Chelsea Olson, Richmond, VA – 21 at time of event (2012)
Before she was ready to enter Medical School, Chelsea needed an operation to fix her displaced hip (technical term; periacetabular osteotomy). Not a pleasant surgical experience, especially for a beautiful 21 year old. The fact that she nearly died the following day makes it even less pleasant. Although as Chelsea said, "I had the easy job!", what she meant was the people around her bed had to make the tough decisions, as she was unconscious and just lay there.
So, let's get back to the hospital. After the operation, which was successful and she was walking, Chelsea developed a nasty cough, although that wasn't what the doctors were worried about. She was not oxygenating her blood effectively and they needed to find out why.
"I wasn't really worried about my oxygen levels. I was more worried about the fact that when I coughed it hurt my hip!" Chelsea said with a laugh.
The X-Rays only gave the physicians more to worry about so they ordered a CT scan.
"So late at night they took me down to the CT scanner. As soon as they injected me with the contrast dye and put me in the CT scanner I went into Pulseless Electrical Activity and cardiac arrest," Chelsea said. She was told she endured eight minutes of CPR, but only knows she woke up in ICU intubated and confused.
"In this terrifying state I struggled to communicate and I desperately wanted to know what had happened. I saw my parents and friends and siblings trying to mask the horror on their faces as they looked at my helpless body. I had lost every ounce of control that I previously had on my life. I could not communicate, make decisions, or understand why I was there."
Chelsea had suffered from a rare condition in her lungs called an alveolar hemorrhage, for which the cause is unknown. This bleeding caused the coughing and significant cardiac stress resulting in a pulseless-electrical-activity cardiac arrest. Chelsea was released from hospital a week later and began her physical therapy for the hip. But that is not the end of the story.
"Suddenly all the memories started flooding back. I ended up developing PTSD from my experiences in the CT scanner and respiratory ICU."
Having not really understood or accepted that she had died and come back to life, these flashbacks were disturbing and caused her behavior to change resulting in hyper-vigilance and avoidance symptoms.
"My experience with PTSD is best described as a sort of elusive and cloudy feeling experienced every day upon waking. Stuck in my head, estranged from my friends and family, I was stuck in the repetitive thoughts, recurrent unwanted memories, and lapses in reality. Little things would set me into a flashback like seeing certain things, hearing a familiar voice/tone, and being around the hospital. Perhaps the most powerful trigger was that of smell. I had to avoid opening my closet for months because the smell of my first aid box sent me into flashbacks," Chelsea explained.
She underwent a new therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to help overcome the traumatic effect of recalling the event. Now Chelsea feels she is stronger and more committed to pursuing her goals, that is entering medical school and becoming a physician. "In order to know light, you have to experience the shadows."
In her own words: Throughout my rehabilitation and recovery, I have been given an entirely new and rare perspective in medicine. I know the humbling experience of being stripped of any and all control, of being totally reliant on others. I truly understand the fears, pains, and trauma of being a patient in a desperate situation. I have had to admit my weaknesses and limitations, both physical and mental. I have had to make tough decisions about my future, including the decision to defer medical school for a year.