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Guest Post: Hannah Green "Human in an inhumane system: The importance of trauma-informed healthcare"

The below was originally posted by Hannah Green on Medium here:

More of Hannah's writing can be viewed here:

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Hannah Green "Human in an inhumane system: The importance of trauma-informed healthcare"

I’ve needed to write this for a while. At first I was either in too much pain or too out of it on medication, and then it was still far too triggering.

Since getting covid in October, I have been really struggling both physically and mentally. Once the official 10 days of isolation ended, the strange physical symptoms continued, but a few weeks before Christmas things took a turn for the worse and I spent most of a Saturday night in Scarborough Hospital.

Various aspects of the trauma I’ve experienced throughout my life mean that I’m not good with hospitals, and since Leah died, it’s been even worse. I’ll never forget the trips to visit her knowing she only had a few days to live, and then visiting her in intensive care and seeing her in so much pain.

That Saturday night, I spent eight hours in A&E and they were some of the most triggering I’ve ever experienced, and only reinforced my fear of asking for help whenever my body is involved. It also really made me think about both trauma informed and gender informed care, and the need for professionals (or let’s face it, anyone) working in every area of society, to have an understanding about the long lasting impacts of trauma.

Entering any medical space is not an easy thing to do whether you have experienced trauma or not. Institutions are set up with a coldness and inhumanity, yet they are trying to provide care to humans that are soft, warm and emotional. An inhumane system.

Normally when I’m in pain, I just put up with it. The thought of asking for help and trying to get medical care terrifies me, especially being questioned about my body, or the potential need to be examined by anyone, let alone a man. Mentally, it’s not worth it, I’d rather just put up with the pain and hope it passes.

When I started to get worried about my symptoms, mainly because they were nothing like anything I experienced when I had covid, I actually tried to ask for help a couple of times, but I was assured it was just the effects of covid and I was fobbed off. No one was interested. I tried to carry on with working and going for short walks, but it slowly got worse and worse.

However, when it got to Saturday night, on the advice of 111 (a phone call which was incredibly difficult to even make), I ended up in A&E.

I already knew the questions that were coming (I’d spent a lot of time with Dr Google, maybe stupidly!) and I knew they were going to be a massive trigger. But I was stuck. ‘Could you be pregnant?’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘How can you be sure?’ ‘Are you sexually active?’ Blah Blah Blah.

Luckily, I have a card in the back of my phone which says my name and that I’m having a reaction to trauma — a non medicalised way of letting someone know what’s going on if I start to panic, and what they can do to help. Normally this does the trick and most people are quite understanding, but that’s not the case for everyone.

I quickly had blood taken, and after a five hour wait I was eventually seen by a male doctor (the first problem, although I appreciate it’s unavoidable!). He clearly looked at my record, and his first comment, before even asking me any questions, was ‘Oh I can see you’re a drug user?’.

At that point I’d not touched drugs or alcohol for nearly two years, but that comment really pissed me off. The way he said it, so judgmentally and as if I didn’t deserve to be there. Maybe he had medical reasons for asking — but there’s always a nice way of going about it.

I already didn’t like this guy, but he quickly took it to another level. He said that he needed to examine my stomach, but before he could, I would have to do a pregnancy test. Bearing in mind he’d already seen my card — I tried to explain (while clearly getting upset) that there was no way I could possibly be pregnant. He wasn’t taking it though. He said he couldn’t examine me, unless I did the test. At this point I couldn’t stop my head; the things it brought up, and the things it forced me to feel.

First of all being made to do something I didn’t want, or need to do, by a man. But second of all — the type of trauma I experienced means that the specifics of what he wanted me to do was a whole other level of triggering.

Like what the fuck? Why couldn’t he take me at my word, knowing that I’d experienced trauma?

I did not want to be examined by anyone, let alone a man, but he was the only doctor available, and the amount of pain I was in meant I really didn’t have a choice. I showed him my card, which he acknowledged. As soon as he started to examine my stomach he could see me getting upset, I was panicking and although I was trying to get words out, I physically couldn’t. But did he stop? Did he check I was ok? Did he fuck. His response was in fact ‘well do you want to know what’s wrong, or not?’

At that point I was done — he could have told me I was dying and I really wouldn’t have cared. I tried to leave, forgetting that I still had a cannula in my arm.

Things always start getting bad for me in the lead up to Christmas anyway, but since that night the flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety have been ridiculous.

It made me wonder, why are healthcare settings not more human? Whether it’s hospitals, mental health settings or dentists. We are not robots and surely these settings are just perpetuating trauma?

Why can’t we have nice pictures on display, colourful walls and spaces that make us feel more at ease? Instead we have blue walls and floors, warning signs everywhere and environments that only cause more anxiety.

Trauma seems to make every single aspect of my life more complicated, and that became more apparent than ever over the course of 2021. Seemingly ‘normal’ things have created huge problems for me. I don’t think people appreciate the amount of time that goes into managing potential triggers, or calming myself down when I do get triggered. Sometimes it’s a full time job, and it’s so exhausting. However, I truly believe that by making spaces more human, along with people being treated with more compassion, at least part of that would be alleviated.

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