When your child is sick, nothing else matters. Literally, it’s as though the world stops.
I don’t mean sick with a cold, though that presents its own challenges. I mean sick and you don’t know what’s wrong. Sick and you think you’ve cured the problem, but then you haven’t. Sick and they drop further and further away from school and family life. Sick and you don’t know how to help them. Sick without a way to comfort or make them feel better. Sick and the appointments keep piling up. Sick and the medical procedures mount in severity and invasiveness. Sick and you’re not sure when they’ll get better—IF they’ll get better. Even for sick children, there are no promises.
Dealing with a sick child feels akin to dealing with grief.
THE FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF:
(from psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s book On Death and Dying)
October: Blood in her stool. Oh my god, it’s cancer. No, no, the walk-in doctor calms and soothes. Anal bleeds are common enough in children and can be caused by anal fissures, small tears in the rectum. Put some Anusol on it. Nothing more than a little dry skin.
December: The sharp acrid smell of urine on the carpet, mixed with the unmistakeable stench of shit. The sewer aroma hits my nose as I rise up the staircase before I see the pile on the floor. She ran to the toilet but didn’t make it—couldn’t make it—in time.
January: We will change her diet. A “special” diet is more work for our busy family, puts a strain on the enjoyment and spontaneity of life—no more going out on a whim until we have lived this diet change and know where and what is safe. Family dinners to grandparents are altered, one more load we exert on our support network. But the changes will be worth it, because then she will feel better. And, there, everything will be fixed. We will give up gluten, but in exchange, she will feel better. That was the deal. That was the fucking deal.
Why this kid? Why the kid with Down syndrome? I don’t want it to be someone else’s kid, or one of my other children, but why THIS kid? Hasn’t she been through enough?
Why our family?
February: I feel less anger and more sadness, a tingling in my chest, pinpricks behind my eyes. We’ve been here before, ten years ago. This procedure and that surgery and once she recovers, you can take her home. With the help of our village, we took her home. I don’t want to have to send her back. Watching your child be put under involves an alchemy of insanity and sightless hope. Time exists outside of ticking clocks on the wall. Nothing else matters but that they should wake back up.
A line from a prayer my grandma used to help me recite at bedtime when I was a little girl: And if I die, before I wake…
ACCEPTANCE: I’m not there yet.