SNEAK PEEK – “…I began to get strong again thanks to the amazing nurses, doctors and ward staff at our main hospital called Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. With their help, I could finally learn how to speak and to write again, and before long, I was drinking and eating orally for the first time in weeks. Back with the power of speech, I finally managed to get more of the story of what had happened…”
Read on below…
Post Traumatic Stress Recovery
NEWS AND INFO
I thought today that it would be good to share an update on where I’m at in my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Recovery, hopefully as a help to anyone who has or still suffers from this condition. So just as a recap; at the end of 2017 I went in for a minor hernia surgery which resulted in a surgery mistake causing sepsis, an emergency operation, and an open would for about seven months. At the end of 2018, it was corrective surgery which made me seriously ill with another surgery mistake. I still can’t remember those two and a half weeks of my life.
In that time, I was fully awake for nine days in severe pain, so much so that I cracked five teeth, then it was onto a breathing machine for five days with a month in the hospital. In that month, I woke up in a different hospital seventy miles from home after a challenging time on the breathing machine due to severe delusions. When I came to, I didn’t know where I was or what had happened. I was convinced that my wife had left me, and my family abandoned me, which is quite common.
For the first forty-eight hours, I couldn’t remember anyone visiting. I couldn’t see without my glasses, I couldn’t move or write, and I couldn’t speak as my voice muscle had wasted away. As far as I was concerned, I was all alone, thinking that I was in a major hospital over two hundred miles away. Eventually, people came to visit, and slowly the picture started to become more transparent, but I was still quite ill, and it took some time to work out what had happened. At that time, the doctors thought that it might be at least a two-month stay in hospital, meaning I’d miss Christmas with the kids.
In that month in the hospital, I’d only seen them for forty-five minutes which was one of the biggest heartbreaks for me; however, it was them who gave me the real motivation to recover and get home. I had to be hoisted out of bed and go through physiotherapy, and slowly, I began to get strong again thanks to the amazing nurses, doctors and ward staff at our main hospital called Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. With their help, I could finally learn how to speak and to write again, and before long, I was drinking and eating orally for the first time in weeks. Back with the power of speech, I finally managed to get more of the story of what had happened.
Huge prayers were being made and a lot of support from my family as they made the five-hour round trip each day to visit and from this, the doctors were amazed at my recovery, discharging me from the hospital about three weeks earlier than expected. When I got home, the place felt so different as it was all decorated for Christmas and a few things had changed. I remember asking Sharon if we still had a dog and did we still have cats! But I was overjoyed at being back, and it was so great to be with my wife and kids again.
Sharon had done a fantastic job during that time. She’d continued to work full-time and still made that five-hour round trip to visit me. While I was in the hospital, she’d kept things as normal as possible for the kids, going to school open days and getting the kids ready for parties. During that time, the kids just knew that Daddy was at the big hospital where they have more doctors and bigger machines. The kids had coped well, Emily being a little older had understood more, but David had been affected by my absence. Since they were born, I’d never been away from them and had spent much time with them growing up. David had felt my absence, so when I got back, my focus changed to reassuring the kids and helping Sharon get past her own trauma of the situation.
In reality, it has to be said, that though I was out of the game for two and a half weeks, I’d missed some critical traumatic moments. There was a time when the doctors told Sharon that they didn’t know if they could save my life. On another occasion, my temperature had sky-rocketed, forcing the doctors to put me in a cold suit for 24 hours. In that time, Sharon was warned that I could have a seizure or have a stroke and that they wouldn’t know if there would be any brain damage until I’d woken up. So, I might have gone through this, but Sharon had a whole different trial to walk through. Thankfully, our larger family stepped up, but even they went through their own trauma’s wondering if I’d pull through. Afterwards, they had their stories to tell too, including taking shifts sitting in the ICU with me on the breathing machine.
Once home and with Christmas 2018 passing, I went into recovery in 2019 by eating high protein foods and taking ever-increasing walks into the countryside close to our home. I threw myself into continuing to build our series and film YouTube videos to populate our channels. I think in some ways, I became a little obsessed, filming and learning so much about sharing videos online. It was this that pushed me physically, and although I looked and look quite energetic, it was and is hard, and I’ve had to take times of rest afterwards. But, I needed to get back physically fit and to get our family back on track for our future.
