Fear And Loathing At My Kid’s Pediatrician

My daughter hates getting shots at the doctor. For as long as I could remember, the thought of getting so much as a finger prick from our pediatrician would send her into a blind terror that begins building in the weeks leading up the appointment.

No shot! I no want shot!

Olivia, you’re probably going to have to get a shot. I’m sorry. It’s how it is. It’s quick.

No! Me no want shot!

Sorry, kiddo. We have to.

No! Me no want!

Well you have to. Also, stop talking like that. You’re ten.

Reverting back to an adorable preschool speech pattern doesn’t stop the inevitable needle and no matter how manic her protests, she winds up getting jabbed. In the end, we can debate, bribe, and beg, but even if she insists, it has to be done. That’s just how it goes. Still, she has turned some of these outings into horror movies.

One of the ways we would get her to relax was by using my son, Lucas, as an example. Any time they both needed to get shots, we hold him up as the beacon of courage.

Look. Look at Lucas. He’s being brave.

doc1Truth be told, my son is beyond brave in that situation. He legitimately is apathetic to any and all needle stabs. Staring at his iPad, he will barely look over at his arm as the shot pokes into his skin. On the rare occasion that he seems annoyed by it, I will simply reassure him to just leave it be. Amazingly, he will listen and go about his business until the doctor is finished.

How great is that? Of course, since he’s non-verbal with Autism, I can’t really offer him prizes to sit still or explain the importance of what is happening. He just gets it and remains seated until the process is over. I’m always very proud.

So, yes, on those once or twice a year appointments, he is the picture of perfection. My little guy couldn’t be better. Sounds wonderful, right? Yeah. I’m not done, yet.

While needles may happen on rare occasions, things like weighing him, checking the ears with a tiny flashlight, and listening for heartbeats happen on every visit. It’s these painless and forgotten interactions that are most common at the doctor. Every visit usually starts with all three.

And all three of them send my son into a full-blown rage.

I swear. I don’t get it at all. Even as someone who has grown to understand a lot of how Lucas thinks, this one still gets me. It’s one of his most unexplainable reactions and, no matter how often we deal with it, he always leaves me surprised at the meltdown moment.

We sit for twenty minutes in the main waiting room, surrounded by coughing teenagers and wandering toddlers, before being put into a smaller examination room for another round of waiting. The mellow mood continues as he swipes away at his device and I stare at the crudely drawn murals of Superman flying over Garfield and other such cartoon crossovers.

The nurse will come in and, no matter what, ask me why I am there. Nine times out of ten, I say, “Because you called me and said to.” We laugh, she’ll write some things on a computer, and then, with a smile, she will say…

OK, Lucas. Let’s get you weighed.

My happy little fellow will stand. Then he will slowly back away from his iPad without breaking his stare before giving a little clap. Depending on how new the nurse is, she might take that as good sign.

What are you watching there, Lucas? Raffi? My niece loves Raffi. Hop up on the scale for me buddy.

That’s when the gates of hell open.

To my son, the platform of the scale is beyond lava. It’s poisoned lava filled with lava sharks. He will start screaming and pushing back into me. I try every calming technique possible before finally lifting him up by the armpits and lightly touching his feet to the scale. It usually registers as five pounds before I’m able to steady his petrified body for something closer to a real measurement.

Conventional wisdom would say that it must be the scale. Maybe there’s something about it that scares him off. I thought that too, but it has been nearly every scale we’ve ever used dating back to those breadbasket ones they lie babies in. It just is what it is and, if that’s all it was, it would be tough enough.

The weight portion of our intense visit is usually followed by the cranium cavity check. Like the head and shoulder song suggests, his eyes, ears, mouth, and nose are all supposed to be examined. It’s as close to a pain-free exam as you’re ever going to get. In some cases, the tiny light stick doesn’t even touch his body. The pediatrician will just hover it a few inches away from him and once again, hell opens it’s scorched gates.

Through the barrage of yells, I rub his back and, in my genuinely confused tone, will plead.

It’s not even touching you, buddy. What is so upsetting? Come on.

Again, it usually ends with a superficial perusal that doesn’t go much deeper unless something abnormal like a Lego or baseball glove is found wedged up in there. His bloodcurdling screams usually end as soon as the light goes off. Just as I’m catching my breath, the doctor will pull out his stethoscope.

OK, Lucas. I just need to listen to your heart.

One more ride through hell. You get the picture.

doc2By the time we leave the office, I’m ready to lay down and go to dead. The most infuriating part? I’m the one hobbling out, disheveled and destroyed. Meanwhile my son, is laughing, smiling, and swinging his iPad around with one hand. He will happily tap me on the arm and, when I look down, give me a huge smile. I can’t help but smile back and say the exact same thing every time.

Man oh man, Lucas. You did a great job in there. Actually, no. I take that back. You didn’t. That was kind of terrible. But you’re a great kid anyway so it’s all good.

We’re all smiles as we leave and our family can breathe easy…for a few months until some other professional wants to peer into his head again.

He’s gotten better through the years, but that says more about how he was then than now. For a kid who can take a needle like a pro, it’s the scales and stethoscopes that always spell our downfall. I don’t get it, but if I’ve learned one thing about raising a boy like Lucas, I don’t have to get it. I just have to be there for him. So I am. And that grinning arm tap on the way out tells me he appreciates it. It’s not much to some, but to me, it makes it all worth it.