Friday, September 20, 2013

On Having a Sick Child

I’m not going to tell you what my son came down with or how serious it was.  In this day and age, it’s almost impossible to post something on the internet and not have it come back and bite you in the ass.  My ass turns out to be rather bitable (what can I say, it’s pretty awesome), but I can’t have it bite my son.  His ass is tiny and isn’t as nicely round as mine.  However, vague mentions of a child’s illness tend to engender concerned comments and offers of prayer and good thoughts.  Let’s just say he’s fine and leave it at that.

What follows is a bit scattershot.  However, so was the last month or so of my life.
There are those who believe in evidence-based (western) medicine.  They think that healing comes from trained professionals who either work with the body’s natural systems or apply medicines and surgery whose efficacy has been proven through careful research.  There are those who believe in alternative therapies.  They think that the human body can heal anything with vitamins, homeopathic remedies, and the like.  There are those who believe in spiritual healing.  They believe that only God (or gods or spirits) can heal you.

There is much debate and conflict between these three groups, but we all agree on one thing: when blood comes out of your kid, you get serious. 

Men have trouble crying.  I can’t really explain what it is, but I’m sure some of it is cultural.  Whenever I’m feeling deeply sad, whenever I feel tears starting to form, Something inside me says “Stop that!  What if someone sees you?  Usually The Something wins and the tears go away.  Other times, I sincerely want to cry, but can’t, and I’m left feeling empty.
It’s rare to have an emotion so strong it pushes past The Something.  When my ex-wife told me she was divorcing me, I cried until I fell asleep, woke up and started crying again.  That lasted about a week (when I remembered I’d never have to see my mother-in-law again).
Having a sick child is worse than dealing with The Something.  You want to cry, but can’t in front of your children.  You have to smile, and laugh, and say “Oh, it’s not that bad.  Don’t be scared.”  After you’ve put them to bed, hours after you hear them snoring quietly, you collapse onto the floor next to your dining room table and sob until mucus comes out of your nose.  The Something yells “You’re pathetic.  What are you doing there on the floor?  Get up and deal with it!”  There’s a grim satisfaction in telling The Something to shut the fuck up, but you’re still on the floor with a sick child you can’t help.

He needs a medical procedure.  To those who avoid western medicine: I can understand your reluctance.  Western medicine is weird.  A nurse named Irma calls and asks the oddest questions.  Does he have any loose teeth?  Does he snore?  Is he allergic to seafood?
Seriously?  They’re going to put him under, remove his teeth, and feed him lobster?  At least he'll be prepared for his fraternity initiation when he gets to college.

When we get there, the doctors check and double check everything.  My son gets two arm bands with his information and a red one that warns against giving him penicillin.  Why would they give him penicillin?  No reason.  They just want to be sure.  Each time someone comes over to meet us, he checks my son’s arm bands and asks him his name and birthdate.  It gets a bit repetitive, but I suppose it’s better than doing the procedure on the wrong kid.
When all the doctors are finally together, they do this odd ritual where they talk through the procedure and each confirms every part.  It was like secret agents synchronizing their watches before going out to steal death ray plans from Dr. Impossible.

Then they wheel him away, dressed in the hospital gown, fuzzy red socks, and hair net they provided.  You stare after him, helpless.  It’s a lot like the first time you leave your kid with a babysitter and he cries after you as you walk to your car.  What if your babysitter isn’t who she says she is?  What if she faked her references?  What if she’s going to kidnap him, rape him, kill him, bury him in an abandoned car somewhere?  There’s nothing you can do but go sit at Starbucks with your laptop for a few hours and wait until it’s time to go back.

When my wife and I decided to have children, I went in to get a DNA test.  The doctors asked when my wife was due, and I explained we hadn’t conceived yet.  They were surprised.  Those of us who really plan to have children are a rarity.  Most people got pregnant and then decided to check for horrible congenital diseases.

Then what would they do?
I need to know all the problems before I commit to anything.  After I agreed to have kids, I thought “You’ve always had that minor medical problem; what if your kid has it even worse?”

And here’s my advice to people considering becoming parents.  Your children are you.  Every fault, every failing, every problem you have gets magnified in your children.  They aren’t some magical beings you made from enchanted beans given to you by an ancient wizard.  They don’t come from God.  Their bodies are made from your blood.  Their minds learn what you show them in your house.  You make them, failings and all.

When you have a child, you are investing it with a bit of yourself.  Sure, you’ll be gratified when they graduate school or succeed in business or start their own family.  It also means you are forging the keys to your own destruction.  When something goes wrong, and it will, it will wreck you forever.

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