Thursday, May 11, 2006

More Anxious Moments...

When working with patient’s with anxiety or self-esteem issues it always interests me how it is rarely it is the big stuff that is troublesome. Many people report what I call the “5am Horrors” – the early morning wakening where the brain replays over and over in every tiny and painful detail each social faux-pas from the night before. The alleged social faux-pas, of course, went unnoticed by everyone except for the wide-awake perpetrator themselves.

When I was a casualty nurse, we’d regularly be faced with high-stress, high-risk scenarios that would result in something heroic, something horrific, something miraculous or something that was just fucking horrible. I remember one situation in particular with a horrifically injured victim from a traffic accident – chances of survival were small, but our experienced and highly trained team did our best. It strikes me as funny how people watch these scenarios played out on TV shows, and enjoy watching that.

We did it for real.

So, it was a tense, and admittedly exciting, 45 minutes that proved futile and the patient died. The team quickly moved on to the next scenario, whilst a colleague and myself cleared up the body and the mess and quickly prepared the trauma room for the next patient.

As we cleaned up, I could see that my colleague was upset and so I enquired what was wrong. “I think John [one of the doctors] thinks I am no good.” She told me. I enquired further as I knew for certain that this wasn’t the case at all (actually, the previous day he had been telling me how much he fancied her). “It was a look he gave me…”

So despite the blood, the screaming and the gore, the horror of the situation and the fatality of a young woman, it was none of this that affected my colleague. This stuff rarely did affect any of us. No. What affected her was a “look” that may have lasted just a fraction of a moment from one of the doctors. It went on to bug her for days.

Sometimes staff would berate themselves or give themselves a really hard time because in the pressure they’d opened the wrong ampoule, reached for the wrong bit of kit, or fumbled something – all inconsequential stuff – but these were the things that played on people’s minds.

It was during this time in my life that I’d started training as a psychotherapist and so had started noticing this stuff. In one of my own sessions of introspection, I realised one of the most defining moments in my emotional life – I was 7-years-old and something happened that had so emotionally traumatised me, I was still significantly affected as an adult.

It was lunchtime and I was playing marbles in the playground with my friend, Paul Waterman. Then the whistle blew and it was our turn to queue up to go into the dining hall to eat our packed lunch. As we were filing in and being directed to our seats, I realised that I didn’t actually have my lunch. In fact, as I struggled to remember where it was, I couldn’t recall even having seen it at all that day. I grew into a panic, and was trying to work out what to do before I sat down…I couldn’t come up with anything and my panic grew and grew until I exploded into a blubbing and hysterical wreck.

I can imagine now that those dinner ladies were trying their best to work out what could possibly have happened for a child to have such an emotional eruption in the dinner queue. One of the girls explained that I didn’t have my lunch and so I was picked up from the “packed lunch table” and put into the queue for the school dinners.

Now, this was even worse as I didn’t do school dinners, this just wasn’t what I did, and so my freak-out grew far, far worse.

Eventually, one of the teachers came and got me to remove me from the hall. It was at that moment when every kid and adult in the place is staring at me that I realised...

…I was carrying my packed lunch in my hand.

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