a woman waking up on ventilator with abstract disorienting swirls around her

My Diagnosis and Developing PTSD

Diagnosis after diagnosis.

I honestly did not have much time to process my feelings or thoughts when I was diagnosed with HIV. My body and my mind were drastically overwhelmed by the trauma that was happening all at once.

Waking up in the hospital

I woke up in a hospital room on a ventilator. For those who have never been on a ventilator, it is extremely unpleasant.

By this time, I had been on the machine for a week. My lips and mouth were so dry. The instinct I had was to try to talk, which was impossible. I had no clue why I was there, how I got there, or what was wrong with me.

My best friend was there in the room with me; she had my mom on the phone. The only thing I could think of was that I had to fight long enough to see my mom since she lived out of the state.

In my head, I had not seen her yet when she had actually been in Texas for a week by my side. I did everything I could to stay awake long enough for her to come back to the hospital.

Receiving my HIV diagnosis

As you can imagine, waking up in this situation already had my mind running like crazy.

I could honestly understand having some type of pneumonia because I tended to get respiratory infections. They explained that my heart was struggling because of how full of fluid my lungs were when I was brought into the hospital.

How long had I been living with HIV?

My mom, sister, and husband stood around me when the doctor told me I was HIV-positive. I would say that statement knocked the wind out of me, but I barely had any air in my lungs already.

Since I could not speak, I pointed to my husband. My sister explained that she had him get tested, but he was negative. We had already been together about 7 years by this point. The doctors estimated I had been positive for 10 years. Even without being under treatment, my husband remained negative, luckily for us.

A state of confusion

I had the hardest time trying to determine what were coma-induced dreams and what was real.

Apparently, the hospital struggled drastically with keeping me sedated. They gave me as much of the anesthetic Propofol as they could, but it took little for me to open my eyes to see what was going on around me. This added to my brain’s confusion.

We tried notebooks with a pen and even a dry erase board for me to communicate, but neither option worked very well. So, I was left with a lot of confusion while I remained on the ventilator for another week.

Night terrors and panic attacks

I woke up drenched in sweat, shaking, with my mom and a nurse holding me down.

My first-night terror occurred while I was still intubated. It was so bad that my bedding and gown had to be changed out.

After this, it seemed like my body was just filled with anxiety. I would have panic attacks randomly while awake and night terrors every night. They started rotating doses of Versed and Xanax to try to manage these issues.

My PTSD symptoms and diagnosis

I developed and still currently struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

To diagnose PTSD, a professional evaluates the patient’s symptoms in categories such as re-experiencing, avoidance, cognitive and mood symptoms, and arousal symptoms such as hypervigilance.1

I have been diagnosed by multiple psychologists and psychiatrists. It is a dual situation for me. I must deal with the hospital trauma and with the trauma of finding out I was HIV positive.

Additionally, I must accept that I was HIV positive for an estimated 10 years without knowing about it.

Cognitive processing therapy to cope

I have my good days and I have my bad days. All of my nights are no longer haunted by night terrors and my panic attacks have decreased.

I currently put serious effort into my cognitive processing therapy. The therapy homework is complicated and taxing. Sometimes, it feels impossible to get through the assignment.

But after almost giving up altogether, I know just how important of a fight I am battling. I am lucky to have a therapist that has advanced training in PTSD and who is deeply knowledgeable about HIV.

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