Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very serious condition that should not be taken lightly and requires medical attention and treatment. In no way am I discounting the severity of that disorder with this post, simply reflecting on recent thoughts I have had since transitioning from the intensive care unit into other areas of nursing.
“There’s a weird rash on my arm.”
“Fatigue is my constant companion.”
“I think it’s just a virus.”
“I’m sure I’ll feel better tomorrow.”
“Oh, my stomach is upset a lot lately.”
Common complaints like these are an everyday occurrence for all of us — either said by us or said to us by others. With my history in heath care, I hear quite a few statements like these, and most times I reply by telling the afflicted to monitor, treat symptoms, and head to their physician if they don’t see improvement. A typical, safe response.
Inside my mind — I’m diagnosing catastrophe illnesses, my heart sinking, my thoughts whirling as I allow my imagination to place the seemingly healthy person standing in front of me into an intensive care unit (ICU) bed with every tube imaginable connecting to life support that gives them their every breath.
My personality tends toward extreme empathy and a very overactive imagination which contributes to this hysterical, hypothetical reaction, but four years in an intensive care unit exposes you to situations, diagnosis’s, and outcomes you struggle to forget.
Recently, a close loved one had a heath issue that resolved, but my panic could not be so easily abated. I was sure their symptoms signaled something more sinister, something awful, even though the answer to the issue had already been found. During this same time, I had been reading some articles on post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers that return from the battlefield. The thought crossed my mind that my immediate consideration of various calamity with simple heath concerns was a result of the emotional toll demanded by intensive care nursing (and many other areas of nursing, I’m sure, my experience is simply limited to ICU).
I can still remember…
The stunned expressions.
The crumbling facades.
The sacredness of home-going.
The fear of being left behind.
How easy it is for me to substitute my family’s faces for my former patients’. How anxiety producing it is to quickly be able to imagine the unbearable because
I’ve seen the absolute opaqueness of the darkest of valleys.
Yet, how comforting it is to remember my Hope is not anchored in this life because
I’ve seen grace, love, and hope even during dying breaths.
Nursing is a special calling, an emotional sacrifice with unmeasurable rewards; yet the cost of knowing what the worse news of someone’s life looks like is unquantifiable.
Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be able to hear your minor health concern and think, Oh, she just has a simple cold; but I also realize that having any compassion at all equals risk. For what do we have in life if we are afraid to love? To feel? To place ourselves in a position to experience heartbreak? For to truly care and love for our fellow human beings is a risk.
But I think this risk comes with a great reward, no matter what the eventual outcome.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
What do you think? Can you relate? Are you ever afraid to care, to risk? How much do you think our past experiences dictate our current emotional well being?