i am not broken

Four days ago, I was looking through Twitter when I couldn’t sleep. This is a pretty common thing for me to do, and then I’ll switch to listening to podcasts. At least 70% of my Twitter feed is medical, and I usually an interesting thread, or something funny. Because let’s be honest, we medical folk are pretty damn funny.

That night though, I came across something that usually would give me no problem. It was a tweet about airway management, which is always a fun topic. I couldn’t quite read the slide though, so I enlarged the picture. The pictures were of patients with various degrees of facial or neck trauma. As soon as I saw the two pictures on the left of the slide with the two patients with massive facial trauma, I felt the hair stand up on my arms, felt my breath catch in my throat, and my heart start to race. I think that if I had been more prepared, I wouldn’t have an issue with this.

But that night, it caught me off guard. I knew immediately that I would be having nightmares that night, and probably for the next few nights to come. Maybe some olfactory or auditory intrusive memories, too. You see, the call that affected me the most psychologically in my career involved this kind of facial trauma. I’ll write about it eventually, but not tonight. Suffice to say, this was enough to push hard on that part of my brain to release all those same chatecholamines and stress hormones, even though I knew I was safe at home in bed, with the dog sleeping, and house safe.

I wanted to share this tonight, because this afternoon, I took a nap and for the first time, had no nightmares. It took a solid four nights of knowing that each time I fell asleep, I’d be feeling something like A Nightmare on Elm Street. Each time I’d lay down in bed, I would dread the inevitable time my eyes would close and there was nothing I could do to prevent it.

I also knew well all the reasons this would happen. I understand (to a decent degree) the reason my brain reacts like this. I know that its a limited process that I have no choice but to go through, and I know that when I do experience these moments that I will survive them. But there’s one thing that I also know that trumps all of these…

I still have to go through the darkness.

Once this process starts, once the first dominoe falls, there is nothing I can do to stop it. So instead, I choose to face it head on. I will let friends know and be intentional about not isolating myself. I will exercise and eat well. I will remember the good things in life, and feed my heart with music and good books and people. And I won’t give up because I also know that I am not broken, even though I am bruised.

Image from Creative Commons

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On Twitter and Hope

Wow. I haven’t written a post like this in a long time. I think I’d been feeling scared of my own physical pain, and using that as a shield to protect me from some of the emotional stuff that has been circling in my own heart at times. And then, through a random set of circumstances this evening, all the fear and urgency of helping one of our own came rushing back.

Through the #FOAMed community on Twitter, I’ve met critical care providers on all levels and of all nationalities, and been able to discuss and learn from them. I’ve read books recommended, listened to podcasts, and added things to my bucket list. Today, when one of the doctors posted this, it through me for a loop

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The young woman who posted this is a beautiful human, living out in Dublin, Ireland. A physician from back east retweeted it, bringing to bear an amazing international response of caring people who were able to track down people who knew different parts of her life, calling, leaving messages, getting her address, and hopefully getting this woman the urgent help she needs.

It has me thinking of my own story, yet again.

It has me remembering being a young, naive EMT, just starting out and being so impressed by the paramedics that I did my first ride-along with. It brings back the first arrest that I remember, a horrific traumatic arrest the day after Christmas, 1996. It brings back the good memories of partners and dancing in the rig, responding to calls and having the best time of my life. It also brings back all of the trauma, heartache, sleepless nights (or days as the case was) because of the nightmares, and the unbelievable heartbreak of getting pages or phone calls that friends had taken their own lives. It reminds me that I was almost one of them, that I had chosen how, had a plan, and through only the grace of God, was I unable to find the right time to follow through with that. This led to a year away from work, then returning to the job I love, only to be faced again with the challenge of being injured and dealing with the chronic pain and multiple surgeries since.

All of this reminds me of the simple fact that we have a place and a role in this universe. We have the opportunity to love those in our world and sphere of influence. We have the chance to look out for our loved ones, our coworkers, and our friends. Often times, those categories overlap. That is fortunate, because that means we are more invested in each other’s lives than most people. When you work as closely as one does in medicine or public safety, there really aren’t many things that we don’t know.

More than that, we know each other. When you see someone showing signs that they might be struggling, we should make the effort to ask. It’s hard to do, without a doubt. It’s uncomfortable to enter into a conversation that really might well offend someone, as many in our professions are so good at putting up walls, compartmentalization, are those that try to be strong. I’ve been on the receiving end of these conversations. I’ve been on the initiating side of them. I’m thankful some of the senior medics looked out for me, and I’ve been thanked (although it took some time) by those I asked about or got a supervisor involved.

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There are so many resources out there that can help. Here are a few:

US and International Resources:

To Write Love On Her Arms – Resources

The Code Green Campaign – Resources

It can also be really hard to ask for help. If you find yourself in this darkness, understand that pain needs to be felt. This is a safety mechanism in our bodies and minds. There is no shame in going to the doctor if you tear your shoulder up, and there is equally no shame in asking for help sorting out the thoughts, feelings, and memories that we all carry. In fact, I would venture to share that almost anyone you share with will think it the greatest honor you can bestow on them. If you are willing to trust them with your life – quite literally – on the job, trust them with your life in this area, as well.

We are wired to help. We want to be there for you.

** As of this writing, I have no idea what the outcome of the situation in Ireland is. If you would, pray or send good thoughts to this young woman. Thanks…