, to see my daughter every day, to maintain a relationship with my husband, to have privacy (I have a Caregiver 24/7), to be home instead of in the hospital. And I cried. And I cried and I cried and I cried. Someone accused me of faking the car accident and no one stuck up for me. I was befuddled, this brain-injured intellect of mine, and I gave up. It was too low for me to go there. I was sick and I wanted to puke.
And I'm reminded that it isn't just this mental illness of PTSD that has irked me for so long. It's the fact that most people think that I'm pretty, and after I take a bujillion pills in the morning, have my coffee and breakfast, don my Jobst stockings to squeeze all the blood out of them, I will faint when I stand up. If I drop something, I can go down to pick it up, but I can't stand up or I may faint. This is dysautonomia, one of the rare and invisible disabilities that Wayne Connell has so prominently pounced on like a cat out of the water. His beautiful wife, Sherri, wrote, "But you look good" because that is what people are used to seeing: a disease with a matching 'sign' of the disease (See Figure 2). Where's your wheelchair? Your walker? Your cane? If your disability has no accompanying device, you must be okay. Doctors, friends, family and acquaintances all think you are a liar.
That is no longer true, and Victoria Taylor 'gets it'. As Chloe Kacedan exhibits but a taste of it on You Tube, notice how "good" she looks, and remember that:
So pray. You can't always avoid the PTSD, for instance, because we all have to get in a car sometimes, but you can maximize your safety. You can teach your children safety habits. Like looking before you cross the street, you can only do so much, and illogical, fateful events like a drunk driver crossing the line and driving on the wrong side of the road...those things happen every day. That's why your parents both shudder and pray as they hand you the car keys to the biggest, heaviest klunker they could find. They'd rather have it be a boat, actually, because it was made in the old days out of 'real' metal.
So don't squeak and squack when your parents dangle the car keys in front of you, as if they are teasing you about whether or not they are going to give them to you. And let them ride with you, too. They just want you to be safe, and when you drive, not only do you have to make sure your car isn't going to break down, but you also have to watch for irregular drivers now, not when the Mac truck is coming straight at you. You should already know that there's no one to your right, and you can even turn down the right street and completely get outside the range of danger. No more whining. Your parents just don't want to bury you. No parent should have to do that. Ever.
Short Stories about Dr. Margaret Aranda