Every once in a while I have a “duh” moment that sticks with me. You know one of those times when you realize a concept that should be obvious to you all along unexpectedly becomes clear. The first example that comes to my mind was when I was 6 or 7 and I made the connection between the chicken on my dinner plate and the “cluck-cluck” kind at the farm. That was not pretty. I remember tears and my first brief stint as a vegetarian.
I was reminded of another one of those moments this week as I accompanied Max to his allergist appointment. The “duh” moment I was remembering occurred when Max was 4. He and I were in the outpatient surgery area at the children’s hospital in Memphis waiting for a nurse to come start his i.v. He hated i.v.s and had enough experience with them that he had requested numbing cream for his hand before she began. Humoring him, she had applied it and promised to return in 20 minutes by which point it should have had a chance to work its magic.
For the next 20 minutes, basically all Max had to think about was her return and that i.v. He kept saying he was scared. After a few attempts at distraction, I decided to change tactics. Maybe we could reason our way through this. I directly asked him: “But why are you scared?” Then I rattled off reasons why he should feel safe. I reminded him that he had had i.v.s before, and it had turned out fine. I re-explained the i.v. was so he could receive medicine that would allow him to be asleep for the lumbar puncture the surgeon was going to perform. I reminded him he preferred that to being awake and that he had been given a choice in that matter. This was his choice. I ended with pointing out how much he trusted the surgeon and that the whole procedure would be over before he knew it. It was possible he was going to receive a new toy from the hospital toy room for his trouble.
Max listened carefully and nodded his agreement with each of my points. Then he paused for a minute and said “I’m scared because I have to lie here in the bed and what I really want is to get up and run away.” Of course, right there is for me the definition of courage. I remember being blown away with the simplicity of his answer. I had never really thought about it that way before.
Now since the doctors, nurses and I were bigger than Max (at that point anyway, he is now more than 5 feet and might give some of us a run for our money), you could argue that he didn’t have a choice. He would have to expect that we would retrieve him and bring him back if he tried to delay. Still he was always a remarkably cooperative little patient.
As we were waiting for the skin allergy testing this week at the allergist office, I was reminded of that moment again. Last year the allergist just did a brief test of cow’s milk in her office. This year she wanted to re-test all the environmental triggers with the idea that he might start allergy shots (or immunotherapy as the permission forms I subsequently signed call it) in the next few months.
If you have never had skin allergy testing, they typically have you remove your shirt and prick you on the arm or back with a small amount of allergen. Then they leave the room and wait 15 to 20 minutes to see which spots develop wheals or small raised itchy spots. The results are based on how big and red the different spots are. In the meantime, they expect you to lie still while your back gets itchier and itchier. Max has had this procedures in some form every year. He is familiar with it. He wasn’t looking forward to it this year, but he had a silver lining. He was focused on those shots. The shots held the promise that he could get his cat allergy under control. If it was under control, that would pave the way for the return of our cat who has been living in exile at my parent’s house since Max’s asthma began to get progressively worse when he was 5.
With the kitty motivation in the front of his mind, he had been doing fine all through the check in. He had bantered with me and the nurse during the breathing tests they do regularly to check on the effectiveness of his asthma medication and was downright chipper during the first consultation with the doctor. When the nurse came back with the 48 vials she was about to stick on his back and asked him to remove his shirt, his demeanor changed and he audibly whimpered. I kept my tone light and asked, “Do you want to run away?” “Yes.” He didn’t though. He handed me his shirt and climbed up on the table. I thought to myself that is what courage is. Thank you for showing me Max.
P.S. I know mama brags can be kind of tiring. I don’t mean to imply that we have the market cornered on courage over here. This was a small moment, which I felt compelled to examine today, but I’m aware others have it both much worse and much better. If you want to see a much more incredible example of ongoing courage check out my friend Ashley’s blog at http://thehouseofdestephano.blogspot.com/. Wyatt must want to run away from the pain he lives with every day, but instead throughout his 10 years he’s chosen to get up and make the most of his days going to school, playing baseball and just living life to the fullest extent possible.