August 15, 2010

Trauma is scary stuff

A couple of weeks ago I put up a teaser that I would tell you about our crazy PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) experience when we went for Miles' MRI of his eyes. (He needed the MRI to check for suspected tumors and degenerative nerve disorders that could be causing his eyelids to be so droopy) But the experience traumatized me so much, that I really wasn't ready to talk about it until now.   I now completely understand how sometimes parents who parent trauma end up experiencing PTSD themselves.  Watching our children have these types of experiences is both horrifying and haunting.

I guess that before I start, I should give a little bit of background about Miles and his PTSD.  I know that lots of you  may not even know what PTSD is.  PTSD is a disabling anxiety disorder in which a person relives a traumatic event (abuse, combat, abandonment, natural disasters) as though it is currently happening.  Kind of like a flashback.  The most common way you may have heard of this is with soldiers coming home from war- like the sound of a helicopter making a Vietnam vet think that he is right back in the jungle fighting for his life.

We are learning what kinds of things trigger Miles. Normally, we try at all costs to avoid those triggers like the plague, but sometimes they just can't be helped.  The day that we went to have the MRI, several triggers collided to create the perfect storm.  It was if Miles slipped into this alternate universe and we could not "unstick" him from that flight or fright mode that put him right back in Africa just trying to survive. It was the worst day we've had since Miles has been home.  Here's a little sample about what a day in the life of parenting trauma looks like... 

For the MRI, Miles was not allowed to eat after midnight the night before.  Hunger is Miles' top PTSD trigger.  He can not even remotely begin to get hungry or he dissolves into a violent little puddle that is ready to do mortal combat just to get a bite to eat.  His MRI appointment was not until 1pm, so that was an extremely long time for the little guy to be hungry.  He stood in front of the kitchen cabinet and screamed bloody murder.  He punched, kicked, tried to off his brother and sister, and beat his head against the cabinet.  There was no reasoning with him.  He looked at me like I was the enemy for witholding food from him.  He came at me like a lion several times.  He begged, he pleaded... and then he shut down.  He just gave up.  He became overwhelmed with how an empty belly felt and he became so gripped with fear that he just became unfuntional.

The second thing that happened is that we took him to the hospital.  Because Miles has been so sickly (malaria, TB, exteme malnutrition, crazy blood levels etc.) he's had to have a lot of medical testing.  He knows that a lot of times this is painful and takes a long time.  He recognizes the front of a doctor's office or hospital and immediately loses it.  He threw himself down on the blacktop of the parking lot and refused to move.  Despite the fact that the child at 2 1/2 years old only weighs 20 pounds, he can make himself feel like a 50 pound sack of potatoes.  Couple that with the hunger, and I had to drag him by his arms into the hospital because if I tried to pick him up, he went into complete kung-fu mode.  Unfortunately, you can't reason with a child that young that he needs to have the testing and that it is actually for his own good.

After dragging him in by his arms, the woman who took Miles back to his room was African American. Miles is scared to death African American women. The darker a woman is, the more terrified he is. When he first came home and we were around black women, he would shake and throw fits. He’s gotten a little better about it recently. He now just closes his eyes when he’s around black women. He doesn’t do any of this with African American men or other black children- just women. So we are led to believe that there is some underlying trauma or abuse that he is not able to verbalize and that causes him to panic around black women.


So not only was Miles hungry and at the doctor, but he was being looked after by a gorgeous black woman. It all just proved to be too much and Miles went on a rampage more severe than anything I’ve ever seen. He started beating his head on the concrete wall over and over again. He climbed up on a chair and threw himself off. He was shrieking and screaming. He was clawing at his skin. He had no regard for the pain he was inflicting on himself. All he knew to do to deal with how overwhelming the situation was was to hurt himself. By this point, several nurses came in to try to help us. I tried several times to pick him up and help him get control of himself. He wouldn’t even let me get within a few feet of him. I thought that maybe it was just because we have had kind of a tumultuous relationship that he just didn’t want me. He never wants me when he’s hurting. So I explained our attatchment issues briefly to the nurses (who were very understanding) and asked them if they could try to hold Miles and calm him down so that he would quit hurting himself. One of the nurses walked over to him. He let her get a lot closer than I’d been able to. She bent down while talking to him very calmly and for a split second, I thought that he was going to let her pick him up. Instead, that tiny little boy reared his arm back and punch her right in the nose with a crazy amount of force for a child his size. I think that it caught her off guard and she stepped back holding her nose. Miles took the fury to another level.

Finally, the nurses had to come into the room with strips of blankets and they cornered him and wrapped him up tight with the blankets with his arms confined down to his sides- like a straight jacket. Then they gave him a tranquilizer and an amnesiac. It didn’t take him long at that point to be knocked out, so they took him back for the MRI.

When they came in to wrap him up- I just had to walk out of the room. I couldn’t take watching my son like that. The only words I can think to describe him in that state is to say that it was like watching a caged animal. His reactions were so primal. It was so heartbreaking because I know that in his former life ( most likely in the 16 months before he got to the orphanage) he probably had to act like that or watch other people act like that just to survive. I saw those nurses walk in with those blankets and tranqualizers and I couldn’t help but flash forward 20 years. I could see my Miles as a grown up being sedated and institutionalized- and it strengthened my resolve to do everything I can to help my child heal. It still blows my mind how much damage can happen to a child psychologically when they are abandoned at such a young age. That loss and the fear that it invokes manifests itself in some strange ways.

Miraculously, they found that anatomically everything is okay with his eyes- no tumors and no nerve disorders. There is still some vision testing that needs to be done, but we are holding off on it for the time being. Blessedly, the amnesiac they gave Miles did its job and he came out of the MRI not remembering a thing. I can’t help but wish there was something that he could be given to help him forget those first two years of life…

Thankfully, most days are not like this and most manifestations of his trauma are not this severe.   Luckily, the days like this are coming less and less.  And when Miles gets in a rut, he doesn't stay there as long as he used to.  There are miles to go, but I see so much progress.  There is hope.

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