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    Sunday, 3 July 2016

    Panic attack: Ellie’s story







    "My faith helped me a great deal and l am very thankful to God. I feel very blessed. There are two things that helped me a great deal during my predicament, that is, the bible and my rosary. I would and l still carry them on my person all the time. Psalms 91 always kept me alive and strengthened me each time l felt l was going to have a panic attack."
    Panic attacks and panic disorders are not a common subject in Zimbabwe.
    As a result, medical practitioners find themselves not properly equipped to deal with these disorders.
    It is also evident that the community at large does not have proper education on this aspect and hence, witchcraft becomes the next best answer to the symptoms of a panic attack.
    I feel that I should share my story in order to educate the general populace on what a panic attack is and how to deal with it.
    It is my desire also that the medical staff to take a note or two so that they get to know what a panic attack is and how they can be able to assist those who find themselves overwhelmed by anxiety.
    It is equally comforting that my physician now refers some of his patients to me to share my experiences with them on panic attacks in the hope that they also get to appreciate that panic attacks are very normal and not a curse.
    A panic attack can be understood to be a sudden surge of overwhelming anxiety and fear.
    Your heart pounds and you struggle to breath.
    If left unchecked, a panic attack can result in panic disorders, which are further episodes of a panic attack.
    Panic attacks strike without warning and there is no clear reason for the attack.
    The attacks may be a one-time occurrence but some people may experience repeat episodes like l did especially if you feel you are in the same situation as one that previously caused a panic attack.
    The signs and symptoms of panic attacks can be summarised as; shortness of breath or hyperventilation, heart palpitations or a racing heart, chest pain or discomfort, trembling or shaking, a choking feeling, sweating, feeling unreal or detached to your surroundings, nausea or an upset stomach, feeling dizzy or light headedness, hot or cold flashes and the fear of dying, losing control or going crazy.
    It all started in January 2014 while in hospital, a day after giving birth to a bouncing baby girl by caesarean section.
    The night l had the operation a Harry Porter movie was playing on the ward television. I was drowsy under the effects of anaesthesia and sedatives, so l barely felt what was taking place around me but somehow during the course of the night l would constantly wake up during the night hearing some strange noises.
    The day after l gave birth, a nursing sister came to give me my night medication, pethidine to be precise. I refused because l wasn't in much pain.
    Everything was ok with me save for low blood pressure, a condition which l am well aware of.
    The nurse picked up my rosary which had fallen on the floor and she actually questioned if it really works, a question to which l never really responded.
    On her way out she stood by the doorway and told me l looked puffy and asked what the doctor had said.
    Just as she went out of the door, out of the blue, l started feeling funny, I had shortness of breath. I felt like I was about to die, calling the nurse I jumped off the bed.
    I thought l was going to die. I started running towards the nurses' station. They tried to restrain me and make me sit on the couch but l wouldn't because l felt l wanted to be outside and not in an enclosed space.
    I could hear my baby crying but at that point l did not feel any attachment to her.
    I walked towards the elevator but l could not use, so l went for the stairs.
    A nurse aide came to help me. She comforted me telling me l was not going to die. Meanwhile l was begging her to call my husband.
    The nurses wanted me back inside while they tried to call my doctor but l did not want to go back inside.
    The nurse aid fetched me a mattress and l lay outside. After about five minutes the senior nurses called her back to the station to resume her duties but she thought it better to keep me company and pray with me.
    My gynaecologist arrived twenty minutes later. I could see by the expression on his face that he was somewhat taken aback and he had no idea what was wrong with me.
    ...to continue in next week's issue
    He tried persuading me to go back inside but l was not inclined to do that. I continued praying to God that He would spare my soul.
    Round about that same time, my husband and my mother arrived.
    ...to be continued next week



