Noah strutted around us as if the bruising around his eye was a figment of our imaginations. We tried to sustain as much of a normal routine as he was used to - cautioning Ava to be "extra careful" around Noah's face - no matter how tempting it was to slug him after knocking down her castle - three times in a row.
When Dr. Lee, the on-call pediatrician, first looked at Noah, he scrunched his face and made that "ouchi" noise as if he just witnessed Noah getting hit with a bat right then and there. Of course, I tense up. "What is it? What do you see?" - but within seconds learn that this was his way of empathizing with us. I felt immediate comfort with him - and how clearly he understands parents' reactions to such occurrences. Noah wouldn't let Dr. Lee touch his eye - no matter how much we bribed him with candy, stickers, or juice. And Dr. Lee said not to worry. Here's what we do... and here's what we don't do... and so on...
And just when I thought I had everything under control from this experience, taking extra care of my Noah - licking his wounds and protecting him from the salvages of childhood injuries, we visited a children's ophthalmologist at Children's Medical Center in Plano. I'll forego mentioning a name here – because what I’m about to tell you is so unnerving, that you may find yourself casting stones at this office – if not boulders.
This experience I can’t even wish on my worst enemy. For one, I don’t have one. But if I did – I wouldn’t want this to happen to you. It has me bent over backwards and on the verge of mandating that they take a course on how to handle children with care and communicate with parents – and not be able to practice until they have done so. They clearly must have failed the first time the course was offered (I'm sure of it).
Deep breath. [Exhale]. When the nurse asked me to bring Noah into another room to dilate his eyes, she didn't explain what she was doing. I've had my eyes dilated before - no big deal right? But then again, I wasn't two years old – nor did I have an orbital fracture. She asked the assistant doctor on duty to hold Noah's head down and for me to hold his hands down. Like robots - we did. I just did what I was told, not questioning what she was going to do - or even flinch when Noah physically disapproved of the entire arrangement. They are the experts. Who am I to know any better?
Since having children -from doctors to lactation nurses - I have somehow made myself feel that I don't know anything. That I should do what I am told. Because after all - they went to medical school. And that gives them all the authority they need to do whatever they want. Because they know.
I tried to soothe Noah as I held his hands - telling him that he's such a "big boy" and that "they are going to fix your eye Noah!" while holding his hands crossed over his chest. His body wrangling from underneath me, I can't help but to slowly let go - I have never been in a situation to force him physically like this. The nurse, prying his injured eye with both hands, squirts 2 drops inside - and does the same to the other. I see the effort roll right off his cheeks. He is crying. Heavily. His one good eye shut so hard, I can see every wet lash pressed – and curled together in vain.
But it wasn't until his loud cry for mercy – one that I have never heard before - that I snapped out of my insecurities and told the nurse to "stop. Stop. Hold On!" and then pull him away. In my arms he continued to cry - hyperventilating until I could calm him down and point to a playground outside the window – where we would go when we were finished if he’d let them. (Awful mother. Still bribing him.)
Embarrassed by Noah’s demonstration - both the nurse and doctor stood behind me in silence. I hear their thoughts in my head - what kind of a mother are you? We’re doing this for his own good. You're wasting our time. You spoil your kids don't you? What? You don’t ever let your kids cry?
The nurse finally speaks out loud to me and says, "OK Mama. We can skip the third eye-drop. But we must do the fourth one. That one is the most effective."
In an attempt to prove myself - my motherly convictions that "mother's do know best" - (which is what the doctors say is the best) I lay him down, tell him to sit tight, be strong, and that it'll be over soon... when once again, the earth begins to shake.
Only this time, they don't stop at my interjections. As if they vetoed my protests and thought they were doing us the favor - she forced his eye open and continued to squeeze drops into his eyes. I am having an out-of-body experience I tell myself. This isn't really happening! Delayed by the shock of it all, my voice exploded out of me and I pulled him straight to my chest and walked out of the room.
I took Noah into the examining room - where we had left Aaron and Ava. Noah was able to calm down – after seeing that it was just the 4 of us in the room. Distracted by a barking toy dog, I rattle off to Aaron how horrific the experience was. But Aaron, trying to be tough and realistic looked at me with the, “I’ll go finish with Noah.” But before he could finish that thought I dart Aaron an evil "don't you dare!" look to buy me enough time to reason with him that this process was unprofessional and unnecessary. Visits to the doctor should not be like this. We should be told what to anticipate – what the tests are for. What to expect or how some children may react… They tormented him! They didn’t stop when I told them to…. of course, my voice comes back to me and I am able to confront the incident and tell the jury in the room everything that had happened – but only wished I had much, much earlier – when my tongue was glued to the back of my throat.
The doctor finally shows up, flashes her lights in Noah's eye - and proclaims that there is no damage to his eye. He will be fine. Relieved - somewhat - I am curious about the ordeal we just went through. Since Noah didn't get "all 4 drops" in each eye - was she still able to see everything she needed to see? Before I could finish this thought, Ms. Hyde in Dr. Jekyll turns to me in defense and says, "I just told you. He's fine. You can see for yourself. His pupils are dilated just fine."
Just fine I think. Then why didn't your nurse stop? Why was she so persistent on forcing him to take all 4? Then make me feel like the worst mother on this planet when I wouldn’t let her finish? Why didn't she just quit after one drop – and see if it worked, instead of making him go through all of that - when one, as it turned out, was all that you needed to see he was ok? I ask these questions to the wall behind her - then collect my things. Slowly. No longer acknowledging her. Or her time. Or the nurses poised outside our door waiting to see some reaction.
The doctor's last words to us were - "your exit is on the left." And we ignore her. I couldn't help it. The last hour was spent riding on the trust of these complete strangers - rather than my own child. I'll never have that hour back. I did know better, but I traded that innate feeling inside because I have always listened to people carrying badges. But when it comes to your child - badge or no badge - a mother's instinct should always prevail. And this I am slowly learning. I can only hope that Noah will trust me again.
As we gathered our things, we walked slowly towards the check-out - and took our time picking out our favorite stickers and black plastic sunshields provided for patients - disregarding anyone else in the room - just because...