The first time I had to bring one of my children to the hospital was when Ella was 5 weeks old. A week or so before, my son swallowed a metal screw that had come off the battery cover of a walkie-talkie so we all went to Urgent Care for x-rays just to make sure it was, um, going to come out. I’m pretty sure Ella picked up a virus while we were there. She developed a cold that progressed to the point of listlessness and weight loss. After visiting the pediatrician for what must have been the 3rd or 4th time in as many days, the doctor gently but firmly encouraged us to bring her to the local children’s emergency room. Her pulse-ox had fallen below 90% and she had developed a faint blue ring around her lips.
That drive was the worst one of my life. I was convinced she would die in the car, and the entire ride there I berated myself for not sitting in the backseat next to her. Once at the hospital, she was poked and manhandled and her little foot was squeezed to get blood, and because she was soooo tiny they decided to insert the IV into one of the larger veins on her head.
I had to leave the room multiple times.
I was unreliable.
I couldn’t handle it – her pain, my fear, the utter lack of control over anything. I just wanted out. I wanted to vomit. And cry. And have someone hold me and tell me “shhhh, it’ll be okay.” But who could do that? We didn’t know how things would turn out. Doug was as scared as I was, but he was much more stoic. He stayed.
I left and he stayed.
I sat just outside the room and covered my ears, trying to soften the edges of her squeaky newborn “mommycomenow” screeches.
Fast forward a year, and I rushed my son to the ER after a GI bug left him vomiting with a 104 temp. He was 3. I was scared but it was different – I thought he might have a seizure because of the fever. Once on a gurney, behind curtains, the hospital folks agreed that he was dehydrated and needed an IV. They had to pin my 3 year-old down, f-r-e-a-k-i-n-g out like someone was lighting him on fire, as they tried to insert the needle into his arm. I tried weakly to comfort him – “It’ll be okay, it will be over quick” – but the tears pouring from his bright blue, terrified eyes flipped my stomach over onto itself and I collapsed next to the bed, dry-heaving. Chaos ensued as they yelled for help, someone miraculously appeared with a wheelchair and a plastic bowl, and I found myself again outside the curtain, clutching a small juicebox with shaky hands and filled with self-loathing.
When the boy was 6, also know as The Year of Strep on the Desmond calendar, he had to have his tonsils removed. Not knowing how reliable I could be in this scenario, Doug and I both took the day off. Things went well. I took pix of him all doped up pre-surgery. I read magazines and texted during the surgery, feeling a growing sense of confidence in my ability to be there for this medical crisis. In recovery though, it was a mess. He was inconsolable, crying and flailing and incoherent. His cloudy eyes met mine briefly just as I noticed and tried to ignore the bloody drool across his cheek and down his chin, and in a flash, it was like I was HIM and I knew what he was feeling.
Pain. An inability to swallow. Panic. Fear of choking, not being able to breathe. Feeling like nobody was helping. Complete terror.
Gagging, I was overcome with sweat and nearly fainted. I was ushered back to the waiting room for my OWN recovery, which is where I stayed for the next hour. Maybe two? I was eventually able to get back to him. Doug, steadfast as usual, had remained with him the entire time.
This is my Achilles heel, my big weakness. I can’t handle it when they are hurt. I CAN’T HANDLE IT. I crumble and collapse. I fail. This must be why we get married, right? The yin-yang necessary in parenting.
I am continually humbled and inspired and awe-struck by the courage and grace of mothers who endure life’s curve balls and sucker-punches. Moms fighting for the rights of their special-needs children. Moms in the blogging community who have lost their children too soon to illnesses or shocking accidents. My friend Suzanne, coping with the loss of one of her babies followed by her own devastating cancer diagnosis. I know their stories and feel their pain and know they might want to hide outside the room and cover their ears to the crying but they DON’T. They keep trying, reaching, hoping, fighting.
I look to these women and I see the kind of person I strive to be.
I am flawed. I am still learning. I make mistakes. I get scared. I want to run away sometimes, but I don’t.
I am not unreliable.