Panic in Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden – May 2008

The narrow cobblestone passages of Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town, are a claustrophobic’s nightmare. It is here that my husband and I find some shelter from the biting, damp wind that chased us out of the modern part of the city. Spring takes its time arriving in this latitude. We didn’t think we’d need our winter coats in May.

Impeccably decorated shop windows display antiques and other unique curios. The shops, however, are too small to loiter in long enough to dispel the chill. We linger over beers in a medieval subterranean pub, trying to psych ourselves up to venture back out. My husband suggests that we try out the sauna and hot tub at our hotel. Maybe by tomorrow the wind will have subsided and we’ll be able to explore more of Stockholm.

On our way back to the hotel, we stop by H&M and buy some bathing suits. As soon as we get to our room, I strip off my boots and jeans. I notice that my legs are covered in bruise-like marks from the top of my thighs to my ankles. A tremor moves through me. Something is very wrong. My husband rushes out to the reception to call for a doctor.

The hotel receptionist’s eyes widen when she sees my legs. She calls us a taxi, because it’s quicker than an ambulance. I pace back and forth, because if I sit my body will start to quake. I try to slow my breathing. I’m having a panic attack, but this time it’s really possible that I’m going to die.

On the way to the hospital, my husband holds my hand and tells me that everything will be alright. I’m shaking so badly that the taxi driver glances at me in alarm. I prepare myself for the worst. Everyone has to die eventually. I shake my head. After all of the dangerous places I’ve been in the world, it would be almost laughably ironic to die in Sweden.

The emergency room is quiet. I’m immediately led to a small examination room. The young nurse frowns when she sees my legs. “They’re covered in hematomas,” she says. “I’ve never seen anything like this.” She covers me with a blanket and tells us that the doctor will be in as soon as he can, but that it will be a while. She squeezes my shoulder. “We’ll take care of you. Please don’t worry.”

The nurse checks on me every half hour. Gradually, I stop shaking and my mind clears. I lift the blanket and look down at my legs. I touch one of the spots. A thought occurs to me: could they be stains from my newish jeans? It would be strange, because I’ve worn and washed them a couple of times and this hasn’t happened. I go into the bathroom and wipe them with a wet paper towel and soap. They disappear. My relief soon gives way to embarrassment. I tell the nurse that they disappeared on their own. She tells the cashier to reimburse us, because I didn’t see a doctor. Then she gives me a hug. I’m stunned by her genuine kindness. The one and only time that I went to the emergency room in Los Angeles, I was charged a ridiculous sum for the privilege of being treated worse than a dog.

On the taxi ride back to the hotel, I lean my head on my husband’s shoulder, exhausted. It was nothing but a panic attack. It’s been years since I’ve had one, and this one was the worst. The slightest of tremors moves through me, an ominous reminder of what lurks in the hidden corners of my mind.

45 thoughts on “Panic in Sweden

  1. Wow — Julie, how scary! My friend had a similar experience with her jeans and she now refers to them as the “death pants.” Your photos are fantastics, by the way! Steph

  2. Excellent post!! There is nothing like a good old fashioned panic attack to remind us that we are human and that we don’t want to let go of life. Been there…Great story and happy ending – what a wonderfully supportive husband…

  3. I can almost imagine the cold and the panic… I’m glad they weren’t real hematoma, the nurse in me was thinking of possible illness while I was reading through 😀

  4. Very amusing post! Pity the doc didn’t turn up though (imagine if you really had been dying!!!) because he would have been able to dine out on the story for years! Lovely pics: very reminiscent of Warsaw’s old town. By the way, if you like the ancient cobblestone thin you must get yourself to Lviv (if you haven’t already done so). They have a fantastic City Tourist office there: they have been really helpful in my business, are very professional and…..they’re just plain nice!

  5. Wonderful post ,Thank you so much for liking my (about) Have a delightful new year.jalal

  6. Panic attacks can be very frightening; when I have them, they can be brought on by something that has the slightest similarity to a traumatic memory and once they start, it’s hard to turn them off because the amygdala takes over – the most primitive part of our brain – trained to ready us for fight or flight. Your description was extremely powerful and well written. Maybe it will help others to understand what it’s like to have a panic attack if they’ve been fortunate to never have one. Thank you for writing the post!

    • Hi there – Thanks so much for your comment. I did write the post to help others understand what panic attacks are like. It goes way beyond anxiety. It’s not like you can just “calm down” after they really kick in. You have to ride them out.

      Best of luck to you in your recovery and thanks so much for stopping by. –Julie

  7. Thank you for the beautiful photos. Unfortunately, Sweden is already at the top of my list of must see places. Perhaps it has something to do with my father and his family all being from there? 🙂

  8. Great post. Wonderful description of panic attack.
    Thank you for visiting my blog today. I appreciate the time you took to stop by. May your day be filled with joy and peace.
    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

  9. Great blog and lovely photos……..can relate to the medical experience as well. Went to a hospital here in Mexico assuming I’d had a stroke, (couldn’t walk straight and had a serious headache) but, it was just an ear infection. Was treated quite well and we all shared a smile. Enjoyed this much………..

  10. Ah you poor poor dear. i have experienced anxiety attacks and it takes all my resources to ride them out. The only thing that helps at all is deep breathing exercises. You are indeed fortunate to have such a supportive partner. Glad it had a good ending and you can laugh about it. :} Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi there – I’ve tried a lot of natural techniques for the attacks. I’ve so far been able to deal with them without medication. Laughing is a way to diminish the fear of them, which you probably know can also provoke one. Thanks for stopping by and reading. 🙂

  11. What a nightmare journey … Yes it is not easy with the cold here in Sweden … not even for us Swedes, even if we love our country anyway, but iblnd we escape into something warmer country for rejuvenation …
    Winters, however, is even worse … they are cold and it’s dark at 09:00 in the morning and then come back the darkness already at 16:00 on the day … It’s really tough …
    I was happy when I read about the jeans and can understand your panic, but how wonderful that it was leaning this way … and this is after I believe that you can laugh at this story …

    • Hello! Thank you for reading and giving your Swedish perspective. 🙂 It is indeed a beautiful country, long winters and all. I admire you all for being able to tolerate the dark and cold. Cheers!

      • Thank you very much…Yes its hard to be Swedish ha ha ha but i like it… and I am from Gothenburg but I like Stockholm and the best in Stockholm its absolutely the old city… didn´t you like that??? 🙂

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