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Getting Triggered By CF Medical Trauma

I had cystic fibrosis (CF) exacerbations every other month for many years. The routine was pretty much the same. My doctors would tell me to call them if I felt bad after finishing my last IV antibiotic. And I would always end up calling them after a couple of months. My cough would increase, my appetite would decrease, and my lung function would start to decline again after a few months. This was my normal.

My normal changed after I started Symdeko in 2018. I was not hospitalized as often. And my health was stable for the first time in years.

In 2020 my normal changed again. I began Trikafta that year. Symdeko improved my health by stabilizing me. Trikafta improved my health by increasing my lung function numbers.

My new medication made IVs every other month unnecessary. In fact, it wasn't until this past holiday season that I experienced a CF exacerbation. This was the first time in years! When I called the doctors to let them know I was sick, I was reminded of medical trauma that I had experienced.

Medical trauma

In my experience, medical trauma can be both physical and emotional. And it can be triggered by anything. For example, my past medical trauma was triggered when I had to call my CF team for antibiotics.

It is important to know that when you are triggered by something, your brain can react in certain ways. Additionally, how you react can depend on past experiences. For example, I have a lot of medical trauma. That medical trauma causes me to react to infections in ways that other people might not.

Triggering memories

Getting triggered by a situation can bring back my traumatic memories. When I recall a traumatic memory it can cause a lot of distress. Distress looks different for everyone.

I felt nauseous and agitated when I called my CF center. The feelings I had were because of why I had to call them. This wasn’t because of anything my doctors had done or said. It was because my brain remembered what would happen when I needed antibiotics in the past.

I remember talking to my therapist about getting sick. We talked about how I was scared. The feelings I had were the same as before, but the situation was different. This meant that I needed to figure out how to cope with being triggered.

Coping with my trauma triggers

Being triggered is going to look different for everyone. And everyone will have different coping mechanisms. It is important to talk with your support system about what can trigger you, how you might react, and things that will help you cope. For example, when I am triggered with past medical trauma, my husband and I have a bit of a routine.

If I am in public and we cannot leave a place, I will try a few grounding techniques I have learned through the years. One of the techniques I use is touching something – often my husband’s hand. If he isn’t with me, I will often hold my hands together and rub my palm with my thumb. Another grounding technique I will use is grabbing a piece of gum from my purse. The flavor, the scent, and the act of chewing will distract me.

If I am triggered at home, I will often get a drink or small snack. It has the same affect as I mentioned before. Another coping mechanism is using my weighted blanket. My cats can tell when I am triggered and will often lay next to me while I lay under my weighted blanket.

Medical trauma can look different for each person. Triggers can look different for each person. Figuring out what triggers your memories of medical trauma is important. And figuring out healthy coping mechanisms for when you are triggered can help you.

Speak with your support system, doctors, and mental health providers if you are having a hard time with memories of trauma. And as you figure out what triggers you and what helps you, be sure to let them know. Being triggered is a legitimate experience and you deserve support when traumatic memories pop up. Remember that your experiences are valid and that you deserve support.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Cystic-Fibrosis.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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