We have reached a terrifying time of year for me.
I'm not talking about Halloween. I'm talking about cold and flu season.
I'm so scared of the sickies that I endured a string of unpleasantries today in order to get flu shots for my kids and myself. We went to our local Health Department for their immunization clinic today. It was supposed to start at 4:00. We arrived at 3:30, and there was already a line formed.
We couldn't join the line right away because Nolan really had to use the restroom. So I corralled the younger two children and tried not to lecture them once again about why I don't like them using public drinking fountains while I guarded the door to the men's room to make sure no one disturbed Nolan.
We headed to the line in the hallway leading to the clinic, and there were only about half a dozen or so people ahead of us. Immediately, all three children forgot how to stand up. Nolan sat down on the floor, Griffin started pulling on my arm and trying to climb up me, and Nora alternated between spinning in the narrow hallway and walking around my legs. Super.
I reminded everyone how to use their inside voices and how to conduct their arms and legs in public.
Then Griffin had to go to the bathroom. Seriously? Weren't we just there? I told him he'd have to hold it. A sweet young woman behind me felt sorry for Griffin and told me that she'd let me back in the line if I took him to the bathroom. So I consented.
Do you know how long it takes a four-year-old to use the bathroom when you're in a hurry? It's something like 23 minutes. And that's just for peeing.
When we finally got away from the bathroom, the woman holding our spot was at the front of the line and there were about 20 people behind her now. I simply couldn't say "excuse me" and squeeze by everyone to go to the front of the line. We would have taken shots of a different kind.
So we stayed at the back of the line. Every 7 seconds, one of the kids would ask me how long until our turn. And since we were back in the crowded hallway, they again lost the ability to simply stand on two feet.
When we finally got the front of the line (about 15 minutes later), all we got was our paperwork to fill out. And a number. Our number was 15. We then turned a corner to go into the clinic room. This room was filled with chairs that were all taken. As we walked in, the clinic worker called the number 3.
With no available chairs, we had to sit on the floor. Do you know what bacteria live on the floor of the Health Department? I had brought a bag of entertainment for the kids, so Nolan and Nora started coloring and Griffin started playing his Leapster. Then Nora informed me that she had to go pee. Her dance told me she meant it. So we packed up our entertainment and found another bathroom.
When we wrapped up our third bathroom break and headed back into the no-chairs-available room, our floor spots had been taken by another family. Then came the Baby Monster. She was a sweet-looking rambunctious little one probably nearing her first birthday. Her mom chose to silently play a word game on her phone while her toddler son whined that it was his turn to play Griffin's Leapster. Then the sweet little baby girl crawled over to Griffin, climbed up on his shoulder (not kidding), and grabbed his Leapster out of his hand. No word from the mom.
My precious brown-eyed boy didn't cry or yell or whine. He looked up at me with his eyes wide and his brows raised as if he was silently begging me to rescue him. I chose to see this as a victory because Griffin handled the situation better than I've ever seen him handle a frustration.
Fast forward through about 30 minutes of waiting our turn, we made it to the next worker. She gave me a lecture, processed my paperwork, called me "babe" and "honey," and sent us to the nurse. The nurse didn't acknowledge our presence. We stood awkwardly until she finally took my paperwork.
She saw that we needed one adult flu shot and three children's nasal mist flu shots, and she chose to start with Nora. The youngest. The only one scared of what was happening. Really?!
We made it through the shots and had to make one more stop to pay. When we busted out the Exit door, I took the sweetest breath of fresh air I've ever inhaled.
So, why go through all this just for a flu shot?
It started when Nolan was a baby. He was healthy for a while. Then he started having issues with respiratory infections. Whenever someone around us had a cold, Nolan would catch it and it would turn into pneumonia or bronchitis. We frequently found ourselves in prompt cares, ERs, and the pediatrician's office.
