Friday, December 10, 2010

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder / Syndrome (PTSD)

Before going in for Microvascular Decompression Surgery (MVD), I was fine with knowing that I was going under the knife and I had seen the procedure on you tube, as bloody and gory as it was it didn’t make me flinch. I knew this would be painful after surgery, dealing with the healing process and I knew what major surgery I was in for and all the possible side effects and risks to the surgery… but knowing the facts is only a small part of preparing yourself for major surgery… the Doctors and surgeons that I had seen did not tell me how I would feel emotionally after surgery…

After MVD I couldn’t look in the mirror… even though I knew what I would look like to a certain extent seeing it through a mirror would only confirm for me what I was going through and in order to stay strong for me and everyone around me I would rather go on seeing every ordeal as though I was watching a movie and seeing this character go through all this and just staying positive that she could handle anything!

Days after my MVD while still in hospital I vaguely remember asking my sister if she would take me to the mirror to have a look… she asked me if I was sure I was ready for this and I said yes, even though I wasn’t… but I was curious to see what everyone else was seeing when they looked at me. I looked and immediately felt weak to my knee’s, I was about to pass out from my own reflection… and so my sister took me back to my bed to lie down… I looked like I had been in the battlefields of war, my head was shaved, but very untidily, with patches of uneven hair here and there, cuts and bruises on my head, extreme swelling of my head, face and ear to the right side, a big bandage down the back of my head… I immediately put it out of my mind… so much so that I had forgotten that moment, my sister recently reminded me of it.

Six months after MVD I had to go into theatre again to have my wisdoms removed as they were impacted and causing pressure on my jaw and teeth and this was triggering the Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN). Fear set in and I was angry… wish there was another way, wishing I could just leave the wisdoms where they were and wishing that surgery never existed! I was angry at the surgeons, wondering how they slept at night after violating human bodies in surgery, how could they cut you open, alter you, hurt you, scare you, cause you pain… and then you wake up feeling different and looking butchered, seemed like they were playing “God” they had no right to do this and why did I have to be asleep not knowing what they were to doing to me… after awakening wondering why there are bruises, aches and pain in certain places, what could have happened? What was going on with me? Why now? Why not straight after the brain surgery? Why only 6 months later after needing to go in for surgery again…?

Everyone was asking how I could be scared to remove my teeth when I was so brave for brain surgery, saying if I could handle that I could handle anything! How could I explain to them this twisted view I now had of surgery??? My oral surgeon even asked me what actually scared me about going into theatre again. “Was it being asleep and not knowing or was it the actual surgery that scared me?” “Both” I responded, how could I explain to this man who was trying to help me, how I really felt about his profession.

I went through with surgery, I had no choice and I still knew even though I was different I had to make the right choice for my health… the wisdom removal caused severe TN pain and I needed more pain block injections to calm my nerves down and this then caused my respiratory system to shut down and I was in ICU again with machines breathing for me (find more info on this in my previous post “Impacted Wisdom Teeth Removal – Pain-blocks Shut Down Respiratory System”) After waking up from this again nightmare of an experience I was in tears, my sister, mum and husband were there, praying and waiting for me to wake up, and when I did I so ungratefully asked them why I had to wake up, why didn’t they just leave me to go, I was so tired of all of this… of feeling this way! In and out of hospitals and doctors constantly working on me like I was meat to a butcher! I know now that by me not being strong emotionally since my post MVD that I was now causing emotional trauma to my family, which was the last thing I wanted to do, having to see me through all of this was bad enough I now had them thinking that I just wanted to die… and I didn’t want them to know that!

A month later I was being prepped for eye surgery, having a precancerous tumor removed from my right eye socket. (You can read more about my Solitude Fibrous Tumor and its re-occurrence in previous posts) I was becoming numb… feeling like I was in a war zone… moving from camp to camp! After this surgery too I didn’t look in the mirror for the duration of the healing process, kept wondering how everyone stomached looking at me, how my dear husband managed cleaning and dressing the eye everyday. Again I was pretending it wasn’t me, just watching a movie of a person who was brave and strong and doing the best she could to get through it all…

After all of this I eventually got the courage to research what was wrong with me emotionally… my thinking had been altered drastically and I knew if I researched it I would understand better, I found out, like many others I was dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder… first known to affect soldiers after war… the first term for this condition was actually known as having a “Soldiers Heart”

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Posttraumatic stress disorder (also known as post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual, or psychological integrity, overwhelming the individual's ability to cope. As an effect of psychological trauma, PTSD is less frequent and more enduring than the more commonly seen acute stress response. Diagnostic symptoms for PTSD include re-experiencing the original trauma(s) through flashbacks or nightmares, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and increased arousal – such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger, and hypervigilance. Formal diagnostic criteria require that the symptoms last more than one month and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Which explains why even now over 2 years after MVD I still have flashbacks when I get a silly paper cut or see blood, a wound or cut or bruise makes me queasy… makes me feel like I am back there again… I can’t look at it, it’s just unnatural!

I had surgery again in March this year, the tumor in my right eye grew back and that was removed again… I had never been so scared of anything before in my life and the reality of the tumor being the type that grows back after surgery and having to keep operating on that same eye made things worse… I recently had to have x-rays done of my neck and spine and this too made me emotional…

The reason why I am writing this article today is because yesterday I was back there… Back in the moment of feeling hurt! I got a flu sore on my lip and after my shower yesterday I wiped my face and the skin came off from the sore and my lip was bleeding and swollen. I looked in the mirror because I felt the sting and didn’t expect to see what I saw… It took me back to my allergic reaction to Tegretol, where my lips were yellow and I accidentally wiped them and the top layers of my lips came off and it just bled. Even though what happened yesterday was completely unrelated and it was a silly flu sore that didn’t cause me pain, emotionally when I looked in the mirror I saw the day I was bleeding from the Tegretol allergy in 2007… I cried yesterday wondering why I had to remember all of this, why I had to feel this way again… all common sense goes out the door and anger again starts to creep in…

Many people that have been for surgery refuse to have surgery again even if it’s a life or death situation, when you ask them why they can’t explain why they feel the way they do. Some doctors advise patients to see a counselor before major surgery, but most don’t. I’m hoping that anyone that reads this that may need surgery in the future or may know of someone in the situation will try to get counseling before surgery. Do not take it lightly as it changes you in ways you can’t imagine…

I find sanity in talking to my nephew who had major spinal surgery as a baby… he used to ask his mum why the doctors hurt him, why was he sleeping when they did that, why does he have such a bad scar… even though he knew surgery was for his own good, that they were fixing his back and trying to help him, these questions where still there and the feeling of being hurt and violated was there… even today he is scared to go for check-ups and scans. My colleague at work had corneal transplants and he too now refuses to go back for check-ups and says that he will never go back for another operation… when I asked why he couldn’t explain… but I could see PTSD was there…

My question today is, how long does PTSD last? Will I be this way forever? How do you get stronger?


  1. Thanks!!! (:

    I promise to write more soon, keep reading! Hopefully this blog can assist you or someone you know...

  2. Thanks for writing about PTSD and its connection to trigeminal neuralgia. I suffer from the combination too. My medical problems are not as complicated as yours, but that PTSD is a humdinger of a challenge, not to mention trigeminal neuralgia is a painful and life changing condition. My heart goes out to you today.

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