How to Help When PF-related Trauma Shows Up Unexpectedly
It’s hard to forget traumatic events. Even if we’re not directly involved, these moments often become ingrained in our psyche.
When we face trauma firsthand, we tend to remember many of the sensory experiences connected to the event. My most traumatic experience was being intubated after an exacerbation of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). I vividly remember the sights, sounds, smells, and physical sensations. I’ve been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.
As most people with PTSD will tell you, triggers can occur unexpectedly. We may respond by crying, screaming, withdrawing, or being unable to focus. Our body could also react by jumping or swinging our arms or legs. Watching someone respond to a trigger can be frightening, but we don’t mean to scare or hurt anyone; our body is just reacting.
Personally, I am triggered by loud and unexpected noises, especially overhead announcements in grocery or department stores, which remind me of code blue calls in the hospital. Despite being unconscious or heavily sedated while I was intubated, I somehow heard those emergency alerts.
I was recently in the emergency room after accidentally inhaling secondhand smoke, and was unexpectedly triggered by an overhead page. Thankfully, I was with a former supervisor who knew how to help my mind and body handle the trauma response. Following are a few ways she helped me through it.
Activating a pressure point
Applying pressure to certain spots on our body can help ground us and bring the mind back to a focus point. It can bring someone out of a PTSD flashback by forcing the body to respond to a physical sensation. My supervisor slowly moved her hand toward mine, ensuring she made no sudden movements, and applied pressure to the thin layer of skin between my thumb and index finger. It didn’t cause me any discomfort, but it’s the first thing I remember feeling amid my panic.
Placing a hand on the back
As long as it’s safe to do so, having someone put their hand on your back during a trauma response allows them to communicate nonverbally that they are with you. In my moment of panic in the ER, this helped remind me that I wasn’t alone, and my supervisor was with me.
Encourage use of the senses
This technique can be used during a trauma response or with those experiencing overstimulation. I often use it in my clinical practice as a therapist. When you have determined that a person can follow verbal commands, quietly ask them to use their senses to describe what they can see, smell, feel, and so on. This forces the mind into the present, helping someone focus on the current moment rather than the traumatic event.
Unfortunately for those of us living with IPF, it can be counterproductive to encourage deep breathing, as this can often trigger a cough. However, this strategy can help someone without a lung disease through a trauma response or anxiety attack.
In the ER, I was grateful that my supervisor knew how to help me when my PF-related trauma showed up unexpectedly, but I know others won’t always be that fortunate. In addition to these tips, I recommend fellow PF News writer Christie Patient’s column about the importance of talking about trauma.
In hindsight, I’m also grateful that I was vulnerable and talked with my supervisor about my trauma triggers prior to a hospital visit. This enabled her to be aware of how I might respond to a code being called.
Have you experienced PF-related trauma? If so, what helps you in the moment? Please share in the comments below.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.