I didn’t expect the panic attack that came on yesterday.
It was supposed to be an easy doctor’s appointment, but I’m now realizing that when you’re a trauma/abuse survivor, it’s just not that simple.
The lesion on my eyelid isn’t all that bad even though it’s been there in some form for a bit. Three years to be exact. It doesn’t look like the horrendous photos you see when you google eyelid cancer. Still, I figured it was time to get it looked at by a dermatologist, again. And I even reckoned that she’d want to take it off.
As usual, Scott was right there by my side, thank goodness. We joked and laughed before the doc and her team came into the room to inspect my face. I thought I had everything under control and was feeling pretty calm.
When it came time for her suggest a biopsy would be the best course of action, I started sweating profusely. I couldn’t catch my breath and I couldn’t understand why. I’ve had punch biopsies before with no issue. I was prepared for this, even. I knew she would say what she did and want to do it right then and there. Sure, the needle carrying the numbing solution stings a bit but it’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ve had two c-sections, a ripped illiotibial band, and broken bones, after all.
This was supposed to be an easy peasy 5-minute procedure. And it wasn’t the gynecologist office, which is where I normally have PTSD issues. Being sexually abused as kid will do that to you.
As we listened to the doc talk about what she wanted to do and what I would need to do post-biopsy, I started to feel dizzy and nauseated. Doc’s assistants thought I didn’t notice when they were placing items on the tray near my now slip-n-slide of a sweat-covered treatment chair. First, a needle. Then a scalpel. Gauze. Ointment. Other things I didn't recognize. I kept my focus on the doctor but saw everything happening around me.
I was clearly having a panic attack, but why?! None of it made sense in my head or my body.
That is, until it hit me…it wasn’t the needle or the pain that was freaking me out. It was the “don’t move” part. Afterall, she was about to slice into my eyelid. If I couldn’t stay still, I would risk injury to both of us. Tears welled in my eyes as I realized there was no way I could go through with it even though I wanted the biopsy to happen. I've pushed through fear before but this was beyond my control even though I needed this procedure.
I’m pretty sure the doc thought I didn’t agree with her recommendation that I needed a biopsy until I choked out through tears, “I’m a childhood trauma survivor.”
“Whoa, that’s deep,” she blurted ou while taking a step back. Let’s just say she may need a primer in talking to trauma survivors.
I couldn’t articulate anything else except that I agreed I needed the biopsy. Scott tried to help explain while he held my hand and rubbed my back. By this time, she had other patients to see and was growing weary, and I felt shamed for not being able to let her do what I knew needed to happen...what I know will tell me definitively if I have skin cancer or not.
Before leaving the room to let the assistants wrap up, I told her I’d like to come back in another day after I’ve had time to prepare for the procedure by way of Xanax.
“Can I take a Xanax or Valium before the biopsy?” I asked, wanting to know if it would somehow interfere with the procedure. You know, like when they tell you not to take aspirin before they cut into you.
“I can’t tell you whether or not to take Xanax,” she shot back. “This is your psychological barrier.”
She wasn’t getting it and I apparently wasn’t being very clear. It's hard to be clear while you're sweating and getting ready to pass out.
Eventually, I left with a reminder card in my hand to come back next Friday at 8:30am for my biopsy do-over.
As Scott and I walked hand and hand to the car, I regained my composure a bit. Then I thought about how many abuse survivors there are out in the world who have PTSD reactions like mine. And how many of them don’t go to the doctor or the dentist for that reason.
I’ll admit it’s been way too long since I’ve sat in the dentist’s chair. LIke the biopsy procedure, being confined, held down, or in a position where I can’t move freely in a dentist's chair feels like abuse and control all over again.
While I know this is MY trigger to heal, and I even know how I will likely have to go about rewiring the neuropathways of my brain to NOT react this way (aka, EMDR therapy), I also wonder just how different it would be if every doctor—no matter the field of practice—went through some sort of trauma-informed care training.
We don’t want to be defiant. We don’t want to drag appointments out. We actually want to do what we know we need to do.
Sometimes, we just can’t.
To my fellow survivors out there, you’re not alone. And I’m so sorry that this is part of your life. A part that shouldn’t be this hard.
To medical professionals, please, please understand we’re just having PTSD reactions. In most cases, we’re not judging you or defying your orders and recommendations. We actually like you, we believe in you, and we’ve researched the hell out of you before seeing you.
We’re simply a volcano of subconsciously stored pain and fear erupting (at the worst times) in your treatment chair.
1/13/2022 04:42:20 pm
Thank you for sharing your story. It is sad to experience well meaning but extremely busy medical professionals who do not understand how the visual environment/procedure/sounds/body position/touch/medication effects can trigger real issues. Observed a higher risk of misdiagnosing conditions when they providers include in-the-moment panic or PTSD symptoms as signs of other conditions. That doesn’t make braving future visits any easier. Sending Hugs.
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