More than likely, at some point, most doctors, nurses, and other medical providers will interact with the healthcare system for their own personal health (or a loved ones health). One might assume that for a given illness or injury, the recovery for a medical professional would be as close to perfect as possible. From seeking care early, to high levels of adherence to medical treatment and advice, complete recovery would appear to be the only option. What happens when recovery doesn't go as well? What happens when the physical illness or injury heals, but the psychological ones are taking more time? After being involved in an accident, Dr. Mikkael Sekeres, director of the leukemia program at the Cleveland Clinic, explains what he experienced during his recovery:
"Psychologically, the recovery was harder.
A few weeks after the accident, I was driving my car along a slightly curved stretch of pavement when I suddenly started sweating. My heart was racing and I was breathing quickly. I pulled the car to the curb and stopped until I calmed down.
It slowly dawned on me that I was reacting to the topography of the road, which resembled the one where I had crashed my bicycle. Similar waves of panic came over me a few more times over the coming months, though with subsequent events I recognized my symptoms quickly enough to either stop driving or to initiate deep breathing exercises until my fear passed.
In wasn’t until the spring of this year that I summoned up the courage to get back on my bicycle and take to the road.
It wasn’t easy."
For many pediatric patients and their families, this is a shared experienced. Dr. Sekeres explains that he now understands his patient better. He has more empathy when their recovery isn't progressing as expected. Medical traumatic stress is a constellation of reactions that can occur after extremely difficult or frightening events. These reactions include (1) having unwanted and intrusive thoughts about what happened, (2) strongly avoiding things that are reminders of the event, and (3) having trouble sleeping, eating, or concentrating.
In the aftermath of an injury, like Dr. Sekeres experienced, or an illness, traumatic stress is caused by a loss of a sense of personal safety, and by feelings of fear and helplessness.
Sharing this experience of a difficult recovery with your patients and Dr. Sekeres isn't necessary to better understand medical traumatic stress. And simple screeners exist so even the busiest doctor and/or nurse can assess the emotional recovery of their patients and families. Have you ever experienced medical traumatic stress following an injury or illness? Or have you had patients whose recovery was complicated by medical traumatic stress? Continue the discussion on medical traumatic stress and share your experiences on our Facebook page.