22 February 2011

No Apology Necessary (originally posted 22 January 2011 on Tumblr)

This week has been a busy one at work.  That is a matter of routine.  It is winter and in winter children do several things.  They fall down in the ice or the snow and bump their heads.  They also get runny noses and then wipe these runny noses on things other people touch or they wipe them directly on other people.  This is a gesture that a father or a grandmother is likely to find adorable despite its epidemiologic implications, while for others (Jimmy from daycare’s mother or the security guard at the bank) it is an overture that has them reaching for Purell. 

So there were kids with fevers and kids who needed antibiotics and brand new babies as well.  Again, this is nothing new.  Some of them were crying.  Some of them were not.  And again, because I work with children and children cry, the crying is not likely something I would have noticed.  I hear it.  I listen to its timbre and gauge the likelihood that it is a result of pain (a thing I can do something about) as opposed to exhaustion and crankiness (a thing against which I am frustratingly powerless when it pertains to my patients and even more so when it pertains to myself).  But generally speaking, crying does not stop me in my tracks. My daughter’s used to – to be honest it often still does – but it’s better if she doesn’t realize that.

I paid attention to the crying for several reasons.  In part, it was because on that particular day everyone seemed to be apologizing for their children.  I’ll come back to this shortly.  More pressingly, though, I think I paid attention because it was beginning to sink in that the trip my husband and I were planning – wherein we would take Emmaline to Chicago on an airplane to visit her grandparents and thus incite the potential wrath of all other passengers on the flight simply by having spawned a toddler but also by having the audacity to want to take her with us on a long trip where adults might try to sleep or watch the in flight entertainment or hit on the stewardess taking their drink order – this trip was beginning to seem treacherous indeed.
For a toddler, being in the hospital is in many ways much like being on an airplane. It is also far worse than being on an airplane.  When you arrive we stick an IV in your arm.  We expect you to allow strangers to touch your head and your belly and even the inside of your mouth or ears on a day when you are, by definition, not feeling your best.  But once that ordeal is finished, once you forget about the IV board that is straightening your elbow and that has been taped by a nurse who approaches IV security with the same gusto that my own grandfather approached the wrapping of packages to be placed beneath the Christmas tree, once you begin to feel just a little bit better, then being in a hospital must be for a toddler very much like being on an airplane. 

You by and large do not want to be there.  You have parents who refuse to acknowledge this fact and obstinately remain aggressively cheerful, hoping by the desperate brightness of their smiles to distract you from the singular task of letting your displeasure be known.  You are not allowed to touch the things you might want to touch and you are forced to touch those things that frighten you.  Almost everyone is taller than you are.  The blanket your parents packed for you is nice and all, but no one remembered to bring your dog who is probably lonely at home without you.  You don’t understand why everyone makes such a fuss if you try to lick the floor and the food they try to feed you is packaged in a strange single serving tray and everything smells vaguely of old socks.

Which brings us back to the parents who that day, and on so many other days, apologize to me when their children begin to cry.  Please stop.  It is not at all necessary.  Or better yet, come to Chicago with us and Emmaline will show you what crying is all about.

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