Surgery PTSD: Trading one trauma for another

I had my gallbladder removed laparoscopically this past September. They said I had one stone as big as a ping-pong ball and a bunch of little stones in there with it. Essentially, they pulled a full dice bag out through my belly button. Even though I was out for the whole procedure, I still have nightmares and flashbacks of my time in the hospital, to the point where I can remember the smell of the room, the sounds and the tinny resonance of voices because of all the white noise and beeps from the small army of machines they had in there.

The smell was the worst. Antiseptic, sweet (but the wrong kind that sticks in the back of your throat), tacky and dead. It was cold in there. The slab was in the rough shape of a human body. I think I would have been more comforted if it was rectangular and shapeless like most beds. This had arms that ran out from either side and a head cradle. The lights were weird. Instead of bulbs alone, each light source had something that looked like a tiny mirror so it was bright and dull at the same time, making everything look white and blue. Everything was white and blue, even the staff. Little wisps of hair peeked out from the caps around their temples. The spot of hair you can never get fully into a wig or cap. It was the only color aside from their skin tones that I saw.

I walked to the OR. I felt like I was walking to the gallows. Most of my life I’ve had a deep fear of doctors, blood and needles, and after my father’s death it exploded into a full-on phobia. If I can keep away from any of that, I do. I skip doctor visits, put off vaccine updates, opt for pills or bandages instead of injections. If I can heal it myself, I will, even if it means a scar or long term lingering effects. I do whatever I can to keep out of the doctor’s office and having surgery feels like…death. Or worse.
When I was 18 I had a cyst on the end of my spine which made it misery to sit down or lie on my back. I went to the doctor to get treatment and was told it was just a bruise and to take some ibuprofen, which I did. Days later, I was strapped face down on a gurney with an IV in my arm and my skin being sliced open with scalpels and needles. They said they had given me a local to knock me out. It didn’t work. They gave me more. It didn’t work. And more and more until my blood pressure was so low that they could have killed me. I could still feel the cutting and slicing and stabbing. Surgery without painkillers, without anything to make me black out. I lived, awake and screaming, through the whole thing for upwards of an hour. I don’t know why they didn’t stop when I begged them to at the beginning. I even said, “I’m not out yet,” many times before they started butchering me. Needless to say this did not help my phobia of all things medical.

When I was told I needed my gallbladder out because of stones back in 2008, I refused. It wasn’t life threatening and I didn’t have most of the symptoms of gallbladder disease that would put me at crisis level. For the next seven years the list of what I could eat got shorter and shorter. The times when my gallbladder would go into acute crisis were extraordinarily painful. When your gallbladder tries to empty out to aid with digestion, it squeezes to pour the bile into the ducts that carry it to your stomach. If there are stones in there, they can block the entrance and prevent the bile from leaving. There’s also the possibility of having the bile backwash from the stomach back into the bladder. This can happen from 4 to 6 hours at a time, usually at night when you’re trying to sleep, and feels like a sword being driven through your back and turned like a pig on a spit. At the same time, gas swells in your stomach and pushes it so it extends out and acid flows back and forth, causing nausea. Sometimes there is a sensation of barbed wire inside you, twisting. All this happens for 4 to 6 hours. (I know I said that already but it bears repeating.) I dealt with this on a weekly basis for 7 years. Some weeks were better than others. There were a few months where it didn’t bother me at all! This was short lived. Toward the end, I was in pain every day. After it was out I realized that I had actually been in pain every day for 7 years and just got used to it. You’d think getting it removed would be a cause for celebration, and for a while it was! I was looking forward to the promises:

  • Eat what you want
  • No more pain
  • No worrying about food
  • No worrying about the organ going sceptic

Often I do enjoy being free from worrying if the next bite will keep me up all night, but the trauma from the surgery still haunts me. The painkillers they gave me made me hallucinate and gave me nightmares. I stopped taking them but I still have the barrage of grisly images when I close my eyes. Some nights I wake up thrashing or screaming because I’ve seen my fingers blended when making a smoothie, or cutting off my cats legs when I’m supposed to be cutting vegetables. One night recently I had a dream that I left scissors in bed and my husband was stabbed by them. I could actually smell the blood even after I woke up. I started pressing on him, tossing the sheets, looking for the wound and he woke up, asking “What are you doing? Stop!”

