As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Good Doctor

I have to take the kids to the doctor today, and I'm dreading it a little bit.  Not because of the appointment itself (routine vaccinations for my girls) but because of my behaviour at the last appointment.  That one was also for vaccinations, the flu shot to be specific.  For all of us.  My oldest has always had a fear of needles, and always needs extra coaxing to get through it.  I never try to hide it from them, or take them by surprise.  If we're going for needles, I tell them we're going for needles.  I figure it's better to let them process it on their own, and to trust that if they ask me a question ("Why are we going to the doctor?") that I'm going to give them an honest answer, even if it's not easy.

He seemed okay with it.  "I know it won't hurt," he said, "because it didn't hurt the last time. So even though I'm afraid, I'll do it."  I was proud of him for being so reasonable.  But then came the appointment.  One by one each of the other kids and I got our shot.  Not one of them cried, not even the two littlest ones.  Surely this was enough to show him there's nothing to be afraid of.  He stood beside me and the nurse rolled his sleeve up.  He asked us how long we thought it would take and we both said less time than it takes to count to ten.  And then, it happened.  He panicked.  Like full-on, meltdown.  My nine-year-old threw the biggest tantrum that any of my children has ever thrown in public. "NO NO MOMMY, I'M NOT DOING IT!" he screamed.  The nurse tried to tell him he needed to anyway, because Mommy had brought everyone in and it was a lot of work, and she shouldn't do it again.  She wisely tried to remind him (and me) that she remembered one time when he was nervous, how we said the Lord's Prayer together, and that helped.  I should have heeded her advice.

But I didn't.  I made the fatal mistake of trying to reason with him, to get him to make his own decision instead of telling him what I wanted him to do and not giving him a way out.  You see, I am slowly starting to realize with this boy that when things get tough, he always looks for a way out.  So when I said to him, "you don't have to get your shot, but if you don't you're going to the van and we're going straight home and you're staying in bed for the day," that was good enough.  Off he trodded.  Flustered, and knowing full well I had no intention of leaving without getting his flu shot, I left the poor nurse with my five other children (including the baby) and chased after my boy, who was halfway across the parking lot by now.  I knelt down, grabbed him by the shoulders and with gritted teeth said, "You are going to come in and get your flu shot NOW!"  As he screamed and flailed in protest, I picked him up (all four-feet and seventy pounds of him) and carried him, thrashing, back into the waiting room.  I put him down and he continued his panicky protest, and I spiralled even further down.  "If you don't come now, you're loosing screens for a month!" I threatened.  "And we're throwing out the Wii!"  Nothing. Not even his favorite things could deter him, which from experience I should have known.  I should not have made empty threats that I had no intention of following up on, but I did.  I should not have tried to bully him into making the decision I wanted him to make, and I should not have given him the illusion that he was in control when I was not about to give that control to him. Add that to my tally of mistakes for the day.

So I picked him up again, and started back to the room, determined to get this over with.  But my doctor just changed offices, and I, being unfamiliar with the new setup, unintentionally opened the door on my doctor with another patient!  I apologized profusely and crawled into the examination room with the nurse, who was waiting with the rest of my children, and did not try to hide my frustration any longer.  When my doctor came in, I apologized again and expected her to be (rightfully) upset at me for intruding on the privacy of another patient, and causing such a spectacle.  But she wasn't.

She gave him his shot while the nurse and I held him still, and praised him for doing such a good job when it was all over.  As she was handing out suckers and stickers, he, avoiding my glaring, mumbled, "I don't think I deserve one."  She and the nurse were both so positive with him, and told him that he did get the shot, and he did deserve his reward.  I couldn't muster gentleness just yet, I was so mad at him!  It was only when mercy was shown to me that my heart started to change.

My doctor, very matter-of-factly, told me that when kids become anxious about something, it doesn't do any good to try and reason with them.  She told me that the fear just becomes bigger and bigger, and that the only way to get through it is to just do it and get it over with.  She spoke objectively and generally, and was never once accusing of me, even though my behavior was well worth a reprimand. She was kind and positive, and managed to allow me to leave with the dignity I had sacrificed in my own poor attempt to handle the situation.

We spent the first few minutes of the ride home in silence.  When I was ready to talk, I told my boy how I didn't know what to say to him, and that I had never had any of my children melt down like that.  I told him how it hurt me that he didn't trust me, and that he thought I would do something to put him in danger - that he had to take a stand against me.  I told him it was worse that he didn't trust himself, and what he knew to be true - all the things he had said to me before he left.  And thinking about how bad it is to make empty threats I added, "of course I can't throw out the Wii, but you can't have any screens for a whole month."

There was silence again for a long while.  We stopped at a light and I looked at my boy, whose face hung low.  And it hit me just how stubborn I was being. I was the one who was misbehaving, throwing out wild threats in an attempt to coerce him.  I had the calm but authoritative affirmation from my doctor that this was normal behaviour for an anxious child - that it was not disobedient or defiant, but a simple response to his fear.  On the one side I had my own self-imposed expectations, the so-called "experts" who tell you to never back down from what you've said."  But on the other, the calm, reasonable, gentle opinion of a professional. In the end it was her treatment of me that allowed me to give up my stubborn pride, and to let go of the threats I had made in error.

I apologized to my boy, and told him it was wrong of me to try and bully him into choosing what I wanted him to choose.  I told him that next time, he would have no choice - immunizations are important, and we have to get them.  I hoped that it would not be such a fight, that he could use this experience to know that he can trust his own judgement, and mine and the doctor's, and not let fear take over, but I couldn't be certain.  I realized that by pretending he was in charge, what I was doing was making that fear even bigger.  Because if I offer him a way out, no matter what it is, he'll take it.  This boy can take whatever comes his way, and I know that's a very good thing. I just need to be prepared to let him handle the situation at hand.  Because if I trust him to handle something he can't change, he will almost certainly rise to the occasion.  But if I offer him any way out (real or perceived) I'm denying him that opportunity.  I'm playing up his fear even more.

I decided not take away screens for the month, but instead to have him to say the rosary once a day for a month instead.  I would get him his own rosary and leave the time up to him, but that once a day he would need to get his rosary, find a quiet place, and pray, asking the Lord to help him when he is afraid.  That instead of punishing him for my own foolish handling of the situation, it would be better to help him deal with his fear on an ongoing basis.  To know that he is not alone, and that it is okay (and normal) to be afraid, and also to walk through that fear instead of running away.  This is a task far bigger than me, but not bigger than God.  And maybe that's the point. Maybe God allows this situation to show me that I can't be my son's saviour, that I can't spare him from every trial he will face - and that's not my job.  My job is to point him in the direction of God, who helps each of us walk through any of life's circumstances with peace, no matter how difficult they may be.  That focussed on the Lord, my son will grow strong in the face of adversity.  But focussed on me (as I so ungracefully demonstrated that day) he will not.  If I try to be the answer, I will cripple him.  It is only by encouraging him to stand on his own two feet that he will grow, and that the only way I will be a strength to him is if I am pointing him to Christ, who does not internalize his struggle the way I do, but sees the whole big picture of his life.

Thank you so much, Dr. Humphrey, for helping me to see the situation with a clear head.  For your calm and gentle encouragement that allowed me to let go of my own stubborness, and to see things from his perspective instead of my own.  I have always been grateful for the care you have given my family the many years you have been my doctor, but never more than I was after that appointment.  You truly are a hero.

Never a dull moment

No comments :

Post a Comment