If there’s one thing our years in Uganda have shown us is that trauma comes in many forms. The Trauma Healing Institute defines trauma as “heart wounds.” Heart wounds take many different shapes. Sometimes it is as simple as a transition, change. Someone dies suddenly, sometimes violently and too soon. Parents divorce. A thief attempts to rob you. Even the move from one culture to another can cause trauma, sometimes silently and surfaces in later years.
Reliving trauma also surfaces when triggers occur such as a similar sound or smell. Sometimes it is a person that looks like the one who harmed you. Other times it is just a circumstance that unexpectedly mimics part of the previous trauma. Trauma can even be cloaked for years and surface in unsuspecting ways.
As I reflect on the various events of the last decade, I realize that our family has carried more trauma than we ever expected. Leaving home, family, friends and all that was comfortable and known to us was just the beginning of the journey we have faced. We are not extraordinary people. Each carries his/her own experiences of trauma. Each time we share that experience with someone safe, we find healing a little at a time. This has just been our road to walk. Grateful we do not walk it alone, but with a loving Father who cares deeply for us.
My husband, Bob, has had a heart condition ever since the birth of our second child. The doctors actually think he was born with it, but it had gone undetected all of those years. Because of that heart condition, he is at risk for atrial fibrillation (a type of heart arrhythmia) which has recurred numerous times over the years. It can be mild to very acute, debilitating enough that he couldn’t function to do everyday activities let alone ministry and work. But until he had surgery twice, it was never possible to regulate it with medication. He always had to have a cardioversion performed which is where they shock your heart with electrical current in hopes that it will return to normal heart rhythm. I have lost count of the numbers of times he has had to have this procedure performed over the years.
When his heart went out of rhythm in Uganda a number of years ago now, at that time, there was no diagnostic equipment to determine if there were any blood clots in the heart. This is one of the biggest risks of the heart being out of rhythm. You see, one cannot have a cardioversion if there is a chance of blood clots. It would surely cause a stroke. One is put on blood thinners for 30 days before one can even consider having the cardioversion performed if you cannot rule out blood clots. That was one of the longest months in my husband’s life as his atrial fibrillation was severe. He could barely walk down the hallway from his bed to the couch. Even sitting up for long periods of time was exhausting.
But finally, the 30 days had ended. He was scheduled for the cardioversion at the place that was considered the best and most suitable place in all of Uganda. The doctor came in and explained how the nurse would give the fast acting medication to put him to sleep for a short while, long enough for him to come in and do the procedure before he wakes back up. He left. The nurse came and put the medication in his IV. He was not only drowsy but went to sleep rather quickly. The doctor didn’t return. The nurse didn’t return. I was still in the room. Finally, the doctor comes in with the nurse and fires up the machine that looked like it was at least twenty years old. He puts the paddles on my husband at the lowest charge. He screams so loud that I cannot imagine what is happening. I am frozen, astonished, and cannot speak or move. The doctor says it didn’t work and increases the charge. Bam! My husband screams even louder than the first time. The doctor says it still didn’t work, but he can increase it one more level. Surely this time it would work. Now my husband is groggy and you guessed it. Not only did it NOT work, but his scream is louder than I even thought possible. The whole time I am frozen and cannot peel myself from the wall I am leaning against. The whole situation is truly unbelievable for me as a bystander.
For whatever reason, the doctor didn’t come into the room timely and my husband was coming out of his slumber before the procedure even started. Now what I can’t even imagine further is that the doctor wants to do the whole process over one more time because the first three-some didn’t work. I protest and am able to somewhat coherently tell the doctor that there is no way he is going to do this while my husband is awake. The doctor assures me he will be asleep this time, that it is normal for them to react, AND THEN HE DOES IT!!! I am still in the room. He still yells, but it isn’t nearly as intense in its volume as the first round. And still. No success …
Now because we were in a crisis, I knew I had to hold it all together. I had to be available to help my husband however he might need me to. The next step was for the medical insurance company to arrange to send him by life flight to South Africa where he could get the help he truly needed. This sounds like a rescue (and it was), but not before an ambulance ride that was like a “nightmare from hell” on steroids. He arrived at the airport with intense chest pains just from the ride. No doctor or nurse accompanied us. He was strapped to a hard board in the back and I was given a seat nearby. Off we went with the ambulance siren blaring the entire way. I suppose the driver was being so unreasonable and erratic in his driving because he was in a rush to get us to the airport as quickly as possible. And in Uganda, cars don’t necessarily make way for a coming ambulance and the city is full of jams. That meant we were driving on sidewalks and medians along the way. But we made it, by the grace of God, and surely by the many prayers of His saints!
We were so grateful to get him into the small jet with both the doctor and nurse attending him. The pilot was upset that I showed up with a suitcase as he said I wasn’t supposed to have brought so much with me (it was the size of carry-on) and he wasn’t sure he could take the extra weight. He threatened to not take me with him, but then finally relented. It might have been the look of horror at the thought that I would be left behind. But I had to sit in the very back with the cargo and not move. So that is exactly what I did for the duration of the five hour flight as I watched the medical personnel attend to my husband well. Maybe you can imagine. Each step of the way, I didn’t complain. I was grateful to even be there. I had to be. This was my husband, after all!
Once we landed in South Africa, the care was extraordinary. The ambulance ride was smooth with both the nurse and doctor accompanying us to the hospital. In less than two hours, the procedure was done with newer and more advanced equipment. It worked the first time and his heart was back in regular rhythm (and I was not allowed in the room). He was more than worn out, but his heart was functioning normal again. Praise God! I cannot tell you the relief. But I didn’t really talk to anyone about it. I couldn’t dare let him know how worried I was or how much it was affecting me. I pushed it all down inside and pushed through to maintain stability at all costs. Now to help him recuperate and encourage him all the more.
But nowadays I realize this was traumatic, traumatic for all of our family. It was trauma for me to have gone through and witnessed. Trauma for him FOR SURE as it was his experience directly full of it. It was traumatic for our children as well who watched from a distance and likely didn’t understand completely what was happening. Traumatic for them as they were left behind when we flew to South Africa without them, and they waited and waited to hear if their dad was going to be okay.
This was just one experience over the years that our family has gone through. I don’t tell you this experience to alarm you. Medical equipment has improved in Uganda and it is even possible now to have the test that my husband needed back then. We have each utilized our own defense mechanisms to cope with the trauma. Like I mentioned earlier, each time we share about our trauma a little more healing takes place. I am not bitter about going through this experience, even the different traumatic events that we have faced through the years. I believe God means it to be used for good. His grace is truly sufficient for each of us.
But if you have faced some kind of trauma in your life, maybe realized or not, I encourage you that when it comes to your mind, share it. Find that safe person for you and share it freely. If it brings emotions, release them. Acknowledging it for what it is, now that’s the first step. But then find someone to share it with. Processing it through can bring you freedom from that which you may not have even known you carried. No matter where you live or your walk with Him, I am guessing everyone has experienced some sort of trauma. It’s very real. No one person’s trauma can be compared to another’s trauma as neither is the same. Acknowledge yours, find a safe person to share with, tell God about it, and encounter some freedom. Take that step towards healing from trauma in your life, whatever form it has taken on your journey. You will be better for it! And God will be with you each step of the way.