The Numbness in my Blood.
It started fourteen years ago, and now I am a different person.
For a long while, nobody could figure it out. My toddler son would have spells where he struggled to breathe, and sometimes turned a ghastly shade as he fought for air.
Croup, they said at first.
But the croup never went away fully, and then it would come back with a vengeance. When my second son was born and had breathing issues, things started getting really strange, really fast.
They were both sick often and it took some time – several doctors and a multitude of tests – to narrow down the problem. Once we had a few firm diagnoses, there was collaboration betwixt the doctors, and then a flurry of treatments began.
At first, I was the same person I’d always been.
It hurt me to force my babies to take medications, and hold them down for breathing treatments. I worried incessantly that my actions would traumatize them, though I didn’t have a choice in the matter. They needed their medication or they couldn’t breathe.
It clawed at my insides each time they went back for a surgery, and acid would lap at the back of my throat until a physician came out to tell me everything was okay.
Overnight stays in the hospital with the kids made me feel panicked, as though I was in some foreign land where I barely understood the language, but it didn’t really matter because nobody much talked to me anyway. I couldn’t sleep and eating at the hospital was limited to mainly graham crackers from the parent snack room.
I was anxious, and as a result I often broke out in hives for no apparent reason. I also threw up quite often, though not on purpose. I struggled to sleep for more than just a broken hour here or there, lest one of my boys stop breathing in the night.
Another of my children was diagnosed with the same disorder the boys had, and everything felt so much more difficult.
It seemed for so long that I was on this train in a tunnel that would never end, until finally it did, and now I am different.
The kids still live with chronic illness, and we still make a trip each month to the pediatric infusion pod at the hospital to spend several hours getting their infusions.
They still need medication daily, though over the years their meds have changed.
This scenario is likely going to last forever.
I used to fight against that thought, but I don’t any longer. I accepted it a long time ago.
I think that’s when my heart began to get harder, and my thought process changed.
I no longer lurch at the sight of my children’s blood, spurting from a bad IV placement.
My chest doesn’t clench when one of them gets sick.
My eyes don’t water when I give my youngest son his injection each night, though the first time I had to do it, my hands shook and I felt ill at the thought of pushing a needle into my own child’s flesh.
I don’t cry much anymore.
I’ve talked with other mothers of chronically or seriously ill children, and this seems to be a weird theme with us all.
Perhaps it’s some sort of built-in coping mechanism, much like the numbness that follows the death of a loved one. The numbness has gotten me through many years of handling hard and horrible medical situations with my kids, but I sometimes worry it has changed me so much that I no longer feel things normally.
It’s a thing I think about at night, when thoughts get to be too much.
Is it normal for a mother to inflict a needle on her child without flinching, and instead do it as easily as she does the dinner dishes?
Today we drove the seventy miles south to our university hospital, where my children receive all of their specialty care. Our regular nurse wasn’t there, and a new nurse was in her place. She was having a difficult time getting my youngest son’s IV placed, and then she finally got the line working, but it was flowing rather slowly. She had him hang his hand with the IV in it off the edge of the table in order to fill the vials for his labs, and as gravity did its job, the blood began to rush out.
Deep red splotches hit the floor. I watched as my son’s face turned a pasty white color. The situation got away from the nurse quickly, and crimson fluid was flowing everywhere, it seemed. Her gloves were smeared with it, and at one point, she held the tube full of my kid’s blood out toward me and asked me to cap it for her.
I did it without thinking.
A tiny, logical voice in my head told me I should be upset at the sight of my son’s blood on the floor (or the blood all over the nurse’s hands, or at the fact that I was calmly capping off a vial of his blood like I’m his damn doctor instead of his mom) but that’s all it was, a quiet voice. I felt no anxiety about it, no sadness that my thirteen-year-old son had to sit through this procedure again, like he and his siblings have done every month for the last ten years. I asked if it hurt, and my son – stoic as always – said no, and that was the end of it.
It’s simply the way our life is now, and the fact that this doesn’t bother me… well, it bothers me.
I wonder if there is a name for the way I feel. If it’s possible that so many years of living in medical crisis mode has traumatized me in a way I do not understand, and if I might ever go back to the way I was before.
I wonder if the numbness will ever go away.
Valarie Kinney is a writer, fiber artist and Renaissance Festival junkie with a wicked caffeine addiction. She resides in Michigan with her husband, four children, and two insane little dogs. She is the author of Heckled, Slither and Just Hold On, as well as the short stories Copper and Ailith in the KAPOW! anthologies by 7DS Books. Narrator for Dragons of Faith.