In That Building

That building right there is where my life changed in 1983. It’s where worried parents and frantic doctors scrambled to save my life; the hallways imprinted with the pacing back and forth steps of a team wondering what was wreaking havoc on my body. Broken hearts. Spilled-out tears.

I ended up spending my senior year of college interning in that hospital. In an odd way, being there every day was comforting; like coming home. Occasionally, I meandered my way up to the floor where I stayed for a month. I searched for the nurse’s eyes to see if anyone recognized me. So many years had passed and the hospital had gone through its own renovation. Everything was different.

I’ve said before that trauma is not a place. It’s an experience. Yet, in many ways, trauma can be connected to a place. Seeing this hospital and being inside it reminds me of the pain I experienced there, but it also renders me with the calmness of courage I had to fight the infection and survive.

In that building, I won. My future changed and trauma infused itself into my parents and self, but I won. The building has changed so much. Walls have come down and in their place, the newness has taken over.

The same goes for my life. Tearing down the walls I built up to store my medical trauma revealed a newness; a refreshing of spirit. But the trauma of it all has never left. I feel hints of it from time to time. I battle with the injury to my self-esteem and physical issues still occurring years after my surgery.

In that building, my life changed. We’ve both been through many renovations, yet we are connected to each other.

Because that’s what trauma does.

Medical Trauma Has Been on My Mind

Medical trauma has been on my mind. Despite, or maybe because of, the current pandemic that is disrupting all of our lives, I’m pressing onward in writing my story. I want to remember every detail; all of the moments of anguish just as much as the squeals of delight. Medical problems are traumatizing and often overlooked when we study trauma-informed care. I knew my mom would have more answers for me but I also knew that a hard conversation needed to occur.

“Mom, I need a favor. I’m working on a writing project and need for you to try to remember all of the details about my surgery and the time you spent at the hospital with me.”

“Um…well…I remember it as if it was yesterday but then I also have times during it that I’ve blocked out or something. I’ll try…I just don’t know if I can remember all of it.”

Within seconds, Mom started pouring out details of that fateful time in 1983. The paper quickly filled up with notes. I barely kept up with her. Her voice cracked a few times, followed by a drawn-out silence until picking back up where she left off. I knew she was holding back tears. I knew this was hard for her to go there again. As you can see in the image, Mom thought she couldn’t remember that much because of the stress involved at that time, but she did.

What I experienced is considered medical trauma. For her (and my Dad), it is also trauma induced by the near-death experience of their daughter.

Why am I telling this to you? Because medical trauma has been on my mind. I’ve been trying to dodge the fear of getting sick with this virus. I know, however, that it is a trauma-trigger for me. And, for anyone who has experienced significant, life-changing illness. It is also triggering for people who cared for those of us who survived serious illness.

Tonight, I’m thinking of all the people around the world who have just narrowly escaped death or the ones who are fighting it. I’m thinking about the health care professionals who are battling exhaustion and fear so they can keep someone else alive. My heart is with those who couldn’t be there for their loved one’s final days.

This virus is traumatizing for our society. As we push through it and prayerfully get through it, we will come out okay, but changed. Medical trauma is just as real and valid as any other form of trauma.

Let’s keep each other close in thought. Let’s check on each other, show grace and kindness. We will all remember the fear or worry that we are feeling right now, but we can also do our part in letting compassion and putting others’ needs in front of our own become just as memorable.