The Reality of Medical PTSD

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom and author
02/15/24  4:11 PM PST
puppy for children with cerebral palsy

The term “PTSD” gets thrown around a lot these days in the same flippant way that people say they’re OCD when they straighten a blanket on the couch. I am not a frequent flyer at Starbucks, but I had a free drink for my birthday so I figure why not? While standing in line, I heard someone say, “I think I have PTSD from that airport Frappe.” Can something called a Frappe traumatize you? And if so, should I get out of line?

I have been very careful over the years not to use post-traumatic stress disorder in reference to my son Charlie’s early years. Though his birth and long stay in the NICU and subsequent surgeries and medical requirements were traumatizing, I did not want to imply that he as a human was traumatizing. He is a light. He is joy personified. He can lift anyone out of a bad day. Charlie is the opposite of trauma – he is the world’s best soother.

But the after-effect of those early years hits me when I least expect it. At my annual physical, they placed a pulse oximeter on my finger and the sight of it sent a zing of adrenaline up my spine. Charlie slept with one wrapped around his foot until he was two. When my daughter found a plastic shoebox in our bathroom closet labeled “Emergency Trach Supplies” filled with Velcro straps that once held the tracheotomy in place around his neck, I kissed the scar on his neck that night at bedtime with tears in my eyes.

This past year we succumbed to the pleas of our children and got a puppy. I did not want to love another thing, but Heidi someone wriggled her way into my core to the point that I have to remind myself not to talk to her as if she is another person in my kitchen. While I write, she lays on my feet and her warmth keeps me focused. We go for walks in the woods and she find a giant leaf to carry in her mouth like a prize. I adore her. We all do.

So when I heard a scrabbling by my bedroom door a few months back, I smiled, assuming she had trapped one of her toys in the corner. When the scrabbling and scratching did not stop, something in me, that familiar spike of adrenaline, got me up to investigate. I found Heidi on the floor, drooling and twitching and jerking in a way that was terribly familiar. I shouted for my husband and placed a calming hand on her side. Then I called the vet who had me stay on the line while she connected us to the pet emergency center. I described the seizure. My voice shook, even as Heidi began to still. My husband rushed her to the emergency clinic as I kept the kids as calm as I could while my own heart raced. Outside it was already growing dark. We were supposed to leave in two hours for my birthday dinner with family. I began to shiver. I couldn’t seem to get warm.

For the first two years of Charlie’s life, he suffered from sporadic seizures. I have ridden in too many ambulances and paced in front of too many ER curtains, waiting for the doctors to “call mom back” after they got him stabilized. I have sipped tiny boxes of juice handed to me by nurses who could see the shock settling in. That was years ago – a decade since his last one – and yet as I waited for a call back from the emergency vet, I felt the force of it all over again.


child with special needs
Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom and author.
Author of the middle-grade novels:















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