Coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, First as a Victim. Now as a CareGiver
Posted on July 13, 2014
This is a hard subject to write about. Even as I now sit here writing about it, my recalling of that time still leaves me stunned at how hard it was to work through to get to the other side of “finally, I can see light.” I won’t be rushing to finish this article. The reason is that now, because of the near death experience that my Mark suffered at the hands of the medical institution, he is in the process of working his way towards the “finally, I can see light”, side of this witch. I personally call it PTSH, short for Post Traumatic Stress Hell. Based on my research, I have found that it is NOT common to find two people having the odd situation of the PTSD survivor becoming the caretaker for their partner [husband, wife, partner, friend] who was once caring for them as he/she recovered from PTSD.
For most of our life experiences, a sense of humor usually helps to lighten the load. That has not been our experience in caring for and healing from Post Traumatic Stress. The impact of having a near death experience has left Mark questioning his still being here on earth. His physician, a great psychiatrist, recommended by Dr. Keith Hull, Mark’s neurologist, has, since early in 2012, been treating Mark for PTSD and organic brain injury. He adjusts and works with making sure Mark’s medicines are helping Mark to have post-injury, a life as close to pre-injury as he can get. I cannot over emphasize the importance to me of having complete trust in the doctor selected to give Mark this care and lead in his recovery from PTSD. Almost immediately after the medical malpractices acts occurred, panic attacks, fear of going to sleep, having the feeling that he was not supposed to be here on earth, nightmares of shadow people coming for him, trying to take him away and the total belief that hospitals were bad, started. Even in the midst of times that I knew he needed to return for treatment [not at the same institution] he vehemently defended his position of NEVER going back to another hospital ever. He would expound on his belief by swearing that rather than let the hospital doctors kill him, he would die right here in his own bed. There has been no way yet for me to convince him differently.
It took a while for me to figure out that in addition to PSTD, Mark was having hearing difficulties. This man was and still is an ear plug, sound reducing head phone wearer. The reality of finding out Mark had lost part of his ability to hear me or others was something out of left field. Totally unexpected. When I finally took him to Dr. Mellow, she was able to diagnose a loss of hearing that was not of a usual pattern for hearing loss. She showed us how, on Mark’s hearing tests, it looks as though both ears went bad at about the same time and looked to have sustained the same amount of loss in each ear. Dr. Mellow, in talking about the chart results, showed us his pattern. The lines ran along and then there is a drop down to where his level of hearing is at now. She explained that it is unusual to see a patient’s two ears test out showing a similar loss of hearing at the same time. Normal hearing loss is more of a gradual loss of hearing based on each ear’s separate decline. Mark’s hearing loss was not like that. He used to fuss because he said his hearing was bad. Mark and I have tinnitus. Each of us, at different times, had this problem begin when we started taking blood pressure medicines. Now that he has experienced an actual hearing loss, he understands what I was trying, pre-injury, to explain to him about how his hearing was good, it was just the tinnitus. The hum was not a hearing loss and all his efforts to protect his hearing were good. Mark was prescribed a pair of hearing aids and he was amazed at how much better his hearing was.
I share that story with you so that it will help to better understand how important it is to watch for disabilities in someone who is suffering through PTSD. My experience has been that PSTD will push away concern for other health issues. The current trauma is so great, the patient cannot focus on dealing with how to handle addressing those areas. If the health issue doesn’t come with a flashing red light, odds are, your loved one will suffer in silence. Trying to get Mark to open up to me about what he was feeling was very hard. He was so used to being the strong one. When he first returned home from the institution, he would not go to bed at night. He would lie down and stay awake. I would doze off and awake to find him in the living room awake. He was so weak, so tired but he would not sleep. I would stay in the living and curl up in my recliner. I would see him watch me to see if I was awake. It took a while for me to figure out that what Mark was experiencing was a fear of the nightmares and of not waking up if he went to sleep. He would stay awake until I had slept and then, because I was awake to watch over him, he would ease off to sleep. It took me a little while to figure out that the behavior was due to the fear of no one watching so he would be okay.
As I started to recognize the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress in Mark, my heart ached for him. I tried to do everything I could to make things seem normal. I worked to get him to the point that he would be okay getting in bed and going to sleep with me. I promised I would be awake if he needed me. The nightmares were awful. He would be reaching up and then jerk his hand back. Depending on where my position was at, I might get a surprise wake-up. Nothing bad, just Mark’s brain trying to work through the horrible trauma caused by his experience with near death. When I was working through my experience with PSTD, Mark asked my doctor if he should wake me up when I was having my nightmares. His advice was to let me sleep through as long as he felt I was able to dream and work through it. If I cried out, fought the bed covers and grew more agitated he used that as a guide to gently and softly talk and touch me, calling me by name. In my mind I could hear his voice pulling me away from the things I was experiencing and his hand rubbing my back or forehead was not threatening. He learned early on that trying to hug me without my being fully awake scared me. I found that knowledge to be useful in helping Mark as he battled his nightmares. Handy tip, depending on how much a person will sweat while going through one of these types of night terrors, I made sure to have dry sheets to change out in the middle of the night. It helps to have the bed as comfortable as possible.
I will add more tomorrow about this.