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Question
Posted by: Emma | 2010/01/17

Post Traumatic Stress?

Hello Doctor,
Was wondering if you could help me...
I gave birth to a healthy baby girl in August 2009. September 2009 at the age of 5 weeks old she got whooping cough. She went through a terrible month in hospital... chocking in mucus... often going blue (1-10 times a day for a whole month) and then we had to lift her arms and blow in her face, if it did not work, suction, if that did not work ambu bag... Several times got to ambu bag stage... few times the doctors and nurses stressed and more than once we thought she was not going to make it...She had to get a drip and help with breathing... It was very very very challenging to see my child go through this. I at the same time also got whooping cough and went through days and nights where I would be coughing or helping her breathe 24/7 no sleep... Sometimes I would cough while trying to help her (with cough I mean cough till your whole body breaks out in a sweat and you want to vomit). I did have help, was in hospital, but often I would be coughing and then she would start (and cant breathe) then I would ring for the nurse, while lifting her arms and trying to get her to breathe... She also picked up RSV and Strep Pneumonia in hospital, so by the time she was supposed to get better, it just got worse... Anyway, the thing is, during all this time everyone would tell me how strong and brave I am and that they would never have been able to manage so well... But I think what happened is that I was emotionally switched off... I never cried or showed any emotion... I would small talk with the physio while she suction my baby (really terrible experience for baby, cause she would cough and choke). I never slept for more than a week, just wanted to be awake to help my baby.. After 2 weeks my body just could not anymore and I slept while the nurses took care of her (they actually forced me to, they came to sit with her and said I can - must- sleep. I had about 3 days sleep, she got better for 2 days (and was send home). After 2 days she had another bad episode and we had to rush her to hospital... I again did not sleep for more than a week... She went to hospital 20 Sept and got discharged on 14 October... For the first few weeks after hospital, I would never leave her out of my sight. Later (now) I would let her sleep in her room with a monitor on and a breathing monitor. Every time she coughs, I would sprint to her room - but she have been fine since October actually... Only stopped breathing once in November. Sorry for all the detail, but think it might be relevant... Since September I just did not get around to important stuff (like paying bills, replying to emails or sms, returning phone calls) The month in hospital was understandable... but I never got around to it afterwards... End of November when I just thought things was getting back to normal, our dog got puppies, 12! Some had to be bottle fed and I ended up running between helping puppies and my baby... That was till end December (all the puppies left end December). Beginning of this month I started to get back to emails, sorting out some accounts (but still a pile to work through) etc. The last few days however, I have been feeling that I am very close to breaking point... I am starting to do things completely out of character and I am not sure why... I am VERY irritable and I am angry at everyone and everything. My cat maawed for my attention and scratched me (after I feed it like 3 times tonight already) and I kicked it! Not hard, did not hurt the cat... But I am shocked at my reaction - I would NEVER do that... I am rude to my husband for absolutely NO reason. I get upset if our dog comes to close to me (dog that I normally love and hug)... Last night I did not let my baby finish her 4am feeding, I just felt like I could not anymore and put her in bed even though she was not completely finished... I never get angry or stressed about anything, now I am angry about everything and with everyone and I really feel like throwing and breaking things (for no reason - totally out of character for me). I have headaches and am just very very tired. Tonight I cried for the first time thinking about what my babygirl went through in hospital... at the same time feeling frustrated that I could not take it away for her... Wondering also if she think that I did not care, by letting the doctors, nurses and physio' s hurt her... I dont really understand whats happening with me now - my emotions - and not sure how to deal with it. I am hoping it will just be all better in the morning, but I am suspecting that I have been supressing my emotions in hospital and that it might be the reason for my emotional state now and that I need to deal with it in order to help my relationships (and my poor pets!) in future? Could it be post traumatic stress? I read up on it and it seems like I dont have any classic symptoms or anything apart from that I was emotionally totally cut-off from reality then, never showed any emotion. (Sorry, just mention this as well, my heart rate went in 50s then for no medical reason where it was normally in 80s. Cardio said that it might have been stress related.). Do you think that event is related with my irritability/anger/edginess now? Any advice? Thanks very much!!

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Our expert says:
Expert ImageCyberShrink

Firstly, a hobby horse of mine, as a major expert in that field. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS ( unless an ambulance-man drops the stretcher AFTER fetching you from the acciedent ) - what can arise after exposure to personal life-threatening stress, is PTSD, Post-Traumatic STress Disorder - a DISORDER that follows after ( post ) traumatic stress.
OK, a very nasty experience for you all, dealing with your child's serious illness.
When people compliment us on "how marvellous" we are in a crisis, they're usually actually expressing their relief that (a) its not their crisis, and (b) hoping they won't be asked to help.
And it is typical that when under severe stress, we "disociate", or partially disconnect our emotions so as to be better able to cope with the immediate essentials.
Pleased to hear she has been improving. I have friends BOTH of whose children had similar awful periods of infections and hospitalizations in their early months, and have since become strong and healthy.
Your child, fortunately is likey both to grow strong and well, and she will probably NOT be adversely affected psychologically by these experiences. For a variety of reasons, including that our nervous system's wiring takes longer to fully develop than people expect - we usually have no memories of events this young in life, and thus can have no lasting ill-effects from them in the way one might expect if something analogous happened later in life.
At such a young age, your child had no expectations of what moms or nurses did, and could not have formed any opinion about what happened.
I think now it is your own state of health, including mental health, which deserves proper attention. You should if possible see a good local psychiatrist for a full assessment, and a discussion of diagnosis and of treatment options. It sounds as though you may well ( and very understandably ) have developed a depression and/or anxiety, which would respond well to treatment.

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2
Our users say:
Posted by: Emma | 2010/01/17

Thanks very much!

Reply to Emma
Posted by: cybershrink | 2010/01/17

Firstly, a hobby horse of mine, as a major expert in that field. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS ( unless an ambulance-man drops the stretcher AFTER fetching you from the acciedent ) - what can arise after exposure to personal life-threatening stress, is PTSD, Post-Traumatic STress Disorder - a DISORDER that follows after ( post ) traumatic stress.
OK, a very nasty experience for you all, dealing with your child's serious illness.
When people compliment us on "how marvellous" we are in a crisis, they're usually actually expressing their relief that (a) its not their crisis, and (b) hoping they won't be asked to help.
And it is typical that when under severe stress, we "disociate", or partially disconnect our emotions so as to be better able to cope with the immediate essentials.
Pleased to hear she has been improving. I have friends BOTH of whose children had similar awful periods of infections and hospitalizations in their early months, and have since become strong and healthy.
Your child, fortunately is likey both to grow strong and well, and she will probably NOT be adversely affected psychologically by these experiences. For a variety of reasons, including that our nervous system's wiring takes longer to fully develop than people expect - we usually have no memories of events this young in life, and thus can have no lasting ill-effects from them in the way one might expect if something analogous happened later in life.
At such a young age, your child had no expectations of what moms or nurses did, and could not have formed any opinion about what happened.
I think now it is your own state of health, including mental health, which deserves proper attention. You should if possible see a good local psychiatrist for a full assessment, and a discussion of diagnosis and of treatment options. It sounds as though you may well ( and very understandably ) have developed a depression and/or anxiety, which would respond well to treatment.

Reply to cybershrink

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