What happens when doctors ignore trauma? A minor tendon strain can deteriorate into a severe broken arm in a matter of 5 days if doctors ignore the red flags. And this doesn’t even count for the severity of trauma that occurs during this time, and is even emboldened by the negligence.
Recently I’ve been awoken to the depth of profound medical ignorance. This is an urgent call to take trauma seriously in medical care and beyond. Here’s the nutshell; I’m turning this disaster into a case study. Let the story begin.
I’ve been having dozens of full body (non-seizure) convulsions nightly since Oct due to a shift in my PTSD away from chronic fatigue. A month ago I had a horrible visit to a neurologist who dismissed essential trauma care info(1, 2, 3,) as pseudoscience and tried to demand I get a psychiatrist for anti-depressants/anxiety meds. I have no history of depression or anxiety. Tragically, a similar thing happened even earlier this year with me asking about my chronic fatigue to my endocrinologist, though he at least was more reasonable and far less arrogant. I don’t want to alter my state that way, I’m extremely motivated (typing this with my one good hand) and am very flexible and comfortable in many contexts.
Sadly though, these experiences are pin drops compared to what was to come…
Last Thursday night I injured my arm, it started as a tendon strain that would typically heal itself. But every night it rapidly declined, until after each convulsion my arm was in incomprehensible pain.
I’ve been through absolute terror lately and much of it alone but still was able to heal by getting out with good friends and being open about my trauma and suffering- a profound choice. I even played my song Dissolution, about suffering and trauma, as a one-handed piano adaptation at an event.
Sunday night I went to urgent care STRONGLY emphasizing I needed to immobilize my arm to protect it. I was sent home with an ace bandage.
Tuesday night my condition had gotten so bad I fell asleep standing up and had a convulsion on the wood floor. I went to the ER, between 1AM and 10AM; my best friend drove me and stayed all night, witnessing everything to come. He was the saint; the wise one. I had 2 more convulsions; the second one I heard a snap; I thought it was my sling buckle, but, unknown to me at the time, my arm broke. Nobody took it seriously beyond a misguided basic physical exam, so this was missed. It was the psychiatrist who advocated for me to get a sleep med that helps with pain and convulsions- this was a saving grace.
I was sent home luckily with the meds, and the advice to stick my arm under a tight t-shirt; I knew this was not nearly enough so kept trying to improve it myself. My nightly attempts to survive impending doom had been strained, but at least the medication actually helped. Wednesday night I only had 5 convulsions and slept a full 2 hours between each one; Thursday night I had 2 convulsions with 3-4 hours between each one. I was overall de-stressing too.
However, I was still really concerned because my arm felt so weird. Something kept moving. My arm was swelling.
Today (Friday, one week later), I saw a primary doc to get SOME kind of help and she was disturbed at the state of my arm. She was the one who discovered it was broken. I was sent back to the same ER and seen by the previous doc’s higher up. He was mind-blown at the chain of events but finally I got my arm put in a cast. He said they never would have expected to see a healthy x-ray (Sunday) turn into a severe break 3 days later from convulsions.
On top of that, I discovered from the registration lady that on Tuesday I was sent to the slower area for lesser emergencies. The guy next to us came in for eczema. I understand if the faster area is for severe car accidents, heart attacks, if you’re about to die, but today I was sent to the faster area for my broken arm. This means there’s a hard line drawn on my case being serious- a total disconnect from the severity of the trauma I’ve been through this week and before, and how rapidly my body was deteriorating and losing control.
All week and even prior I’ve been educating doctors, and any ignorance, dismissal, or uninformed blindness on their part has led to my current circumstance. My arm did not have to be broken. This exposes the severe lack of trauma understanding and available emergency care, and general care, in the medical system.
As a youth self-determination advocate I have to say I’m a self-educated high school drop out informing doctors about this. This exemplifies not just the failure of authoritarian schooling but the danger. It also shows how authoritarianism in schooling manifests in authoritarian medical dogma. (and sometimes naïveté).
Imagine how different that would have been if I’d gotten the sleep med and arm protection much sooner. But, even that is not truly preventative. Imagine if I’d gotten care in childhood as soon as the red flags popped up. I might not have had PTSD or most of my other health issues. Now imagine if many more parents, childcare workers, mentors, medical professionals and so on were trauma-informed on prevention. We’d see a whole different world then.
And that world is the vision I’m building as I live through this suffering to transform and become wise. That Tuesday night late in the ER when I broke my arm, the pain was so incomprehensible and my traumatized perception so disturbed, I was imprisoned to that moment. No help, no escape. My very DNA didn’t know how to surrender that grip on escaping a dire emergency. But the truth of no help and the dead wall of no escape was right before me. I could go insane with desire or find a way to teach myself to surrender and let go of some kind of trauma somehow.
I started singing. It was improvisation. It brought my physically delirious state into a more emotionally awakening place, and from there I felt that total complete surrender, through complete sorrow and accepting my sorrow. That was liberation; it was enlightenment. It allowed me to be lighter and in the days after I was able to get myself out in the world and have profoundly close experiences with friends, I was able to really live the goodness of life through the integration of tragedy with the rest of the world- life was made whole, and I could embrace that.
This is a glimpse into the world we can live in if we expose trauma to the light and embrace true healing and enlightenment. I will use my disaster to pursue this vision, unrelenting I will be the voice for shining the light on trauma, and the deep healing right before our eyes.