In October of 2009 a chain of events began that not only threatened my life but changed it forever. Thinking I had a severe case of acid reflux I sat up for three nights in a row because lying down was just too uncomfortable. Since the pain I was feeling was to the right of my breast bone it never occurred to me that it had anything to do with my heart. After going without much sleep for those three days I decided to go to the emergency room and seek treatment for my acid reflux. The rest is a whirlwind of memories. Upon arriving at the local hospital I was given an EKG. I was told I had suffered a heart attack and would need to be transported to a larger hospital. Soon I had surgery to try to unblock a couple of arteries, then another surgery to replaced two others. The blockages in the second set of arteries was too severe to clean out. Slices were made in my legs, pieces of veins removed, and the pieces were then used to repair the damaged arteries in my heart.
After the surgery I stayed for a week in the hospital. Upon arriving home I was very weak. My chest hurt, of course, with a 10″ scar down the center of it. My legs hurt because there were several slices on each one, and both legs were solid black. Still, I took my medications and tried to heal. After being home a few days I began to realize that I was having severe trouble breathing. I went back to the hospital and was told I had pneumonia. I did another 4 days in the hospital. After being discharged I was taken to a friend’s house where I had previously left my vehicle. Although no one wanted me to drive I felt fine and wide-awake. I insisted on driving the short distance to my house. On the way home I fell asleep at the wheel and had a near-fatal car wreck. I was air-lifted to a large hospital trauma unit and spent the next week there. I had suffered a broken rib, had a penny-size hole in my head with a large piece of glass embedded in it, my arm was skinned down to the bone and I was covered in bruises and cuts.
After being released from the hospital this time I spent much time at home recovering. Thankfully, I had someone who came and stayed with me, taking care of me throughout the ordeal. At first, I slept fine; I was on all sorts of medications and pain pills so sleep was not a problem. As I got better, and some of the medications were ceased, I began noticing that I was having a lot of trouble sleeping. I thought it was just a matter of “coming off” the medicines and that I would be over it soon. That was not the case. I began to have more and more trouble sleeping. I could often fall asleep quickly but would only stay asleep a couple of hours. Being up, in the middle of the night, alone in my room was frightening. I felt uneasy but couldn’t quite put my finger on what my problem was.
As I healed physically I began to notice more and more changes and disturbing issues. I relived the events of the heart attack, pneumonia and wreck over and over again in my mind. I wanted loved ones to answer questions: “How did you find out that I had a heart attack?” “Did you come to the hospital when I had the wreck?” “Who called you?” “Did you think I was going to die?” I wanted to talk about the events over and over to anyone who would listen. I wanted to tell them how scared I was, how much pain I was in, how thoughts of my family and friends went through my mind.
As I healed physically my caretaker began leaving me alone more and more often. Each time I found myself alone I would nearly have a complete breakdown. It would start out as a trembling that I couldn’t control, and within minutes it was a full-on panic and anxiety attack. I would be sobbing, shaking and vomiting. I couldn’t lie down, I couldn’t stand to get up and do anything. I would sit on my bed and sob and shake, sometimes for an hour or more. I would gasp for breath until I felt like I would just keel over and die! It was a horrible experience each and every time I was left alone.
It got so that I cried nearly everyday, didn’t want to get dressed or go outside, hated being in any kind of vehicle, and no longer enjoyed things I used to love. I became distant from friends and family and nearly became a shut-in. My mind raced all the time and I was constantly thinking of death and things related to death. “Will I have another heart attack and die?” “What will happen to my kids?” “Where will I be buried?” “Who will come to my funeral?” At some point, I decided that I needed to talk to a professional about my problems. I was told that I was experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It turns out that PTSD is a somewhat common occurrence after experiencing an accident, a trauma or an emotional shock. It’s not unusual for sufferers to experience insomnia, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and other issues. With counseling, I’m doing a little better now. Some of my therapy includes dealing with the “why me?” factor, watching comedies on tv, calling old friends and chatting, forcing myself to dress everyday, and continuing to work online. Although I was initially placed on anti-anxiety medication I am now living without it. I still have some problems sleeping and I still get anxious sometimes. I don’t feel completely back to normal but I am getting much better!