Leander has broken his arm twice this year. The second fracture – only two days after the cast came off – was too complex to heal just with a cast around. It had to be operated on. When we found ourselves sitting in preparation for the OR we were all still in shock. Leander got a light sedative so he could calm down. Apparently that didn‘t work too well because when the doctors asked if I could take his shoes off he refused. And I did not think further and left it to the doctors to do so later. Then I had to watch them take my son away from me. He screamed. He cried and he fought. I just stood there crying. Knowing there was nothing I could do to prevent him from any of it. A nurse came towards me and said two things that are both worth a blog post each. This is the first.
One thing she said to me was: “He will not remember any of this.“ Because he got the sedative. I would have loved to believe her. (Nadine)
But the real problem we both have with this is that neither doctors nor nurses nor anyone really knows what exactly a child a person can remember when being put under sedatives. Their mind might be blurry, their brain a bit spongy. But that doesn‘t mean everything sinks right through and ends up in nowhere land.
And even if they don‘t remember much of it – is that really a good reason to act the way they act in hospitals or doctors practices? To take children away from their parents before they are put under a general anaesthetic? Having people in green take them into a scary room where they take the child‘s clothes off and put a needle in their arm until – finally – they are sound asleep?
For us as adults this often seems minor. It‘s just a few minutes. It has to be done. He won‘t remember (we believe and hope). For a child it‘s probably something like that:
Mom and Dad are leaving me. Scary people are taking me away. This room is huge, has big bright lights and everything is steel and scary. They put me down and take my clothes off. I am completely naked in front of those scary people in this scary room. They hold me down to put needles in my arm. It hurts. Them and the needle. I am scared. Scared. Scared… sca… asleep.
Unfortunately we cannot change hospital routines. (Believe us – if we could…) But what we can do is fight. We as parents have to fight for every right and every second with our child. And this is not about what a child remembers or not – it‘s about their right for respectful, loving and gentle guidance through a scary enough situation this is.
When Antek had a minor urinary tract infection we went to the doctor to get it checked out. He was barely a year old and did not like to be there at all. The doctor looked at me, winked and said, ‘OK, you hold him down, I’ll pull off his pants and his nappy.’ When I told her I would not do it like that, she looked at me surprised: ‘But he won’t remember any of it!’ (Anna).
So really, does it matter that who remembers what? What if we just tried to act as if everything is going to be stored in our memory (in our mind or our bodies) somewhere, and try to navigate each situation as gently, as respectfully as we can? What if, instead of hoping that they will not remember, we tried to make a bad situation into a memory that they can live with? And that we can live with?
So, what can we, parents of little patients do in scary situations, at the doctors’ and at the hospitals?
- We can slow way down, and make sure our child knows what is going on and what will happen.
- We can make sure the doctors know we want to slow down, and how we want to handle things – very often they will be ok with our way of doing things, but they need to know what we expect and how we want to proceed.
- We can demand every piece of information we can get, so we can understand it ourselves and explain it to our children.
- We can demand time and slow down at every moment of the process.
Because this is about your child. Not only about a medical procedure in a medical environment in which you are the small patient. This is about your child‘s health in general. Not just about his body, but also about his emotional health.
Everything you fight your child won‘t have to fight. Now or later.
But back to the problem of children not being able to remember anything. We as adults in general like to believe this. Because it makes things so much easier for us. We like to believe children already forgot when after a fall, a bruise or a frightening situation they suddenly jump up again and sing and dance and play. But that‘s not forgetting. That is called living in the moment and has nothing to do with childish forgetfulness.
After the mentioned surgery Leander had to stay in overnight. He was whiny, clingy and very very unhappy. He would not move on his own but demand to be on our arms all the time. Until we were finally allowed to go home. The door of the hospital hadn‘t closed properly behind us when Leander got all excited about the cars outside, the trams and asked me to run down the ramp with him. It was as if we had taken another child home. But Leander had not forgotten. He simply lives in the moment. He left a lot of pain, anger, fear and anxiety inside the hospital. He screamed some of it out in there. Some stayed inside of him, buried under excitement and fun. Just to come out a little later.
When we talked about the surgery at home at some point he mentioned that the doctors wanted to take his shirt off in the OR. And that he did not like that. So much for “He won‘t remember any of this.“ No. He remembered even further.