Sunday, January 13, 2013

PTSD & Survivor's Guilt: My Worst Nightmare

I have incredibly vivid dreams. The Friday night before my mom died (the night after Thanksgiving, 2010) I had a dream that I was sitting by her bed in the hospice center. She was in her comatose state and I took her hand and laid it on my thigh, keeping my hand on top. Then she started breathing quickly, showing that she was in pain. I screamed for the nurse to come, but the nurse didn't come. I kept yelling and yelling but before anyone came she just stopped breathing. She had died in pain. And I couldn't stop it.

That Sunday night she was still alive and I left the hospice center near midnight. Before leaving, I asked the nurse whether she thought my mom would die the next morning. I was supposed to meet with some radiation oncologists from the Bethesda Naval Hospital and I had my heart set on becoming a doctor with the Navy at the time (this was before I realized the difficult of joining as I have exercise-induced asthma). My mom had been in hospice for a month now teetering on the edge and I had been pulling quite short work weeks. And not just for the last month had I been unreliable at work, but since she had been hospitalized with her final seizure on the 19th of October (two days after my birthday). And really for the last 10 months it had seemed like she could die at any second and it was scary, so scary, to go to work because what if I missed her last breath? The nurse told me that my mom would choose how she died and with whom she died. I should go to work with a clean conscience and just come back as early as possible the next day.

As I drove into work that day I called my dad and asked him how is mom doing, how is her breathing? He said she was fine. She had been breathing quickly about two minutes ago, but he had grabbed Barry (my favorite nurse, he had been deployed with the army several times), and Barry had given her morphine and she was breathing normally again. I hung up the phone. On the radio, Michael Franti's song "Say hey (I love you)" was playing, strangely enough because that was the only time I have heard it on the radio. My dad called back a minute later and I dropped the phone because I knew what it meant. When I pulled over and called him back he said that after he got off the phone with me, while he was watching my mom, she stopped breathing, and she was dead. Just like how I had dreamed, but she had gotten the morphine and was not in pain. I take comfort that she spoke to me through the song and she is still with me, especially when I am dancing, as we took dance lessons together for about 5 years :) I would highly recommend watching the video.

I had a dream last night that my sister had a stroke and that I did not see the warning signs. That she was in the hospital and it was so much worse because I had not adequately studied to identify her symptoms. It is difficult to be in school when I made a promise on my mother's grave that I would help others in her honor and that I would never out of laziness miss a diagnosis. It makes it difficult to have friends and hang out or relax. But I am working at it. While I may not be ready for big parties, I am slowly making friends both in school and out and sometimes I can open up with them and joke around again. This is real progress. I know my mom would want me to be happy and have friends, but the implications of not studying scare me. A LOT. But baby steps.

Side note. I met with the men at the Naval hospital that Friday instead and had a blast. It was fascinating and exciting. They were mildly impressed for some reason when I said sorry I cancelled, but my mom died Monday morning. And then moved on with the conversation.

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