I went back to work after the removal of my left tissue expander. I jumped right back in full force, taking on responsibilities that I didn’t need or really want. In the morning I would be a physician and in the afternoon a patient on more days then I can even remember. Things began to blur…and I couldn’t escape the hospital where I worked and was worked on.
I started having panic attacks. They got so bad, I would need to physically leave the building to breathe again. At first, it was just one here and there, but after awhile, it was happening every day. I was disfigured, undergoing Herceptin therapy, dealing with chronic pain from chemo and radiation side effects, taking Ultram daily to take the edge off the pain and trying to be the hard charger I was Before Cancer. And I was failing. I was eternally fatigued and falling short of the expectations I had set for myself. Until, one day I was seeing a patient with a colleague and it all became too overwhelming.
I didn’t quite race, but my long strides ate up the path in front of me, aiming towards the exit. I saw my boss who asked if I was alright. And I yelled, as my feet never broke stride, “I am not alright! I am not alright!”. Tears were streaming down my face, and I knew I couldn’t go back anytime soon. I reached out for help overnight, and the next day, I was pulled back together and followed up with my psychiatrist. (yes…doctors need help too) He set up a meeting inclusive of my commander, my first shirt, my husband and me. At this point, I had removed myself from patient care, because I felt I was impaired. I always put the patient first, no matter the terror of closing the door on my career as a military surgeon.
My psychiatrist and commander did not agree with my decision, with my psychiatrist describing me as a truant teenager who just needed some adult supervision to do my job. I was told I would go back to work despite my misgivings. It didn’t last long. One day, I think. I refused to see patients, and in short order I lost my shit. Later, we would find out that I have a significant drug-gene interaction with Ultram…one that causes psychosis. Overnight, I became a walking amoeba. I was no longer me in any sense of the word. Turns out my psychiatrist was wrong…I wasn’t malingering. Fucking asshat. I had severe PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder.
It took quite awhile, with intense intervention and learning self care methods to pull me out of the rabbit hole I had fallen into and become the version of myself I am today. Before this, all I did was work, and when I wasn’t at work, I was perseverating about work. Some would say I was a workaholic to the detriment of my personal relationships and my own health. Looking back, I would agree with them. With treatment, I moved towards more balance, with daily yoga/ meditation/ tai chi and journaling. I delved into the sea of my childhood trauma all over again, so that we could work on the mountain of my adult trauma: cancer and all the baggage it brings.
In the end, I crawled out stronger than when I went off the grid. I stood up and started to reclaim my life. I was no longer afraid because the other shoe had already dropped. I started to prepare for the inevitable discharge from the military. I faced the illusion of my marriage head on. I grew physically stronger as time passed. I reviewed my priorities and goals and started living in the moment instead of in the past. And then, the universe shifted…the military returned me to duty/ my husband reclaimed the attributes I fell in love with in the beginning/ and I realized I didn’t have to settle…I could have it all again. I just had to open my mind and heart to the possibility then work for it.