Talking Trauma

A problem with trauma is it’s difficult to find a way in. It is hard to talk about it in any meaningful way. In my experience, medical trauma and its effects aren’t discussed. Most people don’t want to talk about it. Trauma is isolating and lonely. I have to do something; reach out to someone.

Trauma is a rebellion against the limitations of rational thought. It is an absurd response to an event or events that are so terrible, they cannot be meaningfully or rationally processed. A traumatising event is a break in the narrative. That’s how trauma feels to me.

I’ve found it extraordinarily difficult to get my thoughts straight in the face of having been re-traumatised. When you can’t make sense of anything, it can be difficult to watch those around you going about their lives, business as usual. I don’t know how long it’s going to last, this ‘episode’, this break in the narrative, this trauma. I hope not too long. I’m feeling so sorry for myself and I’m unreasonably angry at myself for this indulgence.

Over three weeks ago, I had two wisdom teeth extracted. I now have a dry socket infection, which is making being awake, let alone doing anything much, frankly, bloody awful. I’ve barely left my house in three weeks. I’ve hardly spoken to anybody. I hate myself when I’m sick and I do punish myself for that with extreme isolation.

In the days before my oral surgery, I did my utmost to keep it from going ahead. I spoke to a nurse, an anaesthetist and, on the day of surgery, my oral surgeon, about how I really didn’t understand why the procedure was necessary. Before that I had obsessively researched wisdom tooth extraction trying to find a reasonable, scientific explanation that I could use to build a case as to why I didn’t need my teeth removed. At my request, I was assured that the oral surgeon would come and talk to me ‘on the day’ to assess whether I really needed to have it done.

I was in a hospital gown lying on a well starched bed, staring at the clock on the wall, when the oral surgeon came in to see me. A literal interpretation of laid back was all I could manage at the time, as I sunk into pillows lined with plastic and covered in more white, starched linen. The surgeon said, judging by my X-rays, that removing my remaining wisdom teeth was a good idea to avoid problems in the future. I relented. This was happening.

As I was wheeled into the operating theatre, I held it together remarkably well for somebody who was experiencing flashbacks to previous medical traumas. I did cry as the anaesthetist prodded my hands and arms in search of a vein, on terrain that is decidedly hostile to needles, but not because I knew it would hurt. Most needles don’t really hurt.

The human body is amazing. A symptom of my medical trauma is that my veins now disappear whenever they know a needle is going to be anywhere near them. When a vein is finally found that appears viable and the needle inserted, my veins have become adept at collapsing on contact.

I cried until I was no longer aware of my surroundings. I batted my tears away with my free arm until I passed out. Seeing the cannula, smelling the sterilising alcohol, staring up at lights that look like the underside of an alien spaceship, all of these sensory cues trigger memories of so much worse. You don’t need to know about that. I don’t need to write about it. Not today.

I was out for dinner with family last weekend following a four-hour filmed opera, which I went to on my own as there were no takers for what some apparently consider a novel form of torture. Eating is still uncomfortable but I can no longer look at soup or pudding without a reflex nausea and I had to get out of the house. Sitting at the restaurant I was tired and distracted by the infection in my mouth and how terrible it was making me feel and how awful I felt that I had chosen to inflict myself on others.

I stared at my menu. It had a clear typeface and was well formatted. I couldn’t read it. I could tell that it was written in English but that’s as far as I could get. None of the words meant anything to me and I was overwhelmed. I chose two dishes that I had eaten previously. I had enjoyed them but, more than anything, they were familiar. I didn’t know how to say that I couldn’t read the menu. It didn’t make any sense to me, so I couldn’t begin to explain it to them. Trauma is like that. That’s why it’s so hard to talk about.

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