When PTSD Creeps in After a Traumatic Hospitalization

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by Jen Cueva |

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Living with pulmonary hypertension (PH) is no easy feat. Unfortunately, frequent hospitalizations are a part of life. No one wants to be hospitalized, especially if previous visits were traumatic. 

I dreaded making the call to my PH team after days of uncontrollable nausea, vomiting, and exacerbated pain and PH symptoms. I knew what they would say, of course, so I held off a bit longer than I probably should have. But I finally gave in and called.

As expected, my doctors wanted me to go to the ER for an evaluation and most likely an admission. I was not happy, but I knew it was for my own good.

The emergency room nurse assigned me to room 433. When she said the room number, something clicked in my head, but I wasn’t sure why it sounded familiar. 

Then, as I was being transported in a hospital bed down the hallway and into my room, my eyes met those of a young nurse. I remembered she had previously been assigned to me not long ago. My mind raced and began to fill with chaotic thoughts. I felt the palms of my hands begin to sweat, and my heart pounded.

Once in the room, I noticed the whiteboard and all of the details on the wall. I began to hear imaginary screaming noises that sounded like crying. I wasn’t sure what was going on. Then it hit me: Just five months earlier, I had awakened in a bed next door.

I had been in room 434 fighting for my life. I was battling COVID-19 and worsening PH symptoms, along with other health complications. That time, I wasn’t expected to make it out of the hospital alive.

Room 434 was one of several rooms I stayed in during that hospitalization, but because I stayed there right before my discharge, I knew it well.

During my latest hospitalization, it took so much strength to focus on the present and not mentally return to the previous traumatic experience. My mind was wrestling with me. Flashbacks popped in and out of my head. I wondered if I would get out alive.

I had to constantly remind myself that this time was different. I am stronger now than I was just five months ago. 

According to a literature review published last year in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, about 8% of the U.S. population has experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD can occur after stressful or frightening events, including hospitalizations. My visit five months earlier was one of the most traumatic hospitalizations of my life.

I’ve met many people who have PTSD and PH or other rare diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic also has been extremely difficult for many of us. During the month of May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, the National Alliance on Mental Illness is amplifying the phrase, “You Are Not Alone.”

I struggle with anxiety and PTSD daily, not only during hospitalizations. Finding healthy outlets helps to balance my mindset. My coping mechanisms include taking breaks, getting outdoors, journaling, and talking to friends and loved ones. 

Reminding myself to acknowledge my feelings and talk about my struggles is also helpful. I hope that sharing my story empowers you to share yours, too.

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health, you are not alone. Check out the Anxiety & Depression Association of America website for health resources, and share your favorite coping mechanisms in the comments below.

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Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.

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