When my son was eighteen, he worked at a job that required heavy lifting. He arrived home one night complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath. His face was ashen and I could tell that something was really wrong. We packed him into the car to make the long drive to the hospital. (It should be noted that Paul worked two minutes from the hospital, but drove over thirty minutes to get home. Teen boys aren’t logical).
Hours passed in the ER room. Paul was hooked up to the usual machines and we were still waiting for something (anything) to happen. By this time my ADHD son was entertaining himself by putting the heart monitor on his toes and flexing his bicep whenever the blood pressure cuff tried to take a reading, while I hissed, “Stop it!” every few seconds.
Finally, Paul was wheeled out for a chest X-ray. They brought him back into the room and he began taking the medical machinery apart and putting it back together again with a big grin on his face. I began to wish we’d all just stayed home. And then, the doctor came in.
“We found a suspicious spot around Paul’s heart and we need to prep him for a CT scan.”
I could feel the blood drain from my body. My baby. My big, tall, strapping baby was gravely ill. I just knew it. How would I go on living without him? I ached with unshed tears.
“I’m hungry,” Paul announced.
“Me too,” my husband and daughter chimed in.
What was wrong with them? How could they be hungry at a time like this?! They were planning a food run while I had gone into full-on-freak-out mode in my head. I snapped at them that I wasn’t hungry.
Soon, the room smelled like french fries and hamburgers. Paul put his heart monitor on his dad while he ate. His sister cheerfully asked, “Hey, Paul, what are your favorite flowers? Mom’s planning your funeral.” They know me well because that’s exactly what I was doing. My survival technique has always been: “Plan for the worst and destroy yourself with worry and grief, then nothing will seem so bad in comparison.”
The CT scan was finally done and the doctor came back in to explain that the membrane around Paul’s heart and lungs had torn and filled up with air (hence the spot on the X-ray). He wanted us to see a specialist the next day and to watch Paul during the night to make sure his lungs didn’t collapse (they didn’t).
As we drove home, the rest of the family was filled with food and good cheer while I was emotionally exhausted and really hungry! I realized that their way of dealing with the situation was so much better than mine. They had shown a trust and faith that I didn’t have. They knew that if the news had been worse, they would have had plenty of time to deal with it later. Thus, they were spared the trauma of mourning a possibility that never materialized.
And, they were right. In the years that followed we had our share of very real medical traumas. And, I tried to put what I learned to good use:
- Wait as long as possible before panicking.
- Surround yourself with your nutty family members (they take your mind off the situation).
- A burger and some fries almost always helps.