PTSD and the Trauma Nurse


[Credit: Getty Images]
Trauma Nursing was my thing and I was really into it.

Gunshots and stab wounds? Broken bones and collapsed lungs? Bring it on! An adrenaline junkie for sure and proud of it. My life as an ER nurse was entwined in that sort of thing and I had very little time or patience for those who just didn't 'get it'. My friends were ER nurses, techs, docs, RT's, ER clerical staff, cops and firemen. We spoke the same language and I really wasn't interested in developing relationships with 'outsiders'. No need to measure my story-telling with them, nothing could gross them out. I worked hard, partied hard, smoked like a freight train and fastened my seatbelt only after witnessing dental trauma of those who chose not to. I was young and indestructible. And totally desensitized.

My 'cold, hard slap in the face' came when a dear childhood friend (after being regaled by my bloodiest and guts-iest and coldest stories of the ER) said..."Joanie, what happened to you? You sound like you couldn't give a shit."

Thanks. I needed that.

Ahhhh, and that was why 'normal' people and their trivial complaints pissed me off so much.

So, I gave my head a shake, re-evaluated my trajectory in life and took an opportunity that presented itself in corporate America as a Clinical Educator with a manufacturer of bedside monitoring systems. Nice. I travelled extensively and totally engrossed myself in clinical technology. A healthy change.

When the staff of the various OR's, ER's, and ICU's I visited learned that I had worked in the ER's of Parkland and Baylor, I was frequently encouraged to share 'war stories'.  I choked. Literally. Just couldn't do it.

Then, while on a flight and flipping through a magazine I saw a spread on Trauma Centers. A full page photo of of a Trauma Room - after the trauma - was featured.

Inexpicable. Heart pounding, throat tightening, palms clammy. can't breathe. It got hot - really hot. I turned the fan on above my head for relief. A panic attack? No way. I've been on planes a million times. Closing my eyes, I attempted to calm myself. Slow, deep breaths. Whew. I was OK. Opening the magazine where I had left off... the symptoms returned -with a vengeance.

Therapeutic counseling was in my future.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - I had only heard of this disorder when referring to military war survivors. Was I (and so many of my sweet, kind, dedicated nurse-buds) afflicted by it? Who knows? But certainly food-for-thought.

This began my journey into understanding just how witnessing, inflicting and internalizing the pain of so many affected me.

Your 'take-away' here might be to look into PTSD and determine if it affects you or those you love. Treatment for those affected by PTSD? The experts agree that what works for one may not work for others.

Here are some links that you might find helpful on the subject...

PTSD in Emergency Workers
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Increased Prevalence in PTSD and Critical Care Nurses
PTSD in Nurses


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