Articles/Trauma Sensitivity/The Day I Couldn't Make a Coffee!

Tuesday, 23 March 2022

Linda-maree Conyard

‼ Trigger warning: This content may be triggering. Please take care of yourself as you engage in my story.

Present time!

I work as a professional therapist resolving trauma and transgenerational trauma with my clients. As well as educating leaders along with their executives on becoming trauma-sensitive and how to create Compassionate Empowered Workplaces.

I'm someone who has done at least 150 hours of my own personal trauma recovery work. Above those hours are the required hours of supervision to maintain my current membership with my overarching organisation for my profession. I continue to do my own inner work to this day, and I will always be seeking personal development for myself.

I consider myself pretty together nowadays, but that certainly wasn't always the case. I'd love to share some of my insights and learnings from my own trauma and subsequent recovery.

Rewind to 1988/89….

I don't remember a lot about this day, which speaks volumes about the amount of trauma I experienced. I share this experience in the hope that I can help others understand or make sense of their own similar experience/s.

A little bit of the back story…

My second baby, a daughter, was born in April 1988. She was a chubby, happy, and apparently healthy little baby. When she was first born, she had puffy eyes, and I asked the nurse what that was from. She answered with, "she must have got some of the fluid in her eyes during the birth process." That made sense to me, yet I still had a bit of niggle inside me that something wasn't quite right.

When she was about 3 months old, I visited my Mum, and while there, I took my daughter to two doctors because she cried/screamed when I fed her from the left breast. I described it as if she had a sore face. The doctors did their regular checks of her nose, ears, and throat, to which nothing showed up. I knew there was something wrong but didn't know who to see or what it actually was. I knew it had to do with her face.

During our 6-month check-up with our local baby clinic, the nurse suggested that usually, by now, any turn in an eye would have rectified itself. I also mentioned the trouble I had on our holiday. She suggested I get it checked by a doctor. I went from there down to the local doctor. I have a vague memory his examination entailed the same checks as I went through while at Mum's place. Still, he didn't recognize what he saw because I had to wait two weeks to see a specialist.

The day to see the specialist arrived, and OMG that day, my whole being was edgy! I found it hard to sit still, impossible to concentrate, and I felt a sense of dread. The specialist we saw, I will never forget his face as he had to tell us what he found. He was so kind and gentle, and I could see how difficult it was for him. He said some words to the effect of your baby has cancer in her eye. I said, straight back to him, "Is it in both eyes"? He really didn't want to tell me (but I already knew at some level), he finally said "Yes." The next question I shot at him was, "Is she going to die." Poor bloke – I felt the immense discomfort he was in. I have no idea what his response was. I now know I had dissociated.

Then we went on the whirlwind ride of cancer and the medical model. That's another story for another time.

The treatment

I didn't even know that babies got cancer!!!! At the ripe young age of 7 months, part of the treatment my baby had to endure was radiotherapy. Because she was a baby and unable to stay still, she had to have a light general anaesthetic 5 days a week for a month.

I just want to take a moment here to talk about the trauma caused by the medical staff. Each week for the anaesthetic, we would have a different doctor administer it to our baby. The first woman was an Indian doctor who was beautiful and caring. She hated giving the needle to my baby and discovered that she needed a bit more by the third day because my daughter would fight it. She told me to let the other doctors know, so the little one doesn't have to have two needles. So lovely, right!

Of course, I let the next doctor know what she said, and OMG, he was arrogant and thought he knew everything. Because he didn't listen, my poor little baby had to have an extra needle. Even if he didn't want to listen to me, I said, read the previous doctor's notes. I was sooooooo ANGRY! This is what I now call UNnecessary trauma. These two experiences are like chalk and cheese. One is healing, and the other is harming and traumatising.

When my daughter was in the recovery room coming out of the anaesthetic, she would be screaming and fighting, so much so that I could hardly hold her to comfort her. I mentioned it to one of these anaesthesists, who promptly told me that adults hallucinate from this drug, but children don't. I was a traumatised mother and not a doctor, and even I knew that was BS! I invited him to come up to recovery and witness my daughter come out of this drug and then tell me that she didn't have the same experience as an adult. Yep, you guessed it, he was a no-show! Decided to hold onto his ignorance. Another example of UNnecessary trauma!

There are many, many more stories like these that made me so angry and helpless. These experiences fuelled my desire to study and research trauma. It led me to create education for professionals in the medical model, education model, legal model, and government about trauma sensitivity and UNnecessary trauma. It will take time for our systems and organisations to see the value of understanding how trauma impacts both their own lives and those they contact through their work. My mission is to eliminate UNnecessary trauma, and I will continue to work toward this being standard training for these professionals.

Ok, back to the original story….

In the third week of having an anaesthetic every day for 5 days a week, my daughter had a reaction to the drug and stopped breathing. That very morning the lovely nurse in recovery, who we had come to know well, was doing her routine checks, which happened to include the resuscitation equipment. We had been chatting about it before my daughter returned from the theatre.