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By late 2019, I finally managed to pick up Emily and David for the first time, as most of my muscle mass had gone and had taken a long time to build muscle back up from scratch. But picking up the kids was a huge milestone. I’d tried ever increasingly more physical projects at the house with DIY and practical videos to really push and build up. And now, midway through 2020, I’m finally managing to much more substantial work. Even now, I still feel tired at times, and I know I’m not 100%; however, after eighteen months, I think I’ve almost regained my physical strength. I must admit that I’ve been amazed at how long this physical process has taken, but not as amazed as dealing with the mental and emotional consequences of such a hard and prolonged season in our lives.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was always something I associated with military personnel. I’d heard that anyone could suffer this condition to various degrees depending on what they’d been through, but for me, I never thought I’d ever suffer with something this tough to get through. After the initial high of getting home from the hospital and the thankfulness of being back with my family had faded, I could tell that something in my mental state had strained a great deal. I felt different and not in a good way, and I was suffering mild panic attacks and flashbacks at some of the moments from throughout the trial. Strange things were happening, like being out in the garden late at night and then beginning to shake all over as I thought of going to bed. Apparently, in hospital, my fear of waking up in pain had kept me awake for hours on end, and now, at home, I was scared to go asleep. I even laughed at this. I knew nothing was going to happen, yet my body was thinking differently, causing me some significant issues.
Like I said, I threw myself into filming YouTube videos out on the motorbike, taking video tours of our local castles and landmarks and doing teaching and preaching videos for our platform. And this has no doubt helped my recovery both physically and mentally, riding on the belief that doing things we enjoy is one of the best threads of healing. But even months down the line, it hasn’t had the full impact I’d hoped. Regardless of how much fun, weekend trips and events, my body and mind still seem to be in a state of shock, albeit a lot less now. I’m still struggling to get off to sleep, and I can wake up quite low at times. There are moments that I have those flashbacks, especially the severe pain or that period of time being away from my kids. I guess I didn’t believe that the post traumatic stress would last this long and be this far-reaching into so many areas of my life. If you break a bone, you can see the recovery and be happy with it, but when it’s mental and emotional, you can’t switch that off. Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m much better than I’ve ever been on this road.
This has been a long season, and God, my family and friends, have made all the difference in getting me to where I am now. Throwing myself into building our online platform has been hugely beneficial and sometimes when I look at it, I think that when else in life could you spend this level of time with your kids, taking them back and forth to school and having fun. In that time, we’ve also built a kids-only YouTube channel called Birnie Family Fun featuring David and Emily, so there have been a lot of positives from the experience. As a Christian, it’s also given me insight into many of the challenges we faced hoping that these experiences, in turn, will be beneficial to any listeners or viewers. But even yet with all this, the post-traumatic stress is just going to take time to get through and move past. I feel confident that at some stage, things will change in my mind, but for now, it’s just keep doing what you’re doing.
If you’re one who’s struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, then I hope this article has been in some way helpful. I hope you see that you need support and if you are a friend or family member knowing someone suffering PTSD, that you’ll maybe get a window into how this condition feels. Hopefully, you’ll understand that that loved one needs encouragement and your attention and to recognise that for a time, that things will be a little up and down. I’ve certainly found that I’ve experienced more ups when you’re experiencing great support, giving you hope that you’ll come through it at some stage. And for you, who’s experiencing PTSD, please don’t be afraid of being a little self-involved and certainly don’t be scared to do the things you really enjoy doing whatever that may be. Watch comedies, go out in the countryside, take up a new hobby, eat out at restaurants, watch shows, do the garden, do some things you’ve always wanted to do. If a bad series of circumstances can affect you so dramatically, then undoubtedly good circumstances which are under your control will be greatly beneficial.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the right people, but also bear in mind that your experiences can and will help others. Many times as part of a support group, your story and encouragement can have a significant impact on others facing these types of conditions. You could be the one that turns it around for another, saving them from depression or even suicidal thoughts. So, guys, I hope that my story has been a good read and that the little pieces of advice given will help. For me, I’m just going to keep pushing in doing the things I enjoy and looking forward to a day when this will pass. Thank you so much for reading, and God bless you.