Everyone Has Emotional Triggers, but I Didn't See Mine Coming

Everyone has them. Some are obvious, some not so much.


Some people are triggered to anger. Others to sadness. Still others to confusion or disbelief. Everyone has something that triggers an emotional response of some sort and it often seems out of your control; it just happens.

Maybe it is a smell, a place, a situation, a word, a person, a food, who knows. It could be anything. Apparently, mine is a phrase.

This past week my wife and I went to see the movie, Five Feet Apart. To be completely fair, I get weepy during movies anyway, but this one was different.

Without spoiling the film, let me just say during an unexpected time, a character in the hospital ran into some trouble. I wasn’t even invested in this character, but during the scene it happened; I was triggered. By one little phrase:

“Start chest compressions.”

Of course, everyone in the theatre knew the scene was intense, but when those words came out, I lost it. My wad of popcorn napkins transformed to tear-soaked tissues in moments. I was sobbing. I clenched my eyes closed hoping no one could see how hard I wanted to cry. It wasn’t a manly performance, but it was a fatherly one.

I’ve never really appreciated the affliction of PTSD until I had been around a couple of people close to me who had it. Even then, the correlation between a trigger and a response was still quite odd and misunderstood. Not any more.


Those words. “Start chest compressions.” Those three words changed my life almost 12 years ago.

Tammy was looking up at me from the delivery table, the anesthesiologist was doing his thing and Brynna was about to arrive on the scene. My heart was in my throat. So much unknown. So much fear.

As they pulled her tiny body from my wife’s, she let out one tiny half cry. That’s it. And it stopped.

Some 20 people were in the room waiting for her. Every discipline you could imagine. Nurses, doctors, who knows who else.

They plopped her down on the little incubator table and surrounded her. I couldn’t see her, only the backs of scrubs and gowns. Tammy said quietly, “Is she ok?”

“I don’t know,” I replied.

The anesthesiologist has one job; keep Tammy safe during the procedure. She is his only attention. That’s when I knew things weren’t going well. He was staring at the collective of people working on Brynna, not at his patient. His face spoke worry and concern.

When I heard him say it I truly think my heart stopped for a second. I didn’t know what to feel, what to say what to do as the doctor said in a very matter-of-fact voice, “Start chest compressions.”

I hope you never need to hear those words spoken over anyone. And I pray I never hear them again.

Over the past twelve-ish years, I sometimes forget about that moment watching how vibrant and lively our little girl is these days. But it all came back Friday at the movies.

Every fear, every thought, every silly detail of that moment burned in my mind like it happened yesterday. “Start chest compressions.”

Who would have believed three little words could move a heart so powerfully, cause such a profound response. Not me. At least not until Friday.

Once the scene was over, the moment past, I wiped my face and the movie went on. So did my thoughts.

Just after that moment, they talked about things they missed because of their disease, moments, experiences, events, and happenings. All stolen away by choices they did not make, trials they did not ask for, hardships they never wanted to endure.

Another round of tears.

I started thinking about how much we’ve already missed and how much we will miss in the future with Brynna. Her first basketball game, her first date, first car, first day of college, first apartment, and then, the BIG ONE…


In just a few weeks my oldest daughter will walk with me down the aisle as I give her hand to another man to take over her care for the rest of their lives. I’ll never get to do that with Brynna.

Don’t get me wrong, the blessing she is, and has been since birth, can’t be measured in any piddly earthly measurements, but in eternal units only God can fully decipher. This truth just hit me and sat on my soul in a heavy and profound way.

And our day wasn’t over. There was another heavy task at hand. But that is another story for next time.