Managing Acute Stress in the Days Before a Procedure

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by Anna Jeter |

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As I prepare for a small diagnostic procedure this week, I’m noticing that my anxiety has skyrocketed. This is happening for two reasons.

The first is that I have a full memory bank of physically uncomfortable and painful procedures that have made me quite sensitive. My years with illness have allowed me to develop a high pain tolerance, but they’ve also triggered my flight response. The idea of anything invasive makes me want to run in the other direction.

The other reason for my anxiety is what this procedure might reveal. The unknown means that anything is possible, and as someone who has been rare for most of her life, my brain has become excellent at developing each and every “what if” — even those that are unlikely or downright absurd.

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Having had pulmonary hypertension for 19 years, I was fortunate to have avoided many long-term hospitalizations. I experienced “minor annoyances,” such as ER visits to break up clots in my central line, or have my nose packed when the bleeding refused to stop, thanks to a combination of blood thinners and vasodilators. But ultimately, I avoided a lot of the tough stuff outside of the typical routine testing.

Unfortunately, I paid back all of that good luck after my heart-lung transplant in 2018, which kept me hospitalized in ICU-level care for eight months. This was a great trial that led to a massive amount of trauma. By the end, I was sensitive to even the smallest physical invasions, including blood draws, which I had tolerated without blinking all of my life.

Despite navigating many complications, I haven’t had reason for much invasive testing since my discharge in 2019, and am overwhelmed by the anxiety and uncertainty I’m now feeling. I’ve managed so much by myself. The thought of being on a table again, at the mercy of professionals, is frightening. This isn’t because I doubt healthcare professionals, but because I had traumatic experiences throughout my hospitalization and felt helpless.

Today, many of these emotions are surfacing, so I’ve been digging deep within myself to remember how I coped previously with looming procedures and appointments. First, I’m remembering to ask questions.

I realized that my understanding of the details of the procedure was still vague, so I sent a message to my nurse coordinator today, hoping she could clarify things for me. This is a simple step, but it can help return a great deal of agency to the patient, thus reducing anxiety when the day comes. I like to know step by step how things will take place, so this is a vital action for me to take.

I’m also working to keep busy as a form of distraction. In times of stress, I allow myself the mentality of “anything goes.” While I would ideally channel my time into work or art, anxiety and stress often fill my mind and can make these tasks difficult. So, today, I permitted myself to binge “Love on the Spectrum” on Netflix, and despite being technically unproductive, I worked to correct my thinking, knowing that this form of escape was essential for rest. Other things that have helped are listening to my favorite podcast and taking short walks outside.

Finally, I am digging back into my own physical and mental resilience. While this is not a truth I like to rely upon often, I have learned that I can survive pain or unpleasantness for any short time. If I set myself up with the knowledge that acute discomfort won’t last forever, then I know I can endure it.

As far as what the results will bring, it is at least better to deal in truths than endless hypotheticals. To be clear, this is a low-risk, standard procedure, and much of my worry is being manufactured in my head. That said, despite my own logic, I really am dreading it, and what it could potentially show. But I suppose I would rather have tangible answers that I can face head-on.

The only difference between now and after will be my ability to take action in whatever ways are needed, and I need to draw strength from that rather than fear. And as I continue to wait, I will try my best not to worry when worry is not yet called for.

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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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