“I’m trying to stop the bleeding!” I sobbed wearily, “you’ll bleed out!”

“Hon, you’re dreaming. Stop.” He had to grab my wrist to wake me up fully. I didn’t go back to sleep for almost an hour after that.

Getting back to my old self has been hard. The physical pain has been enough of a problem, even though my doctor said I was healing very well and the scars are going down. He did a hell of a job considering the size of the problem, but the mental trauma is still crippling. My therapist is helping me through it. I still refuse to get my flu shot, more willing to put up with the actual flu than get stuck. Injections, no matter how much I relax, hurt for a week after I get them. The tetanus shots I need every 10 years hurt for almost 3 weeks afterwards and includes nausea and dizziness, but I’ve seen what happens if I don’t get it, and it’s worse. That will land me in the hospital.

For most people, phobias are of heights or bugs or something that can be avoided. If you fear flying you can take a train or a car. If you fear dogs you can live in a pet free building or work from home. You can’t avoid the doctor if you want to life a long life, and sometimes you don’t have a say if social services gets involved. The hospital is also the last stop for many people. Unless you die right away in an accident, emergency services will take you to the, you guessed it, hospital to try to save your life.

Continued exposure to this kind of phobia has shown no progress in desensitizing me. In fact, the more exposure I get, the more afraid I become. I guess I’m glad to have the organ out, but I think the cure is worse than the disease, at least for now. To be honest, aside from the food thing, there is not much difference in my life. I just ended up trading one form of trauma for another.


The Snoopy Project: #1 Vermeer

I’ve decided to document the drawings I do at work on the dry erase board to make my co workers smile. Right now I’m doing a series of Snoopy drawings inspired by fine art paintings.


Snoopy with a Pearl Earring

Inspired by Girl with a Pearl Earring – Vermeer 1665

Updated: The Library

I started work on a story based on a memory my mother had back in Scotland growing up. I’m not sure how many of you knew that or how much any of you know about mom’s childhood. To say the least, I took liberties with the plot, but the essence of how she felt about The Library is accurate. When she used to tell me about the place I always saw it as something magical and alive. I hope that this first, very rough, very ugly draft catches some of that.

I’ll go through it about a hundred times more before I give her the finished piece and get her feedback on where I can fix the character development, but even after she saw the first crack at it when I had much less written down, she still was blown away. My goal is to get this in her hand, proofed, printed and hopefully published by her next birthday.

For those of you who would like to read the work as it gets hammered into shape, here’s the link to the perma-page. Any time I update you’ll see the alert in my feed stream. I hope you like it.

Pet Pictures 2014 (Plus Bonus Ghlaghghee Update)


Here’s Ghlaghghee resting in a papasan chair in the basement, which has, post congestive heart failure, become her favorite place to hang out. I’m fine with this because it’s only a few steps from the litter box, and given that the medicine we feed to her twice daily is a diuretic, this means that the incidence of Randomly Appearing Cat Pee is greatly lessened. Plus, she’s all comfy and cosy, and I like that. Sick kitty needs to be happy.

The good news is she’s still with us, which I would not have counted on a couple of weeks ago. The less good news is that for the rest of her life I’ll be shoving medicine down her throat twice a day, which means that two times daily she is very intensely pissed off at me for several seconds. Which is sad for both of us, but not as sad…

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A Note on New York Comic Con’s Anti-Harassment Policy


First, you literally cannot miss it — it’s on several human-sized signs right at the entrances to Javits Center (the other side of these signs say “Cosplay is not consent.” Second, the examples are clear and obvious and the policy is not constrained to only the examples — but enough’s there that you get the idea that NYCC is serious about this stuff. Third, it’s clear from the sign that NYCC also has a commitment to implementation and execution of the policy, with a harassment reporting button baked right into its phone app. This is, pretty much, how an anti-harassment policy should be implemented.

