Medical Emergencies

Traumatic Stress – medical emergencies and life threatening conditions

Each year 300,000 stroke survivors develop PTSD.  This is just one sample of one illness that has been studied.  These studies are just beginning and will grow to include many populations that suffer chronic or life threatening illnesses. We believe that emergency department and ICU staff should be educated in traumatic stress.  

Elizabeth: After finishing a grueling year and a half bout of treatment for colon cancer, Elizabeth (not her name) began having some very bizarre symptoms (to her). She was emotionally erratic, explosive, anxious, and afraid to leave home.  She was easily startled, had nightmares and was paranoid – afraid everything would hurt her. She didn't sleep well and she, who was/is a very social being, was not interested in seeing her many friends. Yes, she was depressed but it was more than that. Her husband, a Vietnam vet recognized that she was showing symptoms of PTSD but this was a medical event and she was completely unprepared that something like this could happen to her.  She looked for and received very specific short term trauma resolution work -- remember that traditional counseling does not impact symptoms of PTSD. Traumatic Stress remediation is a specialty and needs the attention of people trained as or by a Traumatologist. These symptoms grow as a result of a brain/body locked into survival and telling the story in a prescribed way will aid healing.  

Years ago, there was an article in our local paper in St. Paul, MN, by a reporter who intermittently interviewed a man who had been shot and as a result went through the emergency room at our local hospital.  Over the months, the reporter tracked him as he developed some strange symptoms and experiences that now we would call PTS but then were a mystery to anyone but a combat veteran.  This article stuck in my mind all these years.  Then when I had a brain hemorrhage 21 years ago, I developed those same symptoms but because I was already working with Vietnam vets with post-traumatic stress. I recognized what was wrong with me and addressed it. I wrote and wrote and wrote about the stroke and allowed other traumatic incidents to emerge and wrote and wrote and wrote about them as well until the symptoms dissipated and my life returned to normal. The experience stuck with me along with that old article I read in St Paul. My question became: If this has also happened to me, it cannot be uncommon and must happen to others more frequently than we know.   Over the years I have found isolated incidents of medically induced PTS including a recent article that attributes hallucinations and PTS symptoms to sedation – what I see in the content of hallucinations is that sedation gives expression to what the body has experienced.  Yes, a body attacked internally by a brain hemorrhage or stroke or whatever other medical emergency will produce images of rape and assault.  The body experiences the events that way and the unconscious produces images appropriate to those experiences.  

At that point, I realized that the medical community needed assistance in helping their patients and in anticipating the possibility for PTS/toxic stress and eliminating it before it started.


I am available to present my story and the stories of others to staff and volunteers. 

                                Andrea Steffens, PhD Executive Director of Ashlar Center.


Associates for Ashlar Center are available to educate and demonstrate methods of working with potential PTS with hospital staff and volunteers in: 

*the neuroscience of PTS

*identifying and educating patients who might develop PTS symptoms - ACE study -- have trauma history -- introducing it with many of us do.

*providing the patient with educational materials about symptoms of PTS

Providing the same materials in Emergency Department for patients and staff

*as part of the daily routine, provide easy to do remediation services before the patient is released 

The steps are simple and involve building the medical story into conversations between patients and staff.   We believe that these patient center directed “debriefing” conversations utilizing very specific methods with patients will accelerate healing and certainly make a hospital stay less frightening – From my own experience, I found the dissonance between what was going inside me and the approach of staff made me feel very isolated. A more helpful response to medical emergencies requires that the hospital staff and some volunteers who have contact with Emergency department patients, oncology or ICU be educated in the conditions that create PTS, how they can amend behavior toward patients, understand what it is like and why some patients are with PTS and others are not and what to do about it. It helps patients when hospital culture includes understanding of the terror that can exist in their patients – sufficient enough to create the brain changes even though they may appear placid on the surface.   

Our educational process takes 8 hours which can be spread over several days.

We will leave you with educational materials for your staff and patients – especially useful in an Emergency Department. 

We will be happy to discuss the presentation, the classes and the fees.

Articles and studies on PTSD hospital as a result of medical events and conditions:‎


resources for patients: breathe to relax (Google it. It is free on iTunes)