An interview with psychologist and researcher, Dr. Nancy Kassam-Adams about children’s medical experiences as a source of PTSD. Nancy, gave helpful suggestions for how parents can identify trauma in their kids after painful medical procedures or hospitalizations. She told a story of a child injured in a hit and run car accident, where the parents greatest difficulty had to be coming to terms with an adult who could leave her child, and the child’s biggest fear had to do with waking up alone at night in the hospital. We especially talked about the ways that hospitals are moving to make pediatric care more “trauma informed” (sensitive to the possibility of trauma), working not to separate children from their parents, and measuring the D, E, F’s of care: remember to assess and treat Distress, provide Emotional Support and, to include the Family. Nancy described an innovative program to treat adolescent cancer survivors and their families. Lastly, she offered two resources: www.aftertheinjury.org for parents, and www.healthcaretoolbox.org for professionals.
An interview with Emmy award-winning television writer and executive producer, Chris Nee about her show, Doc McStuffins. Chris wrote the show in order to help her own son Theo who suffers from severe asthma. Chris tells the story of watching her child struggle to breathe, and how she decided to use the skill set she has as a TV writer to help him. She describes the way that Doc, the 6 year old girl in the series, diagnoses and treats her stuffed animals who suffer from a wide variety of toy ailments. The show uses upbeat music, the comforting of various stuffed animals and the realistic expression of children’s fears to show kids how frightening experiences can be made safe and hopeful.
An interview with film-maker Nancy Andrews about her experience as a patient in the surgical ICU. Nancy describes the ICU as a torture chamber, where if you didn’t know they were saving your life, you’d think they were trying to kill you. She describes becoming delirious under the influence of painkillers and sedatives, and gives a vivid description of the hallucinations and fears that followed. Upon her release from the hospital Nancy noticed that she kept having “weird experiences”as if she was back there,” which her doctor fortunately recognized as flashbacks from PTSD. Nancy’s film, On a Phantom Limb, explores the horror and disorientation of being an ICU patient. She says that while she is “unable to bear watching scenes of surgery or the physical restraint of others, making a film about it was empowering because I was in full control of the film, in ways that I was out of control as a patient.” She is passionate about getting the message out that PTSD after the ICU is common, and that early identification and treatment can make a tremendous difference.
An interview with psychiatrist, Dr. Jim Gilligan, former mental health director for the prison system in Massachusetts, and the author of three books on violence. Dr. Gilligan reports that many of his patients told him that they had committed murder and other acts of violence because they felt disrespected. He reports that for these men, feeling treated as if they were one down, weak or inferior was intolerable, and that violence was their only means of reclaiming pride or self-esteem. He also observes that punishment tends to generate violence, both in parenting and in our penal system. Punishment relieves people of the guilt (that inhibits violence), but increases their shame, which fuels violent acting out. Under his tenure, the only prison program that successfully reduced recidivism to zero, was offering course toward a college degree. In those men who completed the program, they now had non-violent means of reclaiming their self-esteem, and feeling less ashamed.
An interview with playwright, Cathy Plourde, founder of Add Verb productions about her new play, Major Medical Breakthrough. Cathy tells the story of writing a play to inspire health care providers to screen their patients for domestic violence. She gave sobering statistics about the high numbers of women and some men, who are being abused who see their doctors during the abuse and are never asked about it. Indeed only 10-19% of doctors report that they screen their patients routinely for domestic violence. Cathy stressed that where there is domestic violence, there is also likely to be sexual assault, something that often goes unasked about. She cites the ACE study to show that the more trauma in a person’s life, the more physical health problems they will have, and unless our doctors and nurses ask their patients, the cause of many illnesses will be missed. She gave a thoughtful description of why providers are hesitant to ask, but encouraged health workers to trust that asking the question, providing support and access to resources can make a tremendous difference.