Tuesday 12 April 2016

Stress and the human mind

Yesterday in the street I heard the familiar sound of a diesel vehicle approaching behind me; a mid-sized vehicle, like a small bus, a large pickup ... or an ambulance. I looked around sharply, because that's a sound that runs a chilly finger down my spine.

I've talked about my father's stroke and disability in this post. I explained that during his last eight years of life he faced difficulties including being confined to a wheelchair without the use of one side of his body. I briefly mentioned his cancer, surgeries, appointments, and loss of sight.

For all those medical issues, he had to travel by ambulance because the receiving hospitals did not have the correct patient lift which was required in order to move him from his wheelchair to a stretcher or operating room table and back again. And in some cases he would not have been able to return to the wheelchair anyway; his paralysis even on a good day caused him to list to one side - or, worse, to the front - and after surgeries he was safer and more comfortable lying down.

I didn't keep track of all the ambulance trips he had to make - although I could dig through my files and count the invoices he had to pay - but I do know that he had two cancer surgeries, two cataract surgeries, and one hand surgery in those eight years. He also had numerous abdominal ultrasounds (for an aortic aneurysm) and echocardiograms (heart ultrasounds), regular cancer checkups, several hospitalizations for pneumonia, eye appointments, CT scans, lung x-rays, specialist visits, and on and on and on. I accompanied him on all of these appointments except if I was sick or recovering from surgery myself, either travelling with him as a family member in the front of the ambulance, or meeting him in the ambulance bay of the hospital as he arrived, staying with him through his treatment, and seeing him off as he left to return to the nursing home.

I got to know the distinctive sound of an ambulance engine very, very well. And because of the stress involved each and every time, it wore a sore spot in my mind and my chest. Those occasions were stressful for him, and thus for me. And, now, for a little while on every occasion that I am exposed to that sound, the soreness returns, along with new pain from the sorrow at the reminder that my father is gone.

How much worse it must be for those who have experienced extreme stresses - of war, of inner-city violence, of childhood abuse, of horrors of any kind. I cannot know how it feels, because I have never experienced those things, but I can imagine. It is only in a small, limited way, but still ... I can imagine.

And I can start to understand.


Joanne Noragon said...

I think living through each event makes us more compassionate when the next one comes over the horizon.

dinthebeast said...

I had two ambulance rides: once to the hospital when I had my stroke, and once from that hospital to the rehab facility in San Leandro. I saw the invoices for them, and they were each billed over $1000.00. For my cataract surgeries and the related appointments, I rode Paratransit, except for the ride home from the actual surgeries, when Highland Hospital (they are the best) required me to have someone in a car come and drive me home.
I recently returned to the rehab facility for an evaluation to see if I can get my driver's license back, and the whole experience of being there to relearn how to walk and just live in general hit me like a ton of bricks. I love those people. I saw my main physical therapists again for the first time since 2009 and was able to report my progress to them: I climbed a spiral staircase at my friend's house near Yosemite! They seemed happier about it than I was.
It's a special state of mind when you are ailing and vulnerable and under the care of people you don't really know yet, and it leaves you with a special appreciation for the kind of care they provide as their regular jobs every day.
I hope you have a kind of satisfaction for the care you provided mixed in with the lingering soreness, because you certainly deserve it.
I have mentioned how lucky I feel I was for the treatment and support I received after my stroke, but what I haven't mentioned were the other patients I saw at the rehab facility who had no visitors their entire stay (a month or longer). They really made an impression on me, and left me with a feeling similar to the one you described about not really knowing how it feels to be in an extremely stressful situation, but feeling for those that are anyway.

-Doug in Oakland

Elephant's Child said...

Yes. And the sound of an ambulance makes tears prick at my eyes. The paramedics were always very good to us, but my eyes leak when I hear or see them.

jenny_o said...

I think you're right.

jenny_o said...

Yikes on those ambulance bills - ours aren't that high, and a few years ago they were actually lowered for some circumstances (such as going from a nursing home to hospital or back - prior to that, you were charged for those trips, and the only non-charged rides were between one hospital and another). Did you get the results of your evaluation yet? Hope you're able to get your license; if you've been used to driving yourself, it's hard to lose that. I couldn't drive for quite awhile after my cataract and retinal detachment surgeries, and it really made me feel helpless.

jenny_o said...

Our brains learn those patterns so easily when there's stress involved, don't they? The higher the stress, the faster and easier those tracks are laid down in our heads.

dinthebeast said...

Let me be clear: Medi-Cal paid for those ambulance rides, and the rest of the quarter-million my three month hospital/rehab stay cost.
My evaluation went well, and now it's up to the DMV whether I get my license back or not.
It's been eight years since my stroke, so driving feels more like a new freedom to me than a lifted constraint. Kind of like what it felt like after my eye surgeries when all of the sudden I could see better than I could since the seventh grade...

-Doug in Oakland

jenny_o said...

Good to hear about the evaluation. Good luck with the DMV!

Diane Stringam Tolley said...

Amazing how our senses can work for or against us. Sights, smells, sounds can trigger the best and the worst memories. Here's to surviving the worst and remembering the best!

jenny_o said...

I agree, Diane; well said.

baili said...

sound of ambulance always makes me nervous dear Jenny but hearing it often with loved one's problem is stressful indeed
i can imagine how you must have felt during those painful times when you had to cope with different situations at the same time and still keep calm to look after your father
i know it can take quite time to forget such hard times but still i pray and hope you will ,not fully bu to some extent you will my friend !

jenny_o said...

Thank you, dear friend - as time goes by, I find I react less and less to the sound of an ambulance engine. The siren is always troubling, but it's that way for everyone, I think.