United States of America
[Please note: this story contains details of traumatic events which may be a trigger for some]
I don’t know when the PTSD actually started. All I know is that every single time an ambulance drove by when I was little I thought, I’m going to do that one day. It took me until I was 24 before I was hired onto a company from the county I grew up in, but I remember being completely delirious with joy.
I started out in a farming community, over half an hour from the closest hospitals, windy roads in hilly areas and a state/federal prison. I often joke I’ve been in and out of prison more times than the most hardened criminal. Three years in that part of the county had me doubting in humanity and the safety of vehicles, but I had not yet learned to be so cynical that it hurt my soul.
I moved to a bigger city and was promoted up to paramedic. This city was riddled with gang violence, immigrants with no money that didn’t speak the language, and a highway that’s known to be a drug highway.
The first time I intubated someone [introduction of a breathing tube for unconscious patients] it was a fourteen year old boy, with ties to the gang community, who had been shot through the head. I hit his gag reflex (for just the last moment he had one) and when he coughed a piece of his brain came flying up at my face. Still, it was ‘easy’ for me to justify his fate due to his involvement with the violent gangs. This became routine. My co-workers and I would always be surprised if someone over the age of twenty was the victim of gun violence.
I began to get angry. My personality was changing. And while I had always been a social butterfly, I began to get quieter, kept more to myself, and I kept injuring myself on the job.
I decided to do acupuncture for the massive pain I kept having in my lower back. The acupuncturist decided to take advantage of my state of undress and sexually assaulted me while I was almost naked and vulnerable. I did a police report, but then people would call into the news and say what a liar I was because he was such a good man.
A few months later, the acupuncturist flew back to his home country and killed himself in a hotel room. I never felt any guilt, just absolute relief he couldn’t hurt anyone else, considering he mostly served those who were immigrants and didn’t speak English. I’ll always know he had more victims out there who never felt they had a voice.
Then one April, the straws began falling hard on this camel’s back. A fourteen year old girl, who wasn’t wearing her seat belt, flew from the back of a van into the front in a highway accident. I triaged her [sorted according to urgency] to be ground transported [ambulance by road] because she was talking to me. I am the one who decided to send the other young girl injured in the accident via an air ambulance to the pediatric trauma center. And I am the one who watched my young patient deteriorate until she died with me, just minutes away from the adult hospital.
The next week, I attended a grandmother in an accident. As soon as we laid her down on the backboard she locked eyes with me and whispered “I can’t breathe.” Minutes later, after doing everything I could possibly think of to save her life, I lost her heartbeat too.
A few days later, I was dispatched to an 18 month old baby who would not stop seizing [convulsing or fitting]. At the time, I don’t know he had been abused. The hospital staff found he had a skull fracture bigger than they had ever seen. The nurse then turns and yells across the ER to me, “If this boy dies, it’s your fault!” because I had not called in ahead to tell them it was a trauma. I had been four minutes away from the hospital when the fireman dived with him into the back of my ambulance. I didn’t know it was a trauma. I missed something.
I had three days off after that, and I began to shake. At first, just small tremors. Then I went back to work and was shaking on calls. I had to try to hide it while starting IVs [intravenous line into a vein] and giving shots [injections]. Then the tremors started in earnest. My whole body would shake so hard and so fast I couldn’t eat or drink. I couldn’t sleep. I lost 30lbs before my doctor sent me to a neurologist, who diagnosed me with PTSD and major depressive disorder. I was given medication, told to go to therapy and promptly forgotten about.
I went to the ER telling them I wanted to kill myself. But again, given the same advice and again forgotten about. I found a therapist who was great, until I had to cancel an appointment then she wouldn’t call back. I lost my insurance, I had no income, and my mother carried my burdens. (She still does, in fact, to my absolute shame.)
Then I started fostering animals. They have been a huge joy and a huge heartbreak. But then I adopted one particular puppy, a pit bull I named Abu. He doesn’t seem to care when I cry into his fur or when I just want to be left alone – he doesn’t leave me alone. He doesn’t judge and he loves me even when I don’t take him for walks. I promise him I’m going to be a better person to make his life happier and he covers me in kisses. He never ever forgets about me.
It’s been three years since this new journey has started. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. I want to be alone but I am lonely. I don’t want to talk or be around people but I miss the girl I once was. I wish I could snap my fingers and have my life back. I miss the ambulance and my co-workers, but every time I hear sirens I want to scream!
I’m angry and bitter and anxious and I want to stop but I don’t know how. I’m exhausted. I’m so tired of trying sometimes that I just lay in my room all day and cry. I’m called lazy, bitchy, rude and unsocial but no one can understand I’m fighting myself daily and it’s more than I can take.
I used to think I was strong but life has proved me wrong. I don’t look anyone in the eye anymore because that’s what I see when my ghosts come to visit me. I see their eyes and I take the blame.
If someone you love has PTSD, just know that they still love you. They push because the pain is a darkness which they do not want to cover you too. Don’t force, but try to hug them when you can. I don’t let people touch me anymore, but when I’m forced into a hug I’m always surprised to remember how good it feels. And don’t give up on them, we are always a breath away from giving up on ourselves. The love we get from the people we love is what sustains us.
Good luck to all my brothers and sisters in suffering. No matter what support you do or don’t have within your circle, there are people who care. Keep fighting. You are loved and needed in this world.
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