And as a result, did the floor of the Javits Center become a politically correct dystopia upon which the blood of innocent The True (and Therefore Male) Geeks was spilled by legions of Social Justice Warriors, who hooted their feminist victory to the rafters? Well, no…

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An Anti-Feminist Walks Into a Bar: A Play in Five Acts







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Dream Catcher WIP


Tamrind found himself standing in the middle of his bedroom in bare feet. Instead of the wooden floor he expected to feel, there was nothing, and yet that seemed as it should. He couldn’t remember how he got there or what he was listening for, but he knew there was something moving outside. He could sense it. Through the glass of the window he could see tiny green motes of light dancing to and fro. Fireflies drifted among the low branches of the rose bushes that grew under the sill. A shadow darted out from the thorns, disturbing the fireflies and scattering them about. It wasn’t one he had seen before. It shimmered.

When he turned away from the window his surroundings shifted from room to grassy field under a dusky sky. In the distance was a huge tree breaking up the horizon, reaching its branches skyward, and among the blades of grass were small darkened circles filled with firefly light, a greenish glow, leading him toward the lonely tree. His steps took him triple the distance than any normal footfall as he followed the luminous path. In moments he was looking up into the crown of branches at the champagne glass shaped leaves. Under his hands the bark felt soft to the touch, but there was no give under his fingers that one would expect. The fireflies wound around the tree spiraling upward from the ground into the overhead boughs, some of them dipping in an out of the leaves and shaking off bright blue drops of liquid.

Early summer was on the breeze lifting off the wildflowers and moss nestled in the cracks of the trunk, but Tamrind didn’t smell it. He just knew it was there.  The scape was soundless, not even the rustle of leaves in the night wind, gentle as it was. No one was to be found, but the vastness of the plains stretching in every direction with the champagne leaf tree the only thing to break up the monotony. Even the lighted path he followed from his room had vanished.

As he walked around the tree, tracing his hand along the bark and trying to avoid disturbing the little bugs, Tamrind came to a woven basket nestled among the roots. It was already half filled with acorns with a few scattered on the ground around it. He knelt down and reached for one of them. “Hey!” A voice from above backed at him. “Don’t touch those!”

Tamrind looked up into the boughs but count see anything but leaves and the inky sky peeking between them. “Uh, sorry?”

“You should be,” it sounded like a girl’s voice. “Those are mine. Go find your own.” He couldn’t see the girl, but he could see the branches shifting under her weight as she moved through the tree.

“Calm down. I wasn’t going to take them,” he said.

“Get out of my tree! What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I’m not—” He looked down at his feet and the ground far below, yelping as he scrambled to grab onto any branch within reach. “How did I get up here? What’s going on?” Tamrind’s face snapped around to hers. She was half his size, dark green curly hair cropped to her chin and sparkling in the low light, and she was dressed in what looked like cast off flower petals. “Who are—”

“I didn’t make this dream for you, human. Piss off!” she yelled. With both hands, the girl shoved him off the branch not giving Tamrind time to cry out. The pit of his stomach dropped hard before his world went black.

He opened his eyes with a start. Sunlight was streaming through his bedroom window warming up the pitcher of water on the nightstand next to his bed. Sheets were a tangled mess around his legs. It was just after dawn and the cloister clock would start to chime, calling everyone to the mess hall for breakfast. He rubbed his face with his hands and sighed. His head ached and his stomach felt tight for some reason. Another restless night and the morning didn’t promise to be any better. How many more nights would he have to endure sleepless, hopeless, dreamless.

The last thing he remembered was leaving a note on his rocking chair. He never expected an answer, because as far as he was concerned prayers were worthless. The gods had stopped listening years ago or maybe they never were in the first place. And yet, there was that little scrap of paper resting every night with one final plea, ‘Wake me if you’re out there…’