When I stepped out of the shower this morning I was overcome by a sudden realization that my only job–my only job–for the two or three hours to follow was to stay calm. This realization proved very helpful, both because staying calm is always helpful, and because it made me realize that there was little else for me to do. “Accept and release,” as Catherine always says.
Oliver needed to have blood drawn this morning, part of a regular diagnostic test. Although he’s made strides in overcoming his adversity to needles in recent years, it remains a challenging thing to confront for him, so he did not greet this prospect warmly.
If we’ve learned anything about the health system as parents it’s that often tremendous help is waiting if you remember to ask; to this end, in advance of the blood test, I contacted the pediatric clinic at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for advice, and they put us in touch with a fantastic person, Shira Zipursky, their “child life specialist,” who became a sort of specimen-collecting-concierge and spirit-guide for us.
Last night Oliver and I purchased some “numbing cream,” which Shira suggested as a way of mitigating the pain of the needle (and perhaps, in addition, numbing the prospect of the pain of the needle); we ran a beta test before bed, and it all worked out well, so when Oliver got up this morning the first thing we did was to apply the cream, along with air-tight dressing, to three sites on his right arm (hand, elbow crease, shoulder). By the time we arrived at the hospital, the cream was in full effect, and numbing was happening.
Oliver, to his enormous credit, held things together really well as we arrived at the hospital; he knew he was nervous, and we knew he was nervous, but he maintained control.
Shira met us at admitting, greeted Oliver by name, ushered us to the admitting desk, and made sure everything was in order. Once Oliver was admitted, she suggested that, rather than going into the crowded waiting room, we hang about in the lobby, which was helpful, as Oliver, empathetic as he is, sponges up the anxiety of others, and one can only imagine that a Specimen Collection waiting room held a lot of it.
Just as things seemed to be rolling along smoothly, “Code Purple, Specimen Collection” came over the public address system, and a shard of tension sliced through the air as concerned-looking security staff and others converged on the room we were about to enter, and “pause” was pressed on our progress (the Internet is inconclusive on what a Code Purple is: options range from hostage situation to gang activity).
Fortunately, Oliver was oblivious to this, as the skillful Shira had brought along an iPad loaded with all manner of fun video games and he and Catherine were engrossed in one involving trains and police officers and jumping.
After just a few minutes it seemed like the Code Purple dimmed and things returned to normal; the head of the Specimen Collection department came out to fetch us, and ushered us into a room where a couple of additional staff were primed and ready.
To say that things went smoothly from there would be an overstatement, as Oliver, self-contained until this point, was overtaken by a flood of anxiety, and we all–himself included–had to work really hard to calm him down. All of the Strongest Families tools in our toolbox got put to use: belly breathing, muscle relaxation, shoulder rolling, positive self-talk. The staff were patient, helpful, and didn’t rush things along (which would have made things worse). And they knew enough to know when Oliver’s stress had subsided just enough to allow them to make their move.
The blood draw went quickly, Oliver remained as calm as he could, and before we knew it everything was over.
I almost exploded in tears of joy at this point, as of course I’d been stressed out too, despite my goal of remaining calm, and there’s nothing like seeing your child under duress to tear at the very fabric of your soul, especially when it’s because of events you orchestrated.
We gathered ourselves together, thanked everyone, and headed out to a well-deserved breakfast at Receiver Coffee before dropping Oliver at school.
We owe Shira and her specimen-collecting colleagues at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital a great debt of gratitude for making what could have been a dreadful, negative experience into one that, while still stressful, was well-managed, safe for all concerned, positive, and efficient. Thank you.