“Okay. Soooo you can have a seat and the nurse will call you shortly”, she said politely.
We’d just finished at the registration desk and resigned to take our place among the other apathetic faces lining the walls of the waiting room. My freshman’s exam required a little lab work, but I had obviously failed to pick a quiet time at the walk-in clinic. As we sat there, I began to diagnose the other patients, profiling each one to assess their individual HIPAA-protected motivations for making us wait in line. The elderly came for blood work. Crying children likely had ear infections and were in need of antibiotics, their new mother’s welcoming the excuse to get the fuck out of the house. Older kids were probably due for immunizations, and a select few on crutches or favoring some injured limb were headed for x-rays. Damn. It should have been dead in there at 2:30 on a Thursday. I offered junior one of the tired old magazines from the news rack, but he waved it off. He was already plugged in with headphones blaring and content listening to god-knows-what poor excuse for whatever kids call music these days when a shrill scream pierced the wall beside us.
“That doesn’t sound good”, he deadpanned.
“The kid in there.”
“Ahhh… … Well, you know what that is?” I seized the opportunity to engage him in a little conversation. “That is the sound of a blood test.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I brought you and your brothers here for the same thing.”
He paused for a moment. “Did I scream like that?”
“Yup. You ALL scream like that. You don’t remember?”
“No”, he said with a shy little smile.
“Well, you see they’ve got a special seat in there that’s kinda like a barber’s chair. I’d carry you in and hold you on my lap like nothing traumatic was about to happen. The nurse would come in with a neat little tray of disinfectant packets, vials, and a fake smile while we played with a toy or read a bit of a story to distract you. She’d do some stuff to prep your arm which you’d think was curious but tolerable. Then, just when I’d get your attention back to the story or divert your eyes to a funny looking picture on the office wall, she’d stick you and you would lose your freakin’ mind. That’s what that screaming was.”
A toddler and his mother emerged from the last blood-letting ceremony. Gingerly holding his arm out like a little bird’s wounded wing, he held a fist full of stickers in one hand and a soothing lollipop in the other. Mom ushered him through the room affecting her best sympathetic baby-talk to comfort the little guy. “Oooooo, I know sweety” she said in a cute little voice. “Yo wittle awm got a pinch, didn’t it…. Come here. I kiss it. Make it allllll better,” she cooed while expeditiously gathering her phone and keys and zipping him into his jacket.
“…Now if you were lucky”, I continued, “the nurse would only have to poke you once. (Another child is crying now.) Sometimes, though, they have trouble finding the vein in your chubby little arms so they’d have to go fishing around for it. They’re only allowed a few tries before they have to give up on that arm and go for the other one.”
Just then the door swung open and a nurse called his name. I hopped up, needling at him in jest. “Ready?!”
“This shouldn’t take long, dad”, said the nurse. “You can have a seat.”
“Oh. Okay.” He took a couple uncertain steps as I sat down. I’ve been with them for virtually every pediatrician and dentist appointment since birth. “Hey uh”, I called after him, “gimme your coat. You’re gonna have to take it off anyway. I’ll hold it for you.” Then off he went, without me.
Wait. I started to wonder at the significance of what just happened. Nobody warned me that particular moment was coming. ‘Independence’ – Isn’t that what we’re working toward? He’s a big boy now so it’s good that he can do this stuff by himself. My thoughts wandered. I suppose Nurse Ratched was trying to treat him like a man… or was she expecting me to behave like one?….. Whatever… No big deal. You know, like when you’re plodding along the same path you’ve walked a hundred times and suddenly you trip over nothing. That was nothing. Right? As I scanned the room to see who noticed my faltering, I found myself holding his coat, or maybe… Was I hugging it? Preposterous! … and yet there I was hugging it like a giant security blanket, my estrogen surging. “Whatever your do, don’t cry”, I joked with myself. “No. Dude. Seriously.”
0n a scale of 1-10 for discomfort, this was a two, but as with those screaming kids, this prick had become excruciating. The tiny pinch grew on one of my heart strings like a red dot on a child’s knee after a fall. Arguably, it doesn’t warrant a bandaid, but you have to give it attention regardless. All that blubbering isn’t really necessary, but my growing pain was getting worse by the second. “Owwww… Can’t you see it? There..right THERE!” I desperately searched the blank faces for a little sympathy, but my mommy wasn’t there and that kid just left with his. “It hurts….don’t touch it!!!!” I gurgled and sputtered between sobs, but there’s no bandaid for this boo-boo. “I need some stickers, STAT! Nurse!? NUUURRSSSEE!!! Somebody get the crash-cart….CLEAR!!!
“Can we go?”
“Yah. How’d it go?”
“Ya, so can we go now?”
“Of course. Lead they way…”