March 1, 2016

Meningitis, Aneurysms, Strokes Oh My

Imagine having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and working as a legal secretary in the field of Medical Malpractice.

My first real job when I was 19 was working as an administrative assistant at a local bank.  I started as a word processor and within a year was promoted to administrative assistant to the vice president of the loans collection department. 

I loved working at the bank and thought I would build my career in banking, eventually going back to school and possibly becoming a vice president myself one day.

Unfortunately, our little department did so well in collecting loans they decided to move the department to their suburban headquarters where they planned to expand the department.  I did not have a car, because I didn't know how to drive, and I had no way of getting to the far west suburbs.  I was very sad when I realized I had to start looking for a new job.

One day my boss at the bank suggested I look for a job working for a law firm where I would make significantly more money.  I liked the idea of making more money, so I began applying for jobs with law firms.

Because of my excellent references from the bank, it took me only a couple of weeks to find a job working for a large law firm.  I started at the bottom because I knew nothing about pleadings, notices, depositions or filing documents with the courts.

I caught on quickly and through the years I would transition from working for corporate attorneys to insurance defense and medical malpractice attorneys, which is the second most difficult area of law to work in.  The number one most difficult field of law to work in is intellectual properties/patents, which I tried for a year because it’s also the highest paying for legal secretaries, but I hated it.

I loved working in medical malpractice.  Unlike corporate, each case was different and interesting.  It took time to learn medical terminology and the medical dictionary became my best friend.  Until I developed PTSD, then it became my worst enemy.

When we received a new file that involved meningitis, by God, I thought I was developing symptoms of meningitis.  Then we received two files regarding aneurysms, and I became convinced at least once a week I was having an aneurysm. 

Then we received a file that involved complications with a stroke patient.  I became obsessed that every time my arm felt a little numb, I was having a stroke.  I ignored the fact that I leaned on my arm often throughout the day as I read and transcribed medical records and my arm often fell asleep.

I felt relief when we received the occasional strange file, such as the man who managed to decapitate himself riding his motorcycle in the middle of the night out in the country and didn't see the chicken wire.  I didn't need a doctor to confirm I still had a head.

One of my favorites was an idiot who bought a bunch of big fireworks and a fireworks launcher.  When one of the fireworks didn't engage, he thought it would be smart to lean over the launcher to look inside, and BAM, where he once had a face, was now a huge hole.  I didn't need a doctor to confirm I still had a face.

My least favorite files were the cancer files.  I was constantly inspecting myself for new moles, spots or lumps.  I once spent an entire weekend worried sick because I mistook my rib for a lump in my breast.

My panic attacks were not limited to thoughts of medical disasters.  I was also a victim of my own vivid imagination.  I once had a panic attack simply walking to the store and for some odd reason I began to imagine what would happen if Earth lost its gravity, and we would all float helplessly into space.

Once I learned that this was a mental illness that could be reversed, I had the genius idea that if I simply ignored what was wrong, it would go away.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried to ignore that I had PTSD, it refused to go away and I continued to have horrible panic and anxiety attacks, which was not only beginning to erode my optimistic nature, but was beginning to affect my work.

I quit several jobs because I had suffered severe panic attacks at work and I was too embarrassed to continue working around people who had seen me lose it, and were probably talking behind my back.

When I had been fired from a job because I had called in sick too many times due to panic attacks, I decided to take six months off.  I had never in my life collected unemployment, and I decided it might be best to take six months off and cure myself.

Needless to say, six months was not enough to cure myself, because I was being too stubborn in my belief that PTSD would just go away.  All I managed to do in those six months was set a new record for running to the emergency room for imaginary heart attacks, and becoming addicted to ice cream.

I began to accept that this was a battle I was going to need the help of a library and maybe even a counselor.

I would also have to accept the difficult and heart breaking truth that this problem was not caused by the train incident.  It had been caused by being emotionally and mentally abused for so many years, and the train incident simply brought it all to the surface of my mind.

It was, in reality, a part of facing all the terror as a child, and a part of healing I had not bargained for.

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