My husband asked me to accompany my nearly eleven year old son, Damian, for his minor surgery a few years back. Michael is not comfortable in hospitals. I agreed although the thought of spending time there was not appealing to me either. My son grumbled on the drive because he had not been able to eat or drink for most of the day to prepare. He definitely has enjoyed being well nourished since he was a baby. We laugh at his first picture where it looks like he is sucking. The two of us arrived late afternoon and checked in.
As I was filling out the paperwork, I overheard one nurse tell another, “We are behind by at least an hour. This happens all the time and I wish they planned better.” I asked for an update on our scheduled time and they confirmed it was delayed. I pointed out it would have been easy to make a phone call and let me know. We could then have avoided spending extra hours at the hospital waiting around. I got the obligatory, “So sorry, there is nothing we can do. This is hospital policy.” I felt talked down to and that my even raising the question was somehow a breach of etiquette.
The nurse then, on her own initiative, got her supervisor to come by to tell me exactly the same thing. Now I am starting to boil. I understood the words perfectly the first time. Having them delivered by a person with some authority did nothing to rectify the situation or make me feel validated. In fact, it had the opposite effect. I was then told I was welcome to file a complaint. I tried not to lose sight of why I was there - -to support my son – although I was getting more upset about their efforts to justify their actions than I was about the original delay.
To get my focus back on track, I turned to my son and asked if he was glad I was there with him. He replied, “I am happy you came, Mommy, because I am scared.” Now I was refocused. I told him, “You don’t look scared,” as he happily watched cartoons in his unflattering hospital gown. (He was none too happy with having this memorialized as you can see.) He replied, “That’s because I am good at hiding it.” Hmmm, not the response I expected. My mind was taken back to when he was a toddler and not so good at hiding his fears. We decided to go to an all-inclusive hotel in Mexico for a family vacation. We settled on the only one with a kids club that accepted 2 year olds. We discover another resort next door with exciting options including turtles, black panthers and an underground water way you could float down. We decided to see the animals and experience the river.When we got to the entry point of the stream, we were each given life jackets. Damian, then two, excitedly pulled his on over this head. And he and I jumped together into the unexpectedly frigid water and began floating with the current. As we entered the underground caverns, Damian, no longer was sure this was for him, started thrashing and pushing me down. I was afraid for both of us. So I started singing nursery rhymes and asked him to sing with me. As soon as he started belting out “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” his body relaxed. And he again floated peacefully with me inside the dark spaces. We continued down this river tour with people laughing as they passed by us or occasionally even joining in the impromptu caroling. After serenading perfect strangers with every child friendly song we knew (and a few twice), we arrived safely at the other side. His ability to change his perspective, and focus on the something other than his fear, gave him a whole new view of the experience.
Since we had time, we decided to walk around a bit. After some exploration of the hospital, we eventually received word the doctor was out of his prior surgery. Damian was wheeled away for his turn. And I went to find a Starbucks and get a much needed cup of coffee. I found myself again reflecting on the annoyance of the unplanned late night and the unpleasant exchanges of earlier.As I waited for the elevator, another mother walked up and asked, “Done for the night?” “No,” I replied. “They just took my son away for surgery.” She smiled sympathetically and shared, “My son is getting chemo.” I quickly retorted, “Oh, that’s worse.” She had the look of someone who knew too much about the subject as she said wearily, “They are all bad.” During our brief ride, she shared her son was 15, just about the same age as my eldest at the time, and was being treated for lymphoma. I sensed she received some small measure of comfort from what she perceived as our shared experience. I did not have the heart to tell her my son’s surgery was of a routine nature and nothing like what her son was battling.
I walked out of the elevator feeling humbled and small. How could I complain about such minor inconveniences when there were mothers, like this one, facing down gut wrenching challenges? Why wasn’t I more grateful for the health of my children? I realized for me too, like my son when he was a toddler, a change in perspective made me instantly see things very differently. I owe that mother a big "thank you" for the important reminder.