What happens when the calls finally catch up to you?
I thought long and hard about having this published. Even those nearest and dearest to me don't know what I’m about to admit.
By Aryeh Myers, EMS1 Contributor
I haven’t seen the inside of an ambulance in a month. I haven’t seen an ambulance station. I haven’t seen a patient.
I woke up one morning, and with six hours before I had to leave home for my next shift, my world went black and my head filled with fear. Images of a call from a few days earlier played back in my mind, mixing themselves with a call from years ago, and the scene from a car crash that was probably the trigger for my journey into the world of PTSD. It was a mash-up of unrecognizable, unforgettable and unfamiliar faces.
Suddenly, I couldn’t see straight. I could barely even stand. My face burned with tears and my body was wracked with pain. I shook uncontrollably. The thought of sitting in an ambulance, of facing patients, of having them rely on me, filled me with terror and dread. I called in sick, booking two days leave and assumed that it was just one of those of things. That I’d just get over it.
That night I didn’t sleep. Nor did I sleep the night after that. The days were filled with flashbacks I could not control. I prayed for the relief of sleep at night however, the nights were disturbed by visions amplified by darkness, making them 10 times worse, and I waited for the relief of daylight. I’ve been there before, but I didn’t recognize it then for what it was, and those times it was nowhere near as crippling. This time, I knew what I was facing. This time, I was ready for a fight.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is not a dirty word. Misunderstood, definitely, but not dirty.
As I’ve said before, we see sights that should never be seen, and while I admit that some people are less affected than others, there is no way to become totally immune. There have been several posts recently describing the fear and the dented pride involved in admitting that there’s a problem. However, it is not something to be ashamed of; although, I admit, that’s exactly how I’ve behaved. I’ve hidden it from my friends and colleagues. I’ve hidden it from my family. The only person I can’t hide it from is myself.
My main fear is losing the job I love. So this time, whilst hiding from the rest of the world, I sought help. I went to my doctor, explained what was going on. How I was feeling. Just that one simple act was the first step in the right direction. I didn’t necessarily feel the burden was lifted, but I did feel there was someone who wanted to stand in my corner and fight alongside. I have taken a step that I probably should have done years ago and sought treatment.
I am not yet cured. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not sure that I ever fully will be, but I am on the way. I still have flashbacks and moments of dread, both day and night, but I am learning to deal with them. I am learning what the triggers are and how to avoid them, or, if that’s impossible, at least to recognize them and be prepared to fight.
I have seen PTSD hit too many times, seen too many lives ruined by failing to seek that help. I have seen too many in my position turn to drugs or alcohol or self-destruction as a coping mechanism. I have seen too many lives destroyed by hidden demons. I refuse to be one of them.
I started this week with a few days of simulations and assessments. Treating patients made of plastic and who always come back to life.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Tomorrow I’m going back to work.