• Tips for Managing Medical Triggers

    My first post-surgery outing

    My first post-surgery outing

    Just before Christmas, I was diagnosed with glioma, located near my brain stem. I was scheduled for brain surgery five days later.

    Brain surgery to biopsy an “inoperable” tumor near my brain stem was not my idea of a fun way to spend my holiday.

    But I kept my focus positive and looked at the realities:

    • I’d had an almost identical anomaly occur in the same location in my brain fifteen years earlier, and it had been successfully treated.
    • I suspected that I didn’t have glioma, in spite of the diagnosis, and, instead, a demyelinating lesion of the brain, as I’d had in 1999–and I’d been living with undiagnosed MS in the fifteen-year interim.
    • I have a strong faith. Either God was who I believe him to be in moments like this, or my faith was useless.

    I was hospitalized twice–each time for about three days–the first just prior to Christmas, and the second over the New Year. And each time I experienced PTSD triggers related to my first hospitalization: smell and sound memories, fear of the dark (being alone at night, really), and fear of MRIs (that claustrophobic feeling of being stuffed into a tube).

    So what did I do to prepare? Here are a few tips.

    • I prepared in advance. Most hospitals use the same brand of hand soap in their patient bathrooms. The smell is hugely triggering, so I brought my own soap from home. And a family member stayed in my room with me each night, which was hugely helpful. Most of my family understand PTSD and my specific medical triggers because I’ve helped educate them.
    • I informed my medical providers and asked for simple accommodations. I let the staff know that like many patients with past medical trauma, I had triggers. They were extremely compassionate and responsive. And I asked for premedication for my MRIs (several of them). Why experience anxiety, when medication can help alleviate the stress? It’s hard enough for me to lie still in that tube and not fixate on my itchy nose or hysterical bladder.
    • I focused on my source of strength. For me, that’s my God and my faith. I found that I was granted enormous peace during this medical experience.

    I’m still awaiting final biopsy results. I don’t believe I have a glioma–not because of blind faith, but because increasing medical evidence seems to be leaning in another direction.

    What about you? Have you experienced medical trauma and struggle with triggers? How do you handle them?

    Oh yeah, and my incision and craniotomy are behind my ear.

7 Responsesso far.

  1. Milena says:

    So glad to hear that you were able to successfully navigate the whole hospital trauma thing. I will keep praying for you.

    The last time I was in hospital for an operation, I knew that there would be trauma around the actual anesthetic process and going in. Fortunately, I have a dear sister-in-christ who is an anesthetist, and because she talked to me about how it was, and agreed to be my anesthetist for the operation, it was actually trauma free. She put in lots of happy juice, and because it was her and I trusted her, the whole man giving me an injection thing just wasn’t triggered.

    • admin says:

      Milena, thank you for sharing. I also have triggers around anesthesia. They took extra precautions with me, and I spent a long time talking with the anesthesiologist about my fears.

      • After my last major surgery I woke up not being able to breathe. I tried to move my hand to signal someone but I was still paralyzed from the medicine. Then when panic was setting in I realized an oxygen mask was applied to my face. Breathing freely again I was grateful to God for watching over me.
        Years later I spoke with an anesthesiologist who said they gave me too much of the paralyzing med and not enough of the keeping me unconscious med. He told me to tell any future doctors and anesthesiologist about the incident so I could go under without the worry/panic associated to the last surgery. Fortunately I have not had to have major surgery since then.

  2. Heather Walker says:

    I am grateful for this post and your testimony of a faith in Christ. I have that same faith and spoke transparently at my church this morning of my own journey trusting Christ through medical issues I did not understand. Still have a few pending, but your post helped-thanks for sharing.

    • admin says:

      So glad the information is helpful, Heather. Many people in the church don’t understand PTSD, unfortunately. We do offer a free ebook, if you’d like us to send it to you.

  3. Shelly, your words make so much sense! I have triggers also and will continue to alert medical personnel of my needs. May God bring full recovery to you!

    • admin says:

      Sharon, so good to hear from you! Your experience sounds terrifying. I hope you discuss it with health providers if you have another surgery. Sending hugs!

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