Making my child cry or the ghosts of blood draws past.
This is a part of DJ’s life with allergies, eczema, and asthma that is hard for me to handle as a mother.
And I’m not even against pain in childhood. I think making a mistake and living with the consequences is a very natural punishment that alters behavior more quickly that a hovering, nagging Momma. You don’t want to wear your jacket when it’s chilly outside. Fine, you’ll be cold and uncomfortable after a couple of minutes, but you won’t refuse your jacket again.
I’m okay with childhood discomfort.
But the pain caused by DJ’s allergic disease is nothing like childhood discomfort because my boy has no choice. He didn’t make a mistake and he doesn’t deserve any punishment, but he still has to live with the consequences of his disease every day. And Jesse and I, we face the agony of parents who can’t take away the disease or the pain it inflicts.
Sometimes I even help cause the pain.
About a week ago DJ had his first appointment with his new allergist. I knew a blood draw would happen at the end of the visit. It’s been two years since his last round of extensive allergy testing and we’re in a new healthcare system. There’s just no way that DJ was going to walk out of the clinic that day with all the blood he came in with.
I tried to prepare him. I told him before we even left the house that they were going to need his blood to find out how he’s doing on the inside. I encouraged him to bring a toy that made him feel brave (for the record, he chose a Rescue Bot). At the advice of the allergist’s medical assistant, I took DJ two buildings away to the pediatric laboratory where they would have an easier time finding his little veins.
But it ended like every blood draw before it, with me pinning my squirming, sobbing son to my chest while the phlebotomist takes the blood needed to run his allergy panel. Because when a child gets a blood draw, a parent is required to hold them in her lap.
It’s agony. Burning, gut-churning, sickening. Holding your child while they plead to be spared, begging you to not allow anyone to hurt them.
Last week was no exception. In fact, I don’t know what’s worse, the words he pleads with now, or the screams he pleaded with when he was younger. While he cried with words now I experienced an odd case of déjà vu, hearing simultaneously all the cries from the blood draws before, like the ghosts of blood draws past.
This is his seventh allergy panel in five years. Each time it feels like they wring every ounce of blood out of his body to get what they need to run the tests. The average is six vials of blood. To put that in perspective, I just had a routine blood draw for cholesterol and blood cell count and they took a vial and a half of my blood. And I’m about three times bigger than DJ right now at age five. When he was really little they would take as much blood as they safely could in one day, then come back the next day and take more blood from his other arm. So even though he’s had seven allergy panels, it’s been a lot more needles than that.
The blood draw I can’t forget, the one that really haunts me, happened when he was thirteen months old. He’d been ill, he was tiny, he was dehydrated, and he was a hard stick. But we’d traveled all the way from North Dakota to Denver for this blood draw and treatment. And he couldn’t get any treatment for anything until the allergy panel had been run.
We needed his blood. And no one could get it. Five different nurses tried. They tried while DJ screamed. And screamed. And screamed. They’d even put a numbing agent on his arm. They brought in a Child Life Specialist to distract and entertain him. My mother-in-law, who hates blood, stood over him the entire time, trying to get his attention. Over the course of two days they tried whenever they thought it was proper and humane and had barely gotten enough to run the basics.
He never stopped screaming. Until finally while they were trying once again to get his blood on the second day and he passed out. He had screamed for so long and so hard that his infant instinct to override his body when he experienced too much stimulation kicked in and he went to sleep.
The nurses asked if I would let them keep going. And I said, “Yes,” and silently added, “By all means, get his blood now while he’s asleep and protected from the pain and the fear.”
And they did. After it was over, I cradled my son, stood up from the examination table and nearly fell over. My muscles revolted and I realized I hadn’t taken a deep breath or relaxed a muscle the entire time we’d been in that room. I had pinned my son to my chest and held him tight for over thirty minutes while they dug with needles into his body.
I put my son through this torture, holding him down while he suffers. We roll up our sleeves and get it done. It’s a necessary evil, as much as I hate the phrase.
And I pray that we’re not too haunted by the ghosts of blood draws past.