Do you know how they get a chest x-ray on a toddler? First, you have to sit your toddler on a seat up against part of the x-ray machine. Then, while he's screaming and straining for you, you have to raise his arms straight above his head. Then there's a contraption that wraps around his torso, shoulders, arms, and face. It locks him in this impossible position. While he looks you in the face crying so hard he can't breathe, you can touch his fingers. Then you have to step away from your terrified child strapped into the torture device so the x-ray can be taken. Then a tech rotates your whole trapped child to the side for an additional view.
I've done this. Over and over. I've also assisted on getting a catheter in my very ill, terrified baby boy. There have also been countless blood draws, physical exams, and trying to get my child quiet enough for an annoyed young resident doctor to listen to his lungs.
Nothing (except the chest x-rays) compares to the process of getting an IV into my dehydrated, confused, terrified son. Jared and I have both done this so many times and can still barely talk about it. Every single time it involved multiple nurses and one of us holding Nolan down while different nurses took turns trying to find a vein. They usually had to take a break and call in a neonatal nurse or flight nurse to come get the IV in on a later attempt. The worst time ever was when Nolan was only speaking a few words. He was crying so hard and kept saying "All done!"
Add to all these experiences the overall experience of having our child hospitalized over and over. Nolan was actually in the hospital on his first two birthdays.
I sat in the world's smallest hospital room with Nolan while I was about 37 months pregnant with Griffin. When Griffin was a little baby and Nolan was hospitalized, Jared couldn't get any more time off work. So I sat with Nolan at the hospital while Jared's stepmom took care of baby Griffin. Every three hours, she drove up to the hospital to bring me Griffin so I could nurse him. Then she took him home again and I went back to caring for sick Nolan.
These memories haunt me. Nurses bringing my baby birthday presents that he's too sick to open. Neglecting my other child(ren) to care for one who is very ill. The endless questions about why Nolan's body couldn't handle simple cold viruses and bacteria. We even had to go through testing to see if he had Cystic Fibrosis. One pediatric pulmonologist said Nolan's chronic respiratory infections must be due to my poor care.
We have our own nebulizer that we basically wore out during those early years. We even had our own pulse oximeter to monitor Nolan's blood oxygen level because we knew that he required oxygen, and therefore hospitalization, if it got down to 92%.
We eventually found an inhaled steroid that Nolan had to take everyday via nebulizer. It was effective enough that we made it through a whole winter without him being admitted to the hospital. For the first time ever. The down side was that the breathing treatments damaged his tooth enamel, and he's already had multiple fillings. There's also a possibility of the medication stunting his growth. We'll see.
So now I find myself hyperventilating every time someone around me coughs or has a sick child. I know someone reading this (if you're still reading this) is saying, "Oh brother. It's just a cold." But for years what was just a cold for everyone else was, for us, a trip to the hospital, a string of sleepless nights, a stack of impossible medical bills, and another multiplier of our worry.
I'm trying to process all of this so I can accept the possibility that this winter will not be like those first few. This winter my kids will get colds, not scary infections that bring their mama to her knees. There's still the fact that I don't get to have sick days. If Jared is in China and I have a fever or a debilitating headache, I still have to take kids to school, pick them up, make sure homework gets done, get dinner on the table, wipe Nora's bottom, bathe the kids, and on and on.
I'm working so hard on developing a mindset that says "God will help me through every tough moment. He will bring people to help fill the gaps. He will sit with me in the middle of the night when I'm rocking a tiny person running a scary fever."
In reality, we survived all those horrendous experiences with sick Nolan. God did bring us through them (and more). And now we are on the other side. That's the part I'm trying to grasp. We're not in the middle of that storm anymore.
So, please forgive me if I still sneak squirts of hand sanitizer from my purse after touching other people. I'll try to stop shooting dirty looks at children with runny noses. I'm still working on healthy boundaries between me (and my kids) and germs. Nolan and I just don't fight infections as well as Jared and Griffin (Nora is somewhere in the middle). But I don't want to fight the people carrying those infections.
I'm making progress in small bits. My progress moments for today: I'm working on my mindset toward sickness, I only washed my hands once after the flu shots, and after four years of working with Griffin on handling frustration, he didn't lash out at the Baby Monster. It's a good day.