Monday, February 13, 2012

It takes a lot to piss me off.

  My husband and I joke that I am the Golden Retriever of the human race. I am usually happy, wake up with my tail wagging ready to face each new day optimistically. If I get cut off in traffic I give the offending driver the benefit of the doubt "he probably has a sick kid in his car and it on his way to the emergency room", I often tell my kids as way of explanation. If someone talks about me behind my back I tend to forgive thinking they must be having a bad day or just need to vent and don't mean anything by it. So, when I am actually mad about something, I feel totally justified in expressing my outrage.

  This week I had a meeting with my 3rd RMO since last year's devastating earthquake in Christchurch. It was bad, I got freaked out and sought help (I'd like to clarify that I was at the epicenter of the quake standing in the center of downtown staring at the Christchurch Cathedral as it fell on the cars parked in front of it). I was brushed off. When I had to go to my Dr. here in NZ to treat the all over body rash I developed shortly after due to my extreme anxiety caused by subsequent mini quakes here in Wellington he told me to take antihistamine and gave me prednisone. I asked for valium, he said no. Too addictive. Ok.  I get stuck in downtown Christchurch with buildings falling down around me and I get antihistamine. Do you know how prednisone interacts with an already freaked out woman? Ask my kids.

It always seems backward to me that doctors always want to treat the symptoms of an illness and not the actual cause. My rash was caused by the insane amount of adrenaline being pumped through my body and my body was trying to fix it by jacking my immune system into high gear. So, I understand the necessity of the prednisone and antihistamine but the underlying issue of the adrenaline being pumped through my body on an hourly basis went unchecked. I was still nervous and scared ALL THE TIME in the weeks after the quake.

This represents the latest 30 quakes in NZ from February 2, 2012 until today. They range from 2.3 to 5.7 on the Richter scale. Just so you don't think I'm exaggerating.

  So, I asked the regional RMO to help me out. She said I should be taking anti anxiety pills until the rash is under control and I stop freaking out whenever the neighbor takes his wheelie bin to the curb (sounds kind of like an earthquake). Great, I will just take my email from her to the local doc and surely he will write me a prescription. Nope. Too addictive, he told me to try drinking some wine before bedtime it will help you relax. I did take his advice and started drinking a wine. Lots and lots of wine. It helped in the moment but my liver was not happy.

  A few months went by and my rash finally started going away and things were getting back to normal when we had another quake in June. Back to square one. RMO number 2 came to the Embassy and told me I really should be on anti anxiety medicine and she would mail me a prescription. What? It's that easy? Why didn't the other RMO simply do that 6 months ago? Whatever, I was happy with that except the prescription never came. Apparently I was supposed to remind her that she was going to send me a prescription. Ok, 'cause that sounds logical when you are dealing with a stressed out patient. Now I've got to do her job too? The earthquakes continue in NZ and we have a nice new crack in our ceiling to prove it but I am over freaking out and just pack an emergency kit, leave the house and hope for the best.

  Then, the Embassy sent my husband back to Christchurch. This I did not like. Let's not even mention that they have had thousands of aftershocks since last February and a big one over Christmas that brought down more rubble. Nobody died so I guess they figured it was ok to send embassy staff back for another Codel. Adrian was totally ok with that, I wasn't. He's much braver than me. So, off I went to shoot an email to the original RMO again to let her know my rash is back and what does she recommend I do about it?  A month later I received a small vial filled with 10 pills for "emergencies". Whatever. My time of crisis is over and the pills remain sealed in the bottle. Let me emphasize that I am not interested in being medicated 24 hours a day. I like being silly and impulsive and having a clear head. I was simply looking for something to calm me down (instantly) in case another big one hit and I needed to calm down. In the days after February 22, 2011 I remember wishing that someone would just put me in an induced coma for a few days, just so I could get some peace. I was so upset and nervous that I would have rather been unconscious.
  Last week we had yet a new RMO come and I was ready this time. I prepared a power point presentation for her to let her know how I really felt so she could see exactly where I was coming from and how that day affected me. I was beginning to think that everyone thought I was just standing outside during the quake, felt the ground rumble and then was airlifted out. That was not how it went down. This is how the day went for me. I was beginning to think that all these doctors were looking at me like I was some out of control junkie that was using the earthquake to get some kind of fix. As if I didn't really deserve valium or xanax or some other calming medicine because that was reserved for people who were in really bad situations and deserved to be streesed out. It made me doubt myself. I always thought of myself as a strong person - everyone does. Now I was no longer sure. These are professional doctors denying me, it must be me right? So I showed her my presentation. The system is broken sister and here's why....I thought it was a very good presentation and I left with a new prescription for antihistamines! No wonder there are so many alcoholics in this business (or so I'm told, I haven't met any yet). Luckily I am not so fearful and even enjoy NZ most days though I'd never live here permanently and am looking forward to our new post in India. But I am thinking that to be a part of this business you have to look after yourself. Nobody is going to hold your hand and make sure you get the help you need. I didn't even know I was eligible for medivac back to the States just after the quake until 8 months after. A nice quake break would have been helpful. Someone really should have told me that was an option.