    They asked for the baby as we could hear the baby crying but the nurses wouldn't give the baby to them and that hurt me.
    The gynaecologist tried calling a psychiatrist but to no avail. I stayed outside for about forty-five minutes before the gynaecologist had my bed moved to the ground floor.
    It is only then that l agreed to go back inside. My gynaecologist prescribed some medication for me to calm me but I refused to take it because l was afraid that if I took the medication l would sleep forever.
    I stayed in hospital for four more days solely because of the operation and not the experience I had had. For that particular period everything seemed to have fallen back into place until a year later in January 2015. A colleague from work came from nowhere and asked me if she can give me Satanism DVDs. To say I was shocked is an understatement, l was terrified. I declined without even soliciting what the contents were. Sometime in March, I had a nightmare where someone at work was beating me. I woke up having heart palpitations. While I tried narrating my dream to my husband l had another panic attack. This time around, however, l had some sort of control and l took my bible and started praying pacing up and down the house. This lasted for about 15 minutes I felt a bit okay and went back to sleep. Going to work itself had become a nightmare because each time l saw my colleague who had offered me the DVDs l would feel very uncomfortable and not safe.
    Around the period of May I would occasionally feel nausea, loss of appetite, general body weakness and extensive fear since the attacks had become an ongoing thing. I would patronise the hospital two or three times a week. On my fourth visit to the hospital, one doctor then said that what l had were panic attacks. I was injected 10mg of diazepam and l went to sleep. I felt a lot better when l woke up. I wasn't going to work at this time. After three days the episodes started again and l went to hospital but l rejected diazepam because I did not want any more drugs that would intoxicate me and continue to weaken me. I overhead a nurse aid asking a senior nurse what a panic attack and she said it was some white men's disease. Imagine the stigma. Furthermore, during my visits to the hospital the treatment l was given had become less hospitable. At one point l spent more than an hour without being attended to. It seemed l had become a more of a burden because l would come complaining about the same thing over and over again. I was given an antiemetic to suppress the vomiting and l went home. The following day l resolved to visit a psychiatrist because for a moment l thought l was going insane. I went without an appointment and as l waited in the queue, another woman was narrating her ordeal and her story resembled mine. I felt relieved that l wasn't alone in this. The psychiatrist said it was a panic attack and prescribed some medication. That night l slept well and l also felt good in the morning.
    Later on that feeling of nausea, body weakness and inexplicable fear overwhelmed me. It felt like l was going to choke and die. Fortunately, my mother and aunt were there to keep me company. After two days l felt even worse. Around 4pm l drove to church to see the priest there and he prayed for me. Afterwards, l went to the psychiatrist's but he wasn't in. For a moment l contemplated going to Parirenyatwa Hospital to have myself admitted to the psychiatric unit there and then perhaps the doctor would be called in. Instead, l ended up going to my physician around 6pm. At this point I could hardly walk on my own and my aunt had to assist me. I was turned away because l had no appointment but l was obstinate enough not to leave. I lay down in the waiting room and I was told to go in and see the doctor before my turn because my situation had become serious. The physician informed me that my condition had degenerated into a panic disorder. We had a lengthy discussion where he advised me to read more on panic attacks and disorders. He then changed my medication. When l walked out of there l felt a lot better and that is when l appreciated the importance of communication and having closure.
    The following day l did not feel so good and after three days l had no appetite completely. This time around l went to see a psychologist with my husband. Instead of him asking me about the experience l was having he saw it fit to be asking if things were ok with my husband back home and that totally put me off. At the end of the session l felt worse. I started having headaches because of the medication that had been prescribed by my physician but he advised me to continue with the medication.
    After having been to a psychiatrist, a physician and a psychologist with the recurrent bouts of the attacks, l felt hopeless. My world was falling apart. My mother took me to Kwekwe to see my uncle who happens to be a priest. I spent four days there and during my stay l was counselled, told to meditate, relax and to face my fear in order not to be afraid. The following week, towards the end of June l was feeling much better. Back in Harare, l went back to my physician where l was advised to go back to work. I asked for one more week.
    At the beginning of July l went back to work after being off duty for two months. I had lost about 10kgs of body weight. Somewhat l still had fear within me. I confided in my manager and she gave me some memory verses from the bible to meditate on. She also gave me a book authored by Joyce Meyer which focuses on facing anxiety and fear. The book helped me a lot. Every morning my manager would call me to her office to pray and meditate on Psalms 91. I felt more at ease and secure when l had my bible and rosary on me. I continued on my medication. I would be anxious here and there but it was not as pronounced as before and all l needed was company to avert the anxiety. For that period l did not want to lay my eyes on funeral parlour vehicles, hospitals or watch the television especially programs that had horror or violent scenes because that would put me on edge.
    Gradually, l felt better and in October l planned my wedding for December. All went well and l was very happy and felt blessed. In December l started tapering off my medication. I would skip some days and in January l was completely off drugs. However, l fell ill. I had abdominal pain, nausea and body weakness but that was probably the effect of letting go of my medication. It was short-lived. From then to date l have felt much better.
    I hope that my story will inspire someone out there having problems as l had to hang in there and seek help because panic attacks can be overcome. On the same note I hope l will educate someone out there on panic attacks so that they can have an appreciation of what it really is and be able to help those in society facing this predicament.
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