Seventeen years ago this week I almost died. I’ve written about it in bits and pieces over the years, and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so. It was a defining moment in my life.
Because of a genetic disorder, the vessels in my body are weak and prone to tears. At times the tears are minor and easily fixed, in my legs, in my nasal cavity. At times they are more significant, in my brain, in my heart.
An aortic dissection, a tear in the inner lining of the largest vessel in our body, causes significant internal bleeding and needs immediate and significant intervention to prevent death.
That’s what happened 17 years ago this week. I told that story a few years ago, but today the story on my mind is what happened 3 months later.
I noticed on a Saturday that my arm was cold to the touch. Weird. Sunday was the same. By Monday a friend whose brother-in-law is a doctor told me that I needed to get it checked out. Fine. I’m stubborn, but I’d learned the hard way to check it out when something is off.
It turned out that I had a new dissection. This one was in my brachial artery. I had no blood flow to my arm, no pulse could be found. I ended up in the hospital for more days for this far less serious condition that for the open heart surgery months earlier.
My friend saved my arm.
I know now that the tear in my brachial dissection was a secondary trauma. The vessels in my body were impacted by what happened in my aorta.
It’s all connected. Physical trauma has an impact beyond the original crisis.
So does emotional trauma.
For the last year, we have all been experiencing a trauma. Some people have suffered physically. Some people have suffered financially. Everyone has suffered emotionally.
We can see a light ahead. Vaccinations are rolling out. We are learning how to safely navigate the world.
But there will be secondary trauma.
As we emerge from the emergency response to the pandemic, we will have to address the long-term impacts. Be it learning loss (or unfinished learning or learning gaps or whatever we choose to label it) or bankruptcies or the very real health issues that are lingering for many, there will be secondary trauma.
My brachial taught me this.
It also taught me that it can be overcome. It taught me not to spend too much time admiring the trauma. Assess the reality of the situation and get to work addressing it.
Make a plan.
Be honest and realistic about what you need.
Recovery is never really over. We learn how to manage and more importantly how to thrive in spite of (and sometimes even because of) our experiences. They become part of who we are. It’s all connected.
My brachial artery taught me that.