Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Fish Died

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 21, 2011

    Caroline, fifty-two, had major heart surgery last May. She approached her upcoming hospital stay and intervention with ease and grace. She was grateful for the attention from her loved ones, but she was neither needy or demanding. She appeared to have little stress. Recently, her doctor told her that she now had to have a pacemaker put in, a fairly minor procedure. Caroline now cannot sleep. Her appetite disappeared. She is angry that her husband is not more supportive around this upcoming procedure. “It sounds like the kid whose mother dies and then goes out and plays, but when he is told his fish died, he throws himself on the ground with terribly dismay.” I say, pointing out to her that one would have expected her to be stressed with open-heart surgery, whereas a placing a pacemaker is a relatively minor procedure. It seems clear to me that she is only upset about the pacemaker because she is having a delayed stress response to her surgery last May. Caroline agrees, although she still cannot stop worrying about this pacemaker. “It is so interesting to me that you are allowing yourself to worry about this procedure, whereas when you had open-heart surgery, you marched through it like a soldier, almost as if you did not allow yourself to have feelings about that.” I say, again reminding her that her feelings seem out of proportion to the current stressor, but they are in proportion if we consider the historical context.

4 Responses to “The Fish Died”

  1. Shelly said

    You are right that this is an interesting reaction. What do you make of it?

    • I think she tried to be “tough” for her open-heart surgery, but now she is experiencing her feelings. Unfortunately, since there is a long delay, to her loved ones, her reaction seems odd and perplexing. Diane is a good example of how some people try to deny their feelings and this only lasts for so long and then the feelings bubble up to the surface, only now, they are not attached to the original stressor.

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