Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Church of What's Happenin' Now

For those of you who've been reading this blog from the beginning, you might recall that I promised the truth. This entry won't be funny or entertaining, but it will be truthful. I'll write more later when I'm feeling grounded and positive, but today I'm going to come clean about what's happening with me right now, and why I haven't checked in lately.

I need to have major surgery next month, and I'm scared out of my mind. It's an irrational, all-consuming fear with enough energy behind it to shut down my life.  I'm doing battle with it as I type these words. I thought I had figured out a way to keep this terror at bay, but I guess it's an ongoing process.

I first encountered this fear about six months after I got home from the hospital.  I was driving to a doctor's appointment -- one of a dozen on my calendar for the month -- and happened to pass by the hospital just as the Medevac helicopter was taking off. As I've mentioned before, I don't remember my helicopter ride to Maryland Shock Trauma on December 4, 2011. At least I don't remember that I remember it. But the experience must be deep down inside my brain somewhere, because when I saw that helicopter lift off, heard the propeller, and felt the rumble, I completely lost it.

Immediately, my body began to shake. I couldn't breathe. It felt like a thousand pounds had just been dropped on my chest. I broke out into a sweat and started to sob. I couldn't steer the car, and had to come to a stop on the side of the road to pull myself together. The thing was, I couldn't seem to get a handle on what was happening to me. I didn't understand it, yet it had taken me hostage. Because I couldn't name it, I couldn't "reason" myself down from the panic.  I don't know how long it took, but eventually, I did manage to start breathing and stop shaking. It left me drained and lost. And I was late for my doctor's appointment.

A few days later, I was driving home from the grocery and saw a car accident about six blocks down the street, with police cars and ambulances blocking traffic. I saw a flash of red -- one of the cars involved was red in color. My 17-year-old daughter drove a red car at that time. Within seconds, the terror latched onto me again. Same scenario -- shaking, sobbing, sweating, struggling to breathe. I pulled onto a side street and began to call Kathleen's cell phone repeatedly. Then I texted her. No response.

Yes, of course there are thousands of red cars in my state. And there were dozens of reasons why Kathleen might not be able to return my calls and texts at that particular moment -- such as the fact that she was in play rehearsal at the time. But none of that registered with me. It was sheer panic and anxiety and F-E-A-R.

Not long after, a therapist diagnosed me with Posttramatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I was shocked. Me? But I soon learned that I had experienced what was basically the perfect storm for developing PTSD -- a traumatic injury that resulted in a brush with death and a loss of "physical integrity" accompanied by  intense fear, horror, and helplessness. Well, OK. Yeah. That sounds about right. I guess I do have it. So over time, my therapist helped me develop cognitive techniques to deal with the disorder. I wrote down my fears. I talked to friends and family. And I found that breathing exercises, meditation, and prayer helped a lot, too, because they required me stay in the present moment and not get swept up in my spiraling thoughts, where danger always lurked and the worst possible scenario was ready to pounce.

But PTSD is a sly little bugger, and the second I learned I was headed back to the operating room it wiggled its way back into my psyche.

The surgery has nothing to do with my amputation. Once I got my prosthetic leg and continued with physical therapy and rehab, I began to experience a great deal of pain in my intact leg, my right leg.  It  was severe and radiated from my hip to my back and down to my knee. It got so bad that I couldn't continue with physical therapy. So I went to see a specialist down in Baltimore, and it turns out I have a congenital malformation of my right hip. What I thought was garden variety osteoarthritis was actually a major problem that requires a total hip replacement.  My right hip is disintegrating, and I've been using the wheelchair more and more as I try to deal with the pain. The truth is that without the surgery, not only will I never walk again, but I will be in constant pain even while sitting in a wheelchair.

When I heard this news, I freaked out. Flashes of operating rooms went through my mind's eye. I felt that old sense of helplessness and despair start to choke me.  I've had more than 20 surgeries during this ordeal, and almost all of them occurred when I was too spaced out to know what was going on. But the last few? Oh, I remember them well. The cold, sharp air of the OR. The tangy smell of drugs and disinfectants. The feel of the anesthesia pouring into my veins. The hushed voices of all the masked people in that room working to keep me alive . . .  and all the pain associated with waking up. And I'm supposed to go in there again? Willingly? Knowingly? What if I've used up all my good  operating room juju? What if this time, I don't survive? What if the surgery goes badly and I'm confined to a wheelchair the rest of my life ANYWAY?

What if? What if? What if??????? Breathe, Susan. Breathe. Relax your mind. Be in the moment. Know that all is well, and all will be well.

So, yeah. My surgery is August 18th. I wold appreciate it if you could keep me in your thoughts.


Sarah S. G. Frantz said...

All the hugs in the world. I'll be thinking of you!

Liz Flaherty said...

You are there in my thoughts--and prayers, too. I always wish I had something magic to say when I read your blog, but I never do. Hang tight.