You might have thought he had a broken arm. If you were outside in the hallway of the doctor’s office today, you probably would have suspected a possible dislocated shoulder that they were trying to reset. One thing is certain, you never would have guessed that it was a simple tongue depressor.
My adopted son, James, hates to hurt. Now, I think that’s true for everyone, but he really hates to hurt, and I know that, but he was sick and a doctor’s visit was a must. I did everything right…
I prepped him…I told him before we left exactly what to expect. “The doctor will look in your ears, your nose, your mouth. You might get a flu test, but probably not…etc, etc”.
But there’s one fundamental problem with that-he still doesn’t completely trust me. And he certainly doesn’t trust a doctor. Honestly, I knew that there would be some hiccups in this trip. James was really, really sick, but I never expected the hang up to be right out the shoot…on the “Open your mouth and say ahhhhh….” part.
But we’re talking about full blown panic mode. I mean, screaming, kicking, crying, over a tongue depressor. Yeah, you would have thought we were torturing him. I had to physically restrain him so the doctor could just get a quick peek down the windpipes. It was at that point that I knew that taking James to the doctor rivaled taking my four-year-old Lydia to the doctor (one of the Winter Olympic Sports).
So when the doctor said that he was going to do an injection, my heart sunk like an anchor off the side of a cruise liner. Oh boy….
I did everything right….
I prepped him. I told him exactly what to expect. We related this shot to the flu shot, which he said wasn’t bad at all. Personally, I think a flu shot stings like crazy, so for a moment, a fleeting second, I figured that this might just be okay. But then, I looked into his face, tears still streaming down his cheeks, a look of complete panic in his eyes, and I remembered, no, this child needs more healing than a family doctor can offer. So I hunkered down, and made the decision that we’re going to get through this together. We’re just going to survive.
The nurse came in, and we got him ready. I’ve seen him jittery, but this was a new level of panic for him. He asked to hold my thumb, and I offered him that, and took his other hand in mine. Even though I told him every single step, the alcohol swab alone was enough to send him into a fresh batch of tears. The shot came and went, and for a split second, I thought it was over…maybe not as bad as I thought. And then the wailing began.
I have no doubt that the shot hurt like blue blazes, but what followed was not the typical reaction of an eight-year-old. In fact, my toddlers handled antibiotic shots better, I thought. But then, they knew that I would immediately grab them and give them the comfort they so desperately needed at that moment. The crying then lasted for mere seconds. James just doesn’t have that history. He isn’t sure that I’ll be able to provide him comfort. So when he hurts, no matter how big or how small, in his mind, he’s handling it alone, completely and utterly alone. That’s why the smallest hurts hurt so bad.
The odd thing is that since he missed that toddler experience of being swooped up and comforted, he has to be dealt with completely differently. I can’t just swoop him up and it’s over. No, because he’s expecting everyone in his life to hurt him, he goes straight to the fight or flight response. So in these situations, he has to be talked down from the ledge. I’m sure that I looked like an insensitive parent when I looked at him and firmly said, “James, stop.” But the thing is that if I allow him to keep going, we will be completely out of control in a few seconds. Once I interrupted the immediate shock, I start in gentle and firm, “James, it’s over. It’s done, and you’re going to feel so much better. James, you’re okay! Look, you made it through just fine.” It’s a long process of talking him off the ledge. Over the course of the afternoon, we ordered a milkshake, talked about the doctor and how he wants to help us, how our doctor can be trusted to do the right thing to make us well. We even talked about the best way to take a shot. It’s been a long day. In fact, he was still talking about his shot tonight when I put him to bed. Because the truth is, it was traumatic for him. Not just the normal traumatic doctor visit that every kid (and adult) makes from time to time, but worse. Exponentially multiplied by the past.
And here’s where I have a choice….I could simply say, “Well, I tried. I guess this is just what it is to go to the doctor with him.” But I won’t. Because that does him a disservice. I want him to know that fear is not a wall to stop you, it’s just a wall to climb, and I want to give him the footholds he needs to help him climb those walls. That’s one of the things we do as parents. We make life a little less scary for our kids, right?
So this week, we will be playing a lot of doctor. We will be practicing our “Ahhhhh” tongue depressing skills, and we’ll do pretend shots. I never knew that I’d have to use every ounce of patience and creativity I can muster for something as simple as a doctor’s visit. Sometimes, it seems like my patience has run too thin…but right about that moment, we have a breakthrough. Suddenly, he can tie his shoes. Suddenly, he doesn’t cry endlessly about a minor bump. So while this was a tough experience for us both, I’m keeping in mind the victory we will share when we finally earn his trust.