Friday, November 6, 2009

Who Comes First? (Part One)

One of the symptoms or "indicators" of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is low tolerance for stress, or as others might call it, lack of patience and a quickness to anger. I guess Psychiatrists and Counselors recognize it as a symptom but the rest of the world sees you as strange, weird, or just plain bad. You're not supposed to get angry; not with your family and especially not with the public - not at your job, not at a hospital, bank or other business. You're supposed to have some "self control" - certainly not show your frustration.

Stress is feeling pressured, at least it is for me... and I can't take much pressure anymore. Today I went "off the wall" at Frank - that's what we call it here - "Mom went off the wall" when she exploded in anger. Frank says he never knows if it's going to happen when he asks me a question. I guess I question that.... Perhaps there might be some indicators of the potential... Sometimes (maybe often) they relate to expectations.

(A few things have gone on that I wanted to relate to this topic, but after starting, I found that - as usual - I'm so long-winded that I'm gonna have to do this in parts. What happened at the hospital is part one.)

When I took Frank to Dartmouth for the heart Catheterization procedure on Wednesday, we thought we knew what to expect. The Doctor's office had called twice - a week before and the day before - to tell us. They expected us to be at the hospital before nine a.m. They told us exactly where to park, and how to find the check in center (Day Surgery). They told us the procedure is fairly common now, with no anesthesia. They told us the surgery took "about an hour" and that Frank could go home right after, as long as they didn't find blockages or other complications that would require him to stay overnight. They told us his surgery was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Having faith and confidence that "all would be well", we expected that we would be out of there and on the road home by noon... or maybe 1 o'clockish at the latest.

Being in the hospital, having surgery, waiting for the thing to "be over" is difficult for all of us. Waiting in a public place is torture for me. But I thought I knew what to expect. And I had myself all prepared to be okay. Frank knew I was nervous and scared, so he said "Yes, Go shopping hon" when they took him in to get prepped at 9:10 a.m.

So I went a few miles up the road, got lost trying to find a certain store, but eventually found it and K-Mart and did a little Christmas shopping. Manuvering through the traffic and the parking garage was a little hairy for me, but I got my nicotine fix in a couple of times. Then I rushed back to be at the hospital before Frank came out of surgery at 11:30.

The hospital gives you a pager (like you get at restaurants). It didn't appear to have gone off, but just in case, I checked in with the desk when I returned at 11:10. "No, not yet", the receptionist smiled, "You'll know it when it does". So I settled down to wait... Should only be another half an hour or so, right?

When the pager still had not rung by 12:20 I checked with the receptionist again.... Frank should have been done by 11:30, and it was almost an hour later.... She checked her computer, saying the only thing she could tell me was that he was "still in the procedure"; that is all the info they can get at their end. So I sat down again and worked hard at staying calm, patient, and relaxed.

The pager went off and the Doctor appeared at 1:10 p.m.; an hour and a half overdue. But, thank God, finally! All went well. YES! The Doctor said: They "found no blockages, his heart appears to have gone back into normal rhythm, and you can see him in a half an hour". He was smiling. "And then he can go home, right?" "Well, NO, not right away. There's the recovery period. He'll have to be here until at least 4 to 5 o'clock."

My face dropped. I started into shock, panic. "FIVE O'clock! Then why do you tell people an hour?" "Who told you that? No, no, no. This is still major surgery and we have to watch him for a while. Who told you that?"

I'm stunned, like a deer in the headlights. I have to wait here another 4 hours? I wasn't ready, totally unprepared. And he wants me to lay blame on someone? And he obviously can't understand the upset that is showing all over me, the panic. "Your husband is just fine. You can see him in a half an hour". "He may be fine, but I'm not. I have an anxiety disorder. I don't understand." (because I can't think straight) "This is really hard for me. What do I do now? Wait to be paged?"...

I move to a corner, the tears starting to come, trying to hang on, do right, not make a scene, act like the mature adult I'm supposed to be. Both the Doctor and I are confused, trying to understand what's going on. "Yes, just wait to be paged; you can see him in about a half an hour." I'm feeling like a total idiot, and the Doctor is looking at me like I am one. Here's my husband just getting out of major surgery, and I'm talking about myself. He turned and left.

I sit back down. All pretense of being okay is over. My face is stone. I'm angry, confused; I don't know what to do, how to calm myself. Struggling to, my face is lowered, I can't look around. Should I go get something to eat? Have a smoke? Leave again? But I can see Frank in a half hour, and he must be starved - they said nothing to eat after midnight last night... so he's had nothing, either. I'll wait.

I spoke to the Doctor at 1:10. At 2:40 (the half-hour having turned into an hour and a half with no page) I finally got the courage to ask the receptionist yet again what was going on..... After a call she said Frank was still in the regular recovery room. When they have moved him to the "Same Day Surgery" recovery room, they would page me right away.

I sat down to wait, having a really hard time now controlling myself. I was just plain PISSED! I hung on until ten minutes past 3 - two hours from when I saw the Doctor, another half hour since speaking to the receptionist. Frank must be starving, I am starving, and don't these people care about those that are waiting? Why lie and blow smoke up our ass when we're already upset? How about some truth? If it's going to be two hours, why not tell us two hours? I could have gone out to get something to eat! Wait, maybe I should go out & get something to eat. Maybe I should get something for both Frank and I. If they haven't fed him, he must be STARVING! By the time I get back, it will almost be time for him to leave anyway.... Who knows when they're gonna page me. I better go do that; have something ready for him, in case.

I left their pager sitting on the stand beside me; (what use was it?), went and found some fast food and returned at 4:20. I checked in with the receptionist and caught hell for having left the pager - 'they were trying to reach me'! When they didn't get an apologetic response from me, they took me in to see Frank. He seemed relieved to see me. His nurse came in, we eventually got him up, went over discharge paperwork, and we left the hospital at 5:15.

Frank was happy to be out of there and happy to see some food (they had not fed him). The drive home was long and dark; the headlights of other cars glared, my head was spinning, my forehead splitting with a pounding headache - BUT I tried not to show it- did my best to chat sweetly with Frank and just get him home!

As I said at the beginning, being in the hospital, having surgery, waiting - is trying for us all. I'm sure many can relate. And maybe some might be in agreement about the frustration I felt with the situation. But usually it feels to me that most of the world would have "handled the situation better", kept their cool, had more understanding on their side for the Doctor, the hospital, etc... and maybe just "not sweat it" like I did...

BUT again.... as I also said, that is what PTSD is like... low tolerance, lack of patience, quick to anger... It's called an illness because years of stress make you predisposed... it comes upon you quickly, physically, sometimes without reason, or without good reason, seemingly beyond your control. And it takes a tremendous amount of work to get it under control.

For help with anxiety disorders and their symptoms, check out the following: the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) and the "Learn the Facts" page at (For symptoms of a particular illness, hold your mouse over the "Learn the Facts" tab.)

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