Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mommy Guilt and Fruitless Worrying

I am well-acquainted with each of these.

Yesterday I talked with a friend whose son has just graduated from kindergarten and was given an award based on a character trait. She had convinced herself that the particular character trait he was awarded was somehow a euphemism for a negative quality.

"I keep wondering where I've gone wrong as a mother," she confessed.

Even as I teased her about this, I could see the big old fat finger of accusation pointed right back at me.

In fact just earlier this week, I learned that nothing brings out Mommy guilt and fruitless worry like having a sick child.

As I mentioned before, we had two very sick children over Memorial Day weekend. The high fevers left and the kids resumed all their normal activities, but Grace remained a little droopy over the next week with a slight cough.

A week later, she looked miserable again. She was too weak to get out of bed or even eat. Her fever was back and she complained of severe pain in her side. I looked at her sunken eyes and instantly felt a rush of guilt.

How had I not noticed that she was losing weight? (And how could she possibly be losing weight when she ate four hot dogs and two bowls of ice cream yesterday?) And why did I let her eat all that junk anyway - that's probably why she's sick again!

Although her symptoms weren't all that serious, she looked so pathetic that I convinced myself that she surely had something life-threatening or debilitating and it was most likely all my fault.

After a visit to the doctor, who ordered chest X-rays to rule out pneumonia, I was even more convinced. Why did I let her go swimming last week? Why didn't I make more vegetables? Why did I make her feed the cat when she said she was too tired?

My husband gently reminded me that I am not in charge of the whole world or responsible for everything that happens to everyone in my family (because I'm prone to forget that) and then took her for the X-rays.

The next morning, as I waited with her at the pediatrician's office, I pulled out the X-rays to have a look for myself. No, I've never been to X-ray school, but someone in my family has so that's gotta count for something, right?

When I was a kid, my sister and I went to elementary school right next to the hospital my dad worked at. Since our family had only one car, we would walk to the hospital and wait for about an hour until he got off and took us home. When we got tired of watching Gilligan's Island in the waiting room (or worse, if some grown-up came and switched the channel to something boring) we would hang out in the X-ray filing room, where we passed the time smashing each other in the rolling shelves or even pulling X-rays out of people's files to decide what was going on inside them.

I realize of course, that this doesn't mean I really know anything at all about reading X-rays, but it does mean that I have a lot of experience looking at them and pretending that I know what's going on.

Her lungs look very cloudy, I decided grimly. And what was that ominous black spot right in her side - the same side the pain is on? A tumor, undoubtedly.

Grace had her own reasons for being afraid to go back. "Last night, when he listened to my chest, he pushed really hard and it hurt. Is he going to do that again?" She was close to tears and kept asking me about this.

I have learned long ago not to give any assurances about what doctors will or will not do, but I told her I was sure he would be as gentle as possible.

Well, I was wrong on all counts.

"The X-rays look great," the doctor informed me immediately. "Now let's see if we can figure out what is wrong here." And then he started roughing her up.

"Okay, jump up and down. Higher! Higher!" She had barely been able to walk into the room without crying in pain and he was barking at her now: "Lift up your arms! Is that all the higher you can jump? Come on!"

I was beginning to get really irritated with his tough high school football coach act as if my daughter were some arrogant athlete instead of a hurting little girl, when all of the sudden, he grabs her, swings her over his lap and begins to pummel her back.

"Is the pain here or here?" He asks.

Her head is flopping around and her face is turning white as she gasps, "Yes! Yes!"

I sat there dumbfounded, wondering if I was supposed to keep trusting this "professional" who supposedly knew what he was doing, or if it was possible that he was on drugs or had gone insane and I should yell at him to quit beating her up.

And then he stopped.

"She probably pulled a muscle coughing," He declared and then charged me an exorbitant amount of money for his services.

A pulled muscle?

Along with the deep relief that it wasn't anything more serious, I was annoyed with myself for wasting all that time worrying about a pulled muscle.

You'd think I'd have learned by now. Over the last few years, I have made myself sick diagnosing my children with pneumonia, meningitis, autism, apraxia, leukemia, melanoma, and every variety of sleep disorder. It turns out, though, they're normal kids who just get sick once in a while.

And I guess it's not always my fault.

If she wakes up in pain tomorrow I'm definitely not going to blame myself.

I'm going to blame that mean doctor.


stephanie said...

i seriously can't stop laughing at the memories of that x-ray filing room. and i still remember when we found the file belonging to "jesus." we didn't get over the awe of that for a long time.

also, find a new doctor. that guy shouldn't be seeing kids. i mean, not to make you feel guilty about it or anything...

Anonymous said...

you crack me up Angie. We should get together soon for a swimming date or something.