What is “Medical PTSD?”

for Healthline

Sometime in the fall of 2006, I was in a fluorescent-lit room staring at posters of happy cartoon animals when a nurse pricked me with a very small needle. It wasn’t painful in the slightest. It was an allergy test, the prick no sharper than a light pinch.

But immediately, I burst into tears and started shaking uncontrollably. No one was more surprised by this reaction than I was. I remember thinking, This doesn’t hurt. This is just an allergy test. What’s happening?

It was the first time I had been pricked with a needle since my release from the hospital several months earlier. On Aug. 3 of that year, I had been admitted to the hospital with stomach pains and wasn’t released until a month later.

During that time, I had two emergency/life-saving colon surgeries, in which 15 centimeters of my colon was removed; one case of sepsis; 2 weeks with a nasogastric tube (up the nose, down to the stomach) that made it excruciating to move or speak; and countless other tubes and needles shoved into my body.

At one point, the veins in my arm had been too exhausted by IVs, and the doctors put in a central line: an IV in the vein under my collarbone that was more stable but increases the risk of bloodstream infections and air embolisms.

My doctor explained the risks of the central line to me before he put it in, noting it was important that any time the IV was changed or altered, nurses should swab the port with a sterilizing swab.

Over the next weeks, I anxiously watched every nurse. If they forgot to swab the port, I battled internally over reminding them — my desire to be a good, not annoying patient in direct conflict with my terror at the thought of another life-threatening complication.

In short, trauma was everywhere. (continued)

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Katie MacBride is a freelance journalist, essayist, and co-founder/associate editor of Anxy magazine. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Daily Beast, Vice, Playboy, and Buzzfeed, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter: @msmacb

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