That’s our PTSD

Marcus is going “under” for some dental work soon. I’m a bit freaked out. The last time Marcus had a procedure that required anesthesia he awoke screaming.

It was about 15 years ago after his tonsillectomy and adenoid surgery.

Screaming. And continued to scream. And scream. Oh my God how it must have hurt to scream and cry like he did.

But what else can a young person do when he is in pain, and confused at the pain, and…? I don’t even know.   

Quinn held him in his arms, a baptism by fire into fatherhood. I stood near and was as helpful as a blob of jelly.

 PTSD: Real and Physical

Our, Marcus and my, responses upon his waking from that surgery were the consequences of his heart surgery from years before, when Marcus was less than two. His brain may not remember all of the details, but his body held onto the pain and the confusion for many years. (So has mine.) At the time of his heart surgery, I so wished I could explain any of it to him. Even today I blink through the tears as I type. 

Deep breath.  Move on…

Preventing PTSD

I recently saw this article about preventing PTSD in children. It got me thinking of how we helped Marcus to recover, without knowing what we were doing, and also how to handle the situation better this time.

Back in those days, Quinn “worked with” Marcus via play for years.  They played with a doctor’s wagon and kit. Marcus listened to Quinn’s heart, took his pulse, and checked his reflexes. Eventually doctors weren’t all evil and scary after all.

And dentists…As a child, Marcus screamed so hard at the dentist’s office that his little face would become covered in the spots of broken blood vessels. It didn’t take too many visits to that office to rethink the importance of teeth anyway.

Finally, we found a very kind and sweet dentist. Marcus is calm and compliant. Teeth are cleaned and life is good. 

But, now there’s upcoming dental work that is more extensive than a simple cleaning or cavity fill, so we’ve opted for an out-patient hospital visit to get everything done under anesthetic. Of course before that, he has had to have pre-op visits and approvals.

Including a visit to the cardiologist.

Another example: When we arrived at the cardiologist’s office, which is attached to the hospital, they gave Marcus a wrist band to wear.

“Uhhhh…” he says.

Marcus does not wear wristbands. Again, aftereffect of heart surgery.  Don’t tell me he can’t remember the hospital because he has never been able to put a band around his wrist with any level of ease or comfort.  Ever.

All of that fear and anxiety came rushing up through my pulse as well.  I said, to the input lady, “You see…because of his heart surgery, Marcus has never been able to wear a wristband.”

“Oooh!” She said, “It’s alright.  Just put this sticker on your shirt instead.”

“Whew,” he said.

The good news is, everything else went great.  He’s had these last check-ups without a glitch of anxiety. I’ve been able to explain stuff and he can ask questions and give us his replies. Plus, his heart’s in great shape, his lungs look good and his skeleton gets an A+. I’ve been very cognizant to discuss each procedure with him and explain what’s next.

Today after the doctor’s visit I asked Quinn to show him the “pain scale” faces. Just in case we need to refer to that after his procedure.  Marcus got a flash of concern over the whole thing, but quickly turned it into a voice game with Quinn. 

One last thing

 On the morning of his tonsillectomy, all those years ago, the doctor came into the room to gather Marcus and said, “What’s your name?”

Marcus – without skipping a beat – said, “Nick.” You could just see the wheels behind his eyes turning, “Marcus? Marcus Who? No Marcus here. Just Nick.”

Quinn and I still laugh hardily at that. 

 We’ll see what tricks he has in store this time…


If you have any advice or tricks to preventing trauma, please share. Or stories on how early medical procedures manifested themselves in surprising ways. Also, if you have any good doctor jokes, comments are open for that as well. 

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