Heart Dads and PTSD
Can dads experience PTSD while their child recovers from intense heart surgery? In short, yes.
You’ve read this blog, and you might be going through it yourself, so I don’t have to tell you that having a heart baby is tough. You get this diagnosis (if they even find it early), learn all about this CHD, then you’re faced with this grueling 7-hour wait while your 5-pound baby goes through a very serious heart surgery. Then you see him struggle for many, many weeks with his chest open and a machine doing his breathing. It becomes your life, and yet somehow your old life still continues outside that hospital room.
You have to go back to work and deal with people and their issues. Man I remember going back to work…I wasn’t ready. I was this grizzly bear/Incredible Hulk hybrid just waiting to tear someone’s head off. It was tough. I didn’t want to be at work, I wanted to be with my son…and even then I could do NOTHING to make him better. Just hours of sitting there and praying that he would be ok, that he would get strong and grow up to be whatever he wanted.
There was a time, here and there, that I had trouble sleeping because of bad dreams or bad fears. There were times I felt like I was about to lose my mind. The good thing is that Nolan had some REALLY great doctors and nurses on his side, and they did a lot to keep me assured and comfortable. I had a chaplain I used to work with remind me to count my blessings. And it worked: Nolan turned the corner and I started to feel a little bit more in control. There were days leading up to his 2nd surgery where I could feel the worry creep back, but his surgery went well…and even a trip back to the CVICU wasn’t bad because he was in there for less than a day and his recovery overall was quick.
Around the holidays, my wife and I delivered some care packages to CVICU and that’s where a few things came back, it’s amazing. The smells, the sounds…I started to feel a little uncomfortable and sweaty. It was a totally weird feeling because I was there to do something good, but I was suddenly reminded of those very long days and nights. I’ve since been able to go back to CVICU without a problem.
So yes, I do think heart dads can suffer from PTSD: this is the most intense, fearful thing a guy can possibly go through. I know PTSD is usually associated with war – and that’s true – but it can also show up in so many other instances as well.
This is a REALLY great article about the subject: http://smallbeats.childrensomaha.org/can-parents-experience-ptsd-childs-heart-condition-part-1/ and I wanted to highlight one interesting tidbit:
So yes, it happens. And it’s nothing to be afraid of. I encourage you to be honest with how you feel about your heart warrior’s process. It’s part of why I started this blog: it’s a way to share and get those things out. I encourage you to find a really good support system: family, friends, church, whatever…as long as it’s healthy. And connect with other heart parents, too…that’s why I’m here!
Nowadays I don’t feel like I did that one day at CVICU. In fact, I get the opportunity to share those experiences with people as part of my job and I’m thankful for that opportunity. Yes, sometimes I get bummed that Nolan has HLHS and I just wish he didn’t have it, or I just wish he didn’t have another surgery to go. But I’m also really thankful he’s with us and that I get to see him walk around, eat some food, be silly, and try to climb on me. Those things definitely outweigh the bad.