October 31st haunts me because of memories, not Halloween

October 31st, Halloween–a favorite holiday for not only children but for many adults too. I used to love Halloween, even when it was cold or raining (okay, maybe only liked a little on those days). I remember taking my own children around trick or treating hoping that they would get lots of Kit Kat candy bars (my favorite before being gluten-free) so that I could “borrow them” when they went to bed. I wonder if they ever knew. As my children became adults and no longer went out to “trick or treat” I still loved that holiday. It was my opportunity to see the neighborhood children dress up in their costumes, remembering many of them from years past, growing up before my eyes.boo

Halloween has a different memory for me now because it is the anniversary of my son’s brain surgery to remove a tumor. It has been two years now and he is doing well. I am thankful everyday that my son is healthy with little effects from the brain tumor/surgery, I know others have not been as fortunate. Why is this holiday difficult for me since my son is doing so well? The answer can be said with one word…memories.

It’s strange how some memories in my life are very faint, barely able to recall yet others are etched so deep in my brain they are never forgotten, as much as I try to forget them. I can remember going on vacations, but not all the places I visited; I can remember some friends I grew up with but not others; I can remember I had kidney cancer but I cannot remember the date I became cancer free; yet I remember every single detail of my son’s health crisis.

I remember anxiously waiting for what was supposed to be a 6 hour surgery taking 11 excruciating hours; I remember the smell and the sounds of the ICU; I remember witnessing my son’s grand mal seizure and then 31 more seizures in a 4 hour time period, I remember feeling completely helpless wishing I could put him in my arms, kiss his forehead, and tell him everything was going to be okay. I remember every second, minute, hour, day, week and months of this experience. How ironic that there are many things I wish I could remember while this is the one thing I wish I could forget…or at least remember what happened but forget the feelings of utter fear and helplessness that creeps in with all these memories. Thankfully, my son has very little memory of his immediate post-op recovery– I am so grateful for that.

I expected that I would be uneasy for a short while after his recovery, after all, he is my son and I witnessed some upsetting things, but I never anticipated that these memories would continue to haunt me. I worked as a hospital nurse for 18 years before becoming a nurse practitioner so I have cared for patients having seizures, patients after having heart surgery, patients whose hearts stopped and needed to be revived. I have witnessed life and death and have been fine–BUT THIS IS MY CHILD.

Now, when certain events happen, these memories and its associated feelings get triggered and fear overtakes me. Triggers such as hearing the word brain tumor, listening to the beeps of the machines when I see patients in the hospital, flying to the Los Angeles because that is where he was. Last spring I flew to Los Angeles and was perfectly fine until the plane landed, I started to cry and my heart was pounding…this was 19 months after his surgery. How could someone like me, a health professional, experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?


Image by Julie Teninbaum

I completely understand that my son is doing great, but this does not stop these feelings, especially near the anniversary of his surgery. When people tell me that I should stop worrying and that I should not be bothered by it anymore since he is doing wonderfully only makes me sad and angry. I just want to hit my hand on my forehead like the V8 commercials and say, “Oh my God, you’re right, I didn’t think of that”. I intellectually know he is well, but the emotions associated with this experience are so strong they overpower the reality of it all.

I decided to share my story because I know there are other people reading this that are suffering from their own terrifying experience and do not know what to do other than hoping it will just go away on its own. First and most important, you are not alone and there are treatments out there so that you can overcome this.  I implore you to seek help with a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or your own health care provider. I see a psychologist and I can tell you first hand that our work together has helped me so much. The anniversaries are difficult, but the days between have gotten better. I hope my story will encourage those that are struggling to get the help they need, after all why wait until tomorrow when you can start feeling better today.

If you are interested in reading about my son’s health crisis through my eyes, here are the links to my personal journey.

My Journey to Clarity, a Genuine Thanksgiving—The Beginning

My Journey to Clarity, a Genuine Thanksgiving—The Surgery

My Journey to Clarity, a Genuine Thanksgiving–Watching My Son Recover from Brain Surgery

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    Nancy Chodash

    I am a nurse practitioner who not only treats patients, but has had chronic illnesses including cancer so I understand how frustrating medicine can be. But through all this, I have never lost my sense of humor and my ability to make people laugh. I love to cook, and since becoming gluten-free a year ago, I have recipes for everyone's tastes whether it be healthy, decadent, vegetarian, or gluten-free. My philosophy is all about health, food, laughter and life!

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