PTSD Returns During a Trip to the Dentist
Caeleb, 15, has had a fear of needles for many years, and as part of his hemophilia treatment, he had to endure daily attempts at accessing his Port-a-Cath, as well as regular intravenous (IV) injections in the hospital.
There was a time when he was very young when his daily infusions didn’t cause any problems for him, and he would sit calmly through each one, but around the time he turned 7, he had had enough. It was as if my young son had never experienced a needle stick. He lost control and refused to sit through his infusions. He would have to be held down and would cry and shout so loudly that his cries permeated the halls of the hospital.
I know his outbursts were just efforts to regain some control over his body, but it was my duty to get him the medication he needed, even if I had to use extraordinary measures.
But over the years, as Caeleb’s condition improved he needed fewer needle sticks, and his phobia and the PTSD appeared to subside. He became less anxious during infusions, and I was convinced that he had grown out of his fear of needles.
So during this recent visit to the dentist, I didn’t want him to be transported back to that time when he was frightened of needles, and I warned him that the needles used for anesthesia shots look longer than they really are because of the barrel they are affixed to. “Just close your eyes and breathe,” I told him. But Caeleb insisted that he was fine and told me not to worry.
But when the needle came into view, he panicked. His voice went up an octave as he tried to put words together. I put my hand on his leg to reassure him, and the dentist, seeing that he was upset, took the needle away from his face. Caeleb stayed still, and after a few more tries he relaxed a bit and was able to take the injections without any problem.
But for a moment Caeleb was back in that place when nurses labored to locate his veins. When painful IV lines left bruises. When he was restrained to a bed, his feet and arms held down hard from every side. In that split second with the flash of a needle Caeleb became 7 again — that little boy who remembered every bad needle stick.
Lying in a dentist’s chair on an otherwise uneventful day brought back the years of pain and became a reminder that even when we are prepared sometimes PTSD will make memories too painful to forget.
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