Whether you are caring for a pediatric patient with an injury or illness, remember that many, if not all, aspects of medical care can be traumatizing to both your patient and their families. Everything from the initial injury or diagnosis to reoccurring visits can be traumatizing, or re-traumatizing. The medical event(s) your patient experiences will most likely result in coping with some symptoms of traumatic stress, which could progress to Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What does traumatic stress or PTSD look like in your patients and families? Anne Kazak, PhD, ABPP, explains what a family's thoughts during an injury or illness that could trigger traumatic stress: "You're faced with a potentially life-threatening situation. You're going to see other people who suffer. You're probably going to know children who die. You're going to keep coming back for more chemo or surgeries or hospitalizations". She goes on to explain what traumatic stress symptoms of re-experiencing, avoidance and hyper-arousal feel like to families:
"One symptom is intrusive thoughts, which is a bit like a flashback. You're walking down the street, and all of a sudden you re-experience this traumatic event - diagnosis, pain, seeing another child in pain. Some of the procedures that kids have are difficult for the parents to see and participate in.
There also are avoidance behaviors. When something really bad has happened to you, you may choose to avoid things that remind you of it. The issue with illness and injuries are that you don't want people to avoid coming to the hospital.
Another set of symptoms is more physical. As something traumatic is unfolding in front of you, your heart rate increases, you feel a body tenseness, you may feel lightheaded or nauseous."
As a doctor, nurses, or other healthcare provider, you can help children and families cope with their injury or illness by providing care through a trauma informed lens, minimizing the traumatic aspects of care as much as possible, and screening for traumatic stress reactions. Join the conversation on Facebook to learn more about traumatic stress reactions your patients may experience.