I have to be honest–it’s taken me awhile to write this because, well…trauma isn’t easy to admit. It embeds fear, causes intense anxiety, and cripples the world in which you previously lived.
My most recent experience with trauma has been particularly hard to share with others because, for those who don’t bond with pets, it is difficult for them to understand why this situation was so traumatic for me. And being vulnerable about pain, only to feel minimized, is one of the worst experiences for the wounded.
A couple weeks ago, I took my nine year old service dog, Half Pint, to the vet for a semi-routine procedure. Yes, it was surgery, but it was minor surgery and her previous experience with anesthesia showed no signs of complications. So I really had no reason to worry. And yet, I was anxious. The day before something just didn’t feel right. I wanted to cancel, but I couldn’t explain why. Attributing my anxiety to my intense love for this ball of fur, I brushed it aside by telling myself I was doing what was best for her.
I wish I would have trusted my instinct instead and cancelled.
Initially everything seemed to go well , but as we brought her home and the night went on, she started having this deep, wet cough like I’d never heard from her before. It seemed to almost make her legs go limp a time or two. It scared me, but I thought it was just the anesthetic wearing off. Still, I called the next morning to check in with the vet.
“She probably just has some tracheal irritation from intubation,” they told me. “Give it a few days and if it doesn’t go away, let us know.” I tried to trust the doctor and not to worry. Going to the kitchen to get her medication, I had barely turned my back when she started coughing again. I immediately went to the other room to help her, when she collapsed.
Panic overtook me. I picked her up to try and help her, hoping she would come to–and she did. But when she came to, she also let out a blood-curdling scream. A sound that I’ve never heard before and I never want to hear again. It scared me so badly that I screamed–a scream that even I didn’t know I possessed.
This began a long day of anxiety and fear.
After several consultations and transferring to another hospital, we ended up admitting her to critical care for aspirated pneumonia. I am grateful on two counts: one, because the first doctor told us she thought it was a heart problem, but after seeing a cardiologist, we confirmed that it was not. And two, because we knew she was at the best hospital getting the best care, and we had insurance to cover a good portion of the cost. But even in the midst of my gratitude, I knew I had been traumatized. In fact I told my wife flat out, “I think I might need therapy for this.”
To me, Half Pint isn’t just a dog or a pet…she’s been my companion when things got very dark in my life, she’s been the heartbeat that eagerly awaited my return home from each outing, she’s been my cuddle buddy during restless sleeps filled with nightmares, and she’s been the friend who stayed when everyone else walked out. As my service dog for the past five years, she has been a vital part of our family, and she has also been one of my very best friends.And that day, I thought my best friend was going to die in my arms. And I wasn’t ready.
Aside from the trauma of this particular experience, I also began recounting the other close calls we’ve had with loss recently. I just under a year’s time, we’ve had two other close calls, one with each pup, where we thought it was quite possible we were going to (or could have) lost them. They are our family. They are all that we have. And we love them immensely–like our furry kids.
But there was something even deeper. This also triggered for me the near loss of my dad in 2012. A situation that was also deeply traumatic due to the delicate nature of my recent coming out and the fact that his life was literally on the line. There was so much stress around the whole situation that I knew I operating in survival mode.
And now, these memories of “almost,” of how close we were to loosing him, of how terrifying it was to spend those sleepless nights alone by his bedside, came flooding back.
I call it the trauma of “almost.”
I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. The majority of the human race has at least some degree of their own “traumas of almost.” The time where a near fatal car accident, or a health diagnosis, or a surgery gone wrong, or an unexpected emergency almost drastically changes your life in an instant. Someone you dearly love, or perhaps even your own life, was almost taken from this world…and you were not prepared for the change. You may still have that person with you, but the fear it embedded in you is something that has not been forgotten. And you grapple with how to deal with it. After arriving home from admitting Half Pint to the hospital that night, I became a puddle on the shower floor as the tears overtook me and the water washed over my body and soul. That was my way of coping that night. For my wife, it was working out.
Thankfully, Half Pint has seemed to make a full recovery. Me? Well, I think that will take a little more time. But I’m trying to make space in my life to talk about, sit with, and heal from the “traumas of almost” in my life. Some days that has meant talking with a friend, or writing, or researching a grief counselor. Some days it has meant lighting a candle, or playing some of my favorite music, or drinking an extra glass of water.
I don’t know what your healing may look like, but I encourage you to lean into it. Name your trauma of “almost” out loud, acknowledge it, and hold space for it so that your soul can begin to breathe and heal. Appreciate the souls in your life–don’t ever take them for granted. Make room for gratitude and gratefulness.
You’re not alone, my friend, those these experiences can undoubtedly feel isolating. Often we revert into a secluded place where no one else can see our hurt. It just seems easier that way. But when we connect with another human soul and give voice to our pain and fear, we often find community and understanding and belonging. And in that community, there is connection. And in that understanding, there is a bond that forms that tells us we aren’t alone as we feel. And in that belonging, we find healing in and with one another.
What if sharing our trauma with one another could in fact be one of the greatest sources of healing for us all?
Because Love Makes All the Difference,