Kim is a current active Obstetrics Nurse with over 10 years of experience working for Alberta Health Services at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in the City of Grande Prairie and this is her story.
“Code Blue, Emergency, Code Blue Emergency”. I hear these words over the intercom at the hospital and my stomach feels sick, my heart is racing and I’m having a hard time breathing. Right away I get on my phone quickly trying to find the group chat that I have set up with my sons and I type, “Family Check In.” I wait for each of the 3 boys to type something back, I don’t even care if its an emoji, it has to be something showing me that they are all right. If I don’t hear anything within 5 min I’m on the phone calling, I don’t care if its 2 in the morning I need to know that my boys are all ok. This is what PTSD does to you. Is this normal? Probably not, but it is normal for me. If I’m at work and I hear the STARS Air Ambulance come in which I can hear minutes away I get all those same feelings again rushing over me and once again I’m doing a “Family Check In”. This is my life for the past 20 years. Now let’s bring you back to how this all started.
I ran into the hospital straight for emergency and asked to see my dad. I remember the nurse telling me she will get the doctor as she brought me to the side room, which I didn’t know at that time was called the quiet room. The doctor came in and said, “Sorry we couldn’t save him”. I remember hitting the floor and then everything went black and I went into shock, it was at that moment my life changed forever and I was one of those unlucky people that got to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for the first time.
This happened on a snowy cold October night and its a night that will be etched in my mind forever. And when I mean forever, I mean forever. You think you are doing ok as you get up every morning, do your usual routines until all of a sudden “BAM” something brings you back to that fateful night. For me it was seeing him for the first time. He was on top of the bed, tubes coming out his mouth, yellowish fluid coming out of his nose, and machines everywhere. My dad was still dressed in all his hockey equipment, the only thing he didn’t have on was his helmet which I just had bought for him few weeks prior for his 44th birthday. Yes, you read that correct. “44”, who just all of a sudden dies at 44?. Well I sure didn’t think it would be my dad. I thought he was healthy, I mean he was just playing hockey when he collapsed. Anyways back to him being on the bed, I wanted to see him but part of me did not, but I knew I needed to hold him and hug him one last time.
The one thing that haunts me to this day is wrapping my arms around him and feeling how cold he was. I could not believe how cold and heavy his head was when I lifted it into my arms and begged him to WAKE UP, all I could do was beg and beg for hours. I just wanted him to open his eyes and then everything would be alright, but he didn’t. People, friends, family were coming in the room, but if you were to ask me who, I honestly could not tell you as I was in my own little numb bubble, just me and my daddy. I’m being reminded of it in my dreams, in certain music and old friends you run into. I am even being reminded of it when I watch my boys play hockey. I pray before every game to god to please keep them safe. It’s actually ironic or scary to think that 2 years ago my middle son was playing hockey for the Grant MacEwan Griffins, and he called me right after the game to tell me, “ One of my teammates just died” Those words and memories came flooding back once again to me and I thought “How can that happen?” I’m sure the event from that night has or will have some impact on my son in some way, I just pray he can handle it in a healthy way. I thought of all these memories that come flashing back was a normal grieving process everyone goes through, but when it started taking over my life and every thought of the day I knew it wasn’t. It was the 4 letters PTSD.
Grief for me has formed itself into PTSD. Is this something I will always have? Can I deal with it in a healthy way? Is this normal? These are questions I’m always asking myself and my therapist. I don’t want to live the rest of my life in fear. Fear of going through a loss all over again, fear of never saying goodbye and the fear of losing myself all over again in that moment, and especially the fear of me dying and thinking of how my boys would cope and trying to protect them from experiencing what I did. Unfortunately no matter where you are, you can never outrun the trauma and the memories that come flooding back.
They say grief is like the ocean, that it comes and goes in waves. While I agree with that analogy, it feels more like holding on to the last tree branch in the middle of the hurricane, just praying the branch can hold you until the storm is over. I find myself in the middle of the hurricane often, with my head barely poking out of the water with just enough room to breathe. It is understood that the beauty of a rainbow does not negate the ravages of any storm. When a rainbow appears, it does not mean that the storm never happened, or that we are not dealing with its aftermath, it means that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and clouds. Storm clouds may hover, but the rainbow provides hope. Hope that mental awareness and PTSD one day will be accepted within the society and with treatment, one can live a much better quality of life.
“IT’S NOT THE PERSON REFUSING TO LET GO OF THE PAST. IT’S THE PAST REFUSING TO LET GO OF THE PERSON.“
PTSD affects many people and especially anyone in the healthcare field. We see it everyday, we live through it with the patients or families. PTSD never goes away, you just have to learn how to live with it or cope with it. For some they can’t, and for others its learning how to have a “normal” life. PTSD should not be a negative stigma but an awareness to know how to help someone when emotionally and mentally broken. Remember not all wounds are visible. It’s not about getting over it, but about getting through it. It’s like the analogy above, you hang onto every last branch until the storm is over.
“It all begins in your mind, what you give power has power over you, if you allow it”