Parental PTSD

“So, why are you here today?”

Because I like honesty, I looked the pediatrician square in the eye and said: “Well, we’re here because we are nervous-nelly parents, and are looking to have our fears assuaged…”

*   *   *

When my son was a year-and-a-half old, he was taken by ambulance to an emergency room. He had a seal-like cough, was wheezing, and was struggling to breathe. The ambulance was recommended by several medical professionals—if we were to drive him to the hospital and he stopped breathing, it would be scary as hell. If he was in an ambulance and stopped breathing, well, yeah… still scary, but he’d have two EMTs on hand to jump in.

The ambulance took him to the Emergency Room, and after a couple hours of concern merged with an inability to diagnose with certainty, my son was admitted to the hospital-proper. He then spent four days hooked to tubes, monitors, and antibiotics before rebounding and being released.

To this day, they don’t know exactly what was wrong with him; in the end, their best guess was bacterial pneumonia.

When he was released, my wife and I were overjoyed, but to this day we experience a bit of flashback-fear whenever he gets sick. If he gets an ear infection, we hope it’s going to remain an ear infection. After the hospital stay, the second time we heard him seal-cough, we freaked the fuck out. The memory of our baby covered in wires, surrounded by monitors and doctors who couldn’t figure out exactly what was wrong…

Just typing it up here sends chills down my spine.

(Fortunately, that second seal-cough experience remained just a cough.)

The other day I picked up my near-three-year-old son from daycare, where the teacher casually informed me that he hadn’t soiled a diaper all day. No pee, no poop, no nothing. Normally that would be odd, but not alarming. Unfortunately, that day he happened to wake up with a dry diaper, too. That meant he hadn’t vacated his bowels or peed in over twenty hours.

I instantaneously thought of Heather O’Rourke—aka Carol Anne—the “They’re here” girl from Poltergeist. She died of a bowel obstruction. She fell ill, and when they finally figured out what was wrong, it was too late. Simply put: no one caught it in time.

I called my wife to give her the information, and her mind flashed to a family in our neighborhood. In the most tragic of all events, they lost their two-year-old daughter to cancer. The little girl had a fever that wouldn’t quit, and while examining her the doctors found a tumor. Something so serous can, and does, begin with a diagnosis so simple, like a fever, or not peeing for twenty hours. Completely disturbing; utterly heartbreaking.

Because the human mind can go to extremely dark places, both my wife and I agreed we should take our son to the doctor. Immediately. She hung up to call the local pediatrician that stays open past 5pm; I turned the car around, away from home and toward downtown.

Which brings us back to the start of this tale.

Arriving at the doctor’s office, our son’s vitals were taken by the nurse, and all was normal. After a short wait, the doctor came in and we explained why we were there: nervous nellies looking to have their hands held and told all would be well.

A kindly fellow, he smiled. I’m positive he sees hypochondriacs and over-anxious parents all day. At least we were willing to admit to our faults and fears up front.

He performed a brief physical examination, and decided that while it wasn’t ideal our son hadn’t produced urine in such a long time, he wasn’t worried about it. He felt no obstructions, and the instant something goes wrong with the body fever is the first line of attack. Since our son wasn’t warm, and was happy and showing no signs of lethargy nor illness, best bet was to give him one more night. Chances were, he would soil a diaper soon enough. If he didn’t by morning? Bring him in again. If we needed something more in order to sleep, the doctor offered to do an ultrasound to check for a distended bladder. He note that such a course of action was probably overkill.

From there, my wife and I parted in thought. I was calmed; she was not. She wanted the ultrasound. In reality, she was thinking about the little neighborhood girl, and tumors. As said, the mind can run to dark places if you allow it.

My wife decided to hang back with our son, “Just to be sure.” I would take our daughter home and get some dinner in her. Fortunately, while waiting for the ultrasound, our son peed. A lot. Like, Naked Gun peed. Which makes sense, considering how long it had been by that point.

Our relief was palpable, as was our chagrin at having been such worry warts.

Once your child has been hospitalized, you’re forever flinching; my wife calls it “parental PTSD.” I’m not sure either of us will ever forget the sight of our son wrapped in wires, incoherent in his hospital bed. We’ll always be a little more protective, slightly more cautious, and more than our fair share of worried when it comes to our son.

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