These are some of the sensations I experienced in 1999 when I experienced a small stroke in conjunction with a brain lesion. I was treated in the neuro-oncology unit of a major medical center for a period of weeks while doctors searched for what they believed would be brain cancer. Over a course of days, I lost my ability to walk, my vision went double, and I was unable to do anything but lie on one side and vomit prolifically.
According to Dr. Donald Edmondson, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and lead author of a study published in the online journal PLOS ONE:
Nearly one in four stroke patients will develop significant PTSD symptoms within a year of experiencing medical trauma such as stroke. Those symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, hyper-vigilance, smell and visual triggers. Similar research by Dr. Edmondson has found that as many as one in eight heart attack victims will experience PTSD symptoms within a year.
While doctors treat medical symptoms, they often don’t address the psychological impact often accompanies medical illness. However, palliative care can provide assistance at any level of illness and can be accessed at home or in a health care facility.
It treats the whole person medically, emotionally, and spiritually. A palliative care team includes a physician and social worker and is called in at the request of the primary care physician, hospitalist, or nursing home physician. The team consults with family, caregivers and the patient with the goal of improving patient comfort and quality of life. Palliative care social workers may be particularly beneficial in helping patients to deal with the effects of PTSD.
If you or someone you know has experienced a stroke or other serious medical crisis, consult with your physician or social worker about the possibilities of engaging palliative care for the treatment of symptoms of PTSD.