 So yeah, I took a power point presentation to my shrink after receiving help 352 days after my crisis. I'm such a drama queen.


  1. I have been reading your posts for a while, and I am no doctor, but I can't believe the doctors you are seeing aren't taking this more seriously. I wonder--can you see a local psychiatrist? Since general practitioners don't see to be getting the hint.

    Also, if I were you, I'd go up the chain in MED and send them a link to your blog. It's really pretty unbelievable that no one has evaluated you for PTSD. You'd think that would be standard after a freakin' earthquake! Good luck getting some help!

  2. I can't believe that they didn't give you anti-anxiety meds! Lots of people on Christchurch have needed them, and you've been through as much as we have! Thinking of you and praying for you as you recover. And a year is not too long for getting over this!

  3. That is a sad commentary on health care assistance for trauma needs. I'm sorry you haven't been better supported through the quakes. And you are right about the alcohol - it is overly used and under reported as a coping mechanism for many. Hoping you get the support, whether State Department or outside on your own, for dealing with the quakes past, present, and future.

  4. I am so sorry to hear about these difficulties. I had a complete breakdown after moving to Pakistan many years ago, and I called the RMOP in Dehli. He got me on pills, site unseen. Of course you can buy anything over the counter in India, so I sent my DH, who sent a driver, out to get me Prozac and Valium. (If you have read 1st Realities of the FS, you have read my story.)

    This is just stupid that your RMOs didn't pay attention. Be glad, though, that you did not take the Medivac. You may still be there! And do send the head of MED your blog link, as wellthatwasdifferent suggested. There needs to be a lesson here.

    I hate to say it, but I still have PTSD from a burglary in Zimbabwe. Strange noises in the house at night still give me the willies. Eight years later.

    1. Thanks Victoria, I do remember your story which is one of the reasons why I thought; "ok toughen up Amy, some people have been through so much more". I think one of the problems is that I am in New Zealand-a first world country with good medical care and everyone gives off the vibe that you don't have any right to be uspet about anything here, It's paradise right? Everyone keeps asking why I didn't just go to a local psychiatrist here. Well, I thought about it but also was being given the impression by my local GP and other people who had been through earthquakes too back in the States, that I simly had to pull myself together and buck up and all that. I didn't want to be a whiney disappointment plus, help from the DOS always seemed just around the corner.
      Plus, there always seems to be someone to remind me that my husband is an ELO so anything that I do could somehow jeopardize his career or prevent him from getting tenure. I was afraid of rocking the boat. I still am.

      I remember in the week after the quake, I cut off my waist length hair to chin level and dyed it four times. You would think someone may have thought that was a bit odd. It seemed perfectly logical to me at the time.

      Anyway, not that I am glad that you went through that horrific experience, but it is somehow comforting knowing that other people need help sometimes too. Thanks for the kind words.

  5. I was on valium and percocet for the past 4 out of 5 weeks (took my last percocet a week ago) for post-surgical pain and discomfort from my January reconstruction. I was very careful, of course, but did I get addicted? No, absolutely not. I took them when I needed them, felt better and stopped when I no longer had as much pain. They didn't do anything for me other than lessen the pain.

    I'm so sorry....and very glad you chose to make this public...

  6. Urgh, this is so infuriating, Amy! Things like PTSD and depression are still so misunderstood and unfortunately for the people affected, often written off as someone overreacting or what not. However, I know from experience that many of us wait for a long time and try to deal with our problems ourselves before we reach for help and if that help never comes, it can get really serious because those things don't just go away. I am sorry you didn't get the help you needed, girlfriend. It's hard to know where to go and what to do in a different country, when you are worried about your husband's career on top of everything. Perhaps you can get a second opinion from a local psych doc. Maybe the LES can give you a recommendation. Sending you a cyber hug!

  7. I am so sorry for what you have been through. Has no one recommended simple talk therapy during this time? I think you are in therapy now? I hope so. It can do a world of good, and in fact, drugs without therapy probably wouldn't be very effective at all (full disclosure: I am the daughter of shrinks). I have often thought of you and followed your blog during/after the quake(s). You have been through a lot and I hope you get the help you need.