Only in the last 10-15 years have professional's started to look at the impact of
hospitalization on children with life threatening illness and how it could leave a lasting impact if not treated.
Through a series of synchronistic events I discovered that a hospitalization at age 4 left me with PTSD. I will talk more about this later in this post.
When children are hospitalized the focus is on getting them well, and little to no attention is placed on how they feel about it what is happening/did happen to them.
"The meaning and experience of injury, illness and medical care are complex. Cultural, religious and developmental considerations are extremely important. Individuals have sought to make sense of sudden life-threatening injuries and illnesses across centuries. When severe illness strikes a child, additional layers of complexity are involved for families and communities. The subjective perception of such constructs as disease, pain, disability and death are strongly informed by a child's developmental level, by their religious and cultural backgrounds and by their families and care givers response. How each of these things is handle affects symptoms and recovery. Developmental issues must be considered. The meaning of an illness or injury, and its treatment, is very different for an infant and toddler, a pre-schooler, a school age child and an adolescent. " Research Quarterly Spring 2003
There are key factors that set a child up for possible PTSD due to hospitalization; the child's developmental age, religious and cultural backgrounds and the caregivers response; engagement or lack of engagement.
1) Trauma effects your core belief systems
Our core beliefs drive our behavior 100% whether they are conscious or unconscious. Before the trauma we believe the world is safe and that we will be taken care of. During and after the trauma we feel fearful and powerless. Children who experience medical trauma don't have the brain development to make sense out of what happened so they often make up what they think it means. That is what I did.
2)-Trauma changes the meaning of who you are.
Because the brain is not fully developed and capable of interpreting the situation the brain makes correlations to create meaning out of the traumatic situation. Because this happened it means I am worthless or deserve what happen are common translations in the child's mind.
3-Trauma changes your story
For example: a child believes that they are safe and their parents will protect them from harm or even take it away. They believe that they are worthy of good things and feel happy with life. After a life threatening trauma their story is about survival, about bad things happening, about being afraid, about being bad.
4-Trauma changes your identity
This is a major factor in childhood trauma of any kind. Where the child was once living a happy-go-lucky, magical life where everything was fun because they were good and deserving the identity changes to the unconscious program that was created out of the trauma. This program is based on being afraid, fearful that more bad things will happen, feeling helpless, thinking you are going to die and so on. Because it is unconscious the child grows into an adult and isn't even away that they respond to life out of a trauma program.
This is especially children who where hospitalize with life threatening illness. Everyone is so busy being happy that they recovered that they don't even think that this might have been a traumatic experience for the child. No one talks about that aspect and neither does the child. When asked 95% of children felt that their lives had been in danger or felt horrified and helpless but said nothing to their parents.
In one recent study it was determined that 30% of children hospitalized had significant post-traumatic symptomology and 12 % had full blown PTSD.
One of the surprising factors was the influence of the parents reaction.
"Parents serve as a very important buffer for children when children are faced with stresses of various kinds. When parents are doing well they can buffer stress quite well for children and the opposite is also true. The failure of the caregiver to sufficiently protect a child may be experienced as betrayal. If PTSD continues the neurophysicalogical responses remain chronically aroused, and the amygdala is firing all of the time. The child goes through life unconsciously looking for clues to support the story that was created out of the trauma.
The two key factors in whether a child will develop PTSD is developmental age and parental response to the incident. It is much easier for a teenager and an adult to understand what is happening to them than it is for say a 4 year old.
In my case both of those factors were at play.
I want to preface my story with the fact that I have been on a path of personal development and expanding consciousness for 30 years. I have spent years discovering who I am and feel I know myself quite well as a result. On the other hand something always got in the way of my attaining the level of success I desired.
Like I said earlier it took a series of what I see as divinely guided events to show me that I was suffering from PTSD. This was strange to me because I have worked with people with PTSD for 25 years and never made the connection with myself because my trauma was the result of being in the hospital.
So here is my story. When I was 4 years old, I went into a fibral seizure which was later determined to be the result of a high fever. I was rushed to the hospital. At that time hospitals were still using straight jackets/restrains to hold people face down so they did not swallow their tongues during the seizure. Not only was I tied face down but I was in a large crib with bars. That was traumatic in and of itself but more impactful was the fact that while I was in the hospital for 4 days, my mother did not come to see me.
I won't go into the details of the unconscious complex that I have discovered was created by this incident, but as you can see the key factors for developing PTSD were all present. I was terrified that I was going to die, I felt terribly alone and very afraid and the person I needed the most did not come to be with me and support me. I am starting hypnotherapy this week to release myself from what I created as a child.
It is my hope that more and more care is taken to support children on an emotional level while they are hospitalized with life threatening illnesses. I would hope that some kind of play therapy be provided and the insistence on parental support. Children don't have to suffer a second trauma when they are already traumatized by being sick.