Like every other day, we would be sitting next to her as she came out of the anaesthetic. There was no sound, but my attention was grabbed by my baby. I stood up to see her turning blue before my eyes. I yelled to the nurse that there was something wrong. She yelled for help (she was the only one in recovery). I grabbed the oxygen off the wall (responding to her instruction). My husband says he had been trying to open her mouth to resuscitate her. I was just looking at this and thought I decided to not stay and watch her die (I now know that was the trauma response of flight). As I left, I called for help into the intercom. Apparently, I passed doctors coming through the door as I left, but I truly do not remember seeing them.

I went outside the recovery room and leaned against a wall with my knees uncontrollably shaking (I now know this was tremoring and how the body releases the charge from the trauma). I was aware I slid down the wall to a squatting position because I couldn't hold myself up. I remember a nurse passing and asking if I was ok, and I said yes. She suggested I make a cup of coffee in the parent's room just next to me and kept going on her wall. I imagine it would have been clear I was so not ok.

I went into the room, and I could recognise everything; the coffee, the sugar, the hot water, the cups, the milk, and I could not work out how to put it together. I just stood looking at it all, trying to figure out what to do next. I dropped the idea of coffee and went back to the wall outside.

Another nurse walked past, and I asked her to go in and see if my child was alive. I can't recall much after that. I know we had to stay a lot longer to ensure she was ok before we went home that day. I have very intermittent memories but not much. Harvey says, "Trauma survivors have symptoms instead of memories."

It didn't end there!

When we finally got to leave the hospital, we had quite a drive. We were at Randwick in Sydney and had to head out to the Blue Mountains. We were on the highway, and we got a flat tyre. I know! What the hell. As if it hadn't been a bad enough day. It was hot, my baby wasn't happy, and we were all done.

My husband got out and couldn't work out how to use the jack (that was his trauma kicking in, his logical brain was offline), so we had to call the NRMA for roadside assistance. We waited hours for them in the heat and unhappiness. I was also thinking of my other little two-year-old at home with one of her grandmothers' and us running so late.

Finally, we were on our way home…again!

My husband said we had better put the tyre in for repair because we had another week and a bit of travelling into Randwick Hospital.

Then if that wasn't enough...he accidentally locked the keys in the car's boot! He lost it and was so angry; I was hysterically laughing at this stage as we walked over a kilometre up the road to home so he could get the spare keys.

I was so glad when that day was over. And I didn't have much left for my little one at home, who just wanted to jump on my lap and was so happy to see me.

Here's the learning!

My inability to make a coffee, my husband not being able to work the jack, and locking the keys in the car's boot all happened because the part of our brain responsible for thinking and reasoning was offline due to the trauma. We were operating from the survival part of our brains. I didn't come to understand this until nearly 25 years after this experience.

I saw Bessel van der Kolk talk where he had slides of thermal images of a person's brain when their trauma was triggered; the only lit-up area was right at the base of the skull. There was an image of this same person when his trauma was not triggered, and there were many lit-up areas in his brain. This really impacted me, and I knew exactly what not having access to any part of your brain except that survival part felt like.

Trauma recovery work helps us stay out of that part of our brain if we operate from there, but the threat or danger is gone. We are only meant to be in this part of our brain if we are threatened. We are not meant to be in this state for a prolonged time unless we are actually under threat for a prolonged period.

You would be surprised to know the number of people I see who live their lives in this space. I used to be one of them!

If you resonate with my story, please seek help from a professional who has good skills in trauma recovery. Make sure you interview them and ask about their qualifications and how much work they have done on themselves. If they don't do their own work, I wouldn't work with them.

You can recover from trauma! I love this quote by Peter Levine, "Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, need to be a life sentence". I loved his book 'Waking the Tiger.' While reading it (during my Master of Gestalt), I realised I had lived a lifetime of trauma. It was also what motivated me to use the precious time and required therapy hours (minimum of 10 hours a year, I did 20 hours a year, which was 80 hours of personal therapy during my degree) to recover from my trauma.

A final word ~

I can see how my lived experiences of unresolved trauma led to healing them. I can see how these experiences have given me a deep understanding of what it feels like to be a traumatised person and how easily it can be triggered. I became the therapist I was seeking and know what it's like to sit in the chair and do the inner work.

If what I've shared here makes sense of some of your experiences of trauma responses, I am happy. Once we begin to understand how we respond to trauma, we begin to make sense of our lives. It's like we can breathe out for the first time in a very long time.

If you are looking to resolve difficulties in your life that you can't quite make sense of, you may be interested in my program, Transformative Alchemy: Inhabit the Body, Liberate the Mind.

I love hearing from you and receiving your updates, so please keep them coming.

May you be well, may you be happy, and may you have inner peace.

Linda ♡

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