Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Our first scare

Being a parent is the scariest thing I’ve ever done. On Friday night, Matt and I had our first taste of just how scary parenthood can be.

Quinn had been vomiting a bit more than the usual baby spit up, and he seemed to be uncomfortable during and after eating. He would throw his head back, arch is back and squirm around. It was like trying to hold a stray cat in your arms. He would grunt and cry, and he seemed somewhat content only when in an upright position. After consulting the baby book and WebMD, Matt and I diagnosed Quinn with GERD, or simple infant acid reflux.

I made an appointment with the pediatrician, Dr. L, for that afternoon. I expected to be out of there within fifteen minutes armed with a prescription for a baby antacid. But that wasn’t the case.

First, Dr. L had to rule out a condition called pylorus stenosis, which is a narrowing of the valve between the stomach and small intestine that prevents food from leaving the stomach. I could sense her building up to something, preparing me, as she began to draw a diagram of a digestive track on the paper that covers the patient table. Dread filled my throat. Dr. L chose each word carefully, her head tilted down slightly and looking up at me with her brow furrowed. The concern on her face told me everything. I knew what was coming next, and prayed I was wrong. But I was not.

She said she was sending us to the hospital immediately for an ultrasound to determine whether the condition existed. If it did, she said, Quinn would be admitted into surgery that night.
Surgery. As soon as she said the word, confirming my worst fear, my eyes filled with tears. Dr. L gripped my shoulder and told me everything would be okay. She assured me that this was a pretty common procedure, and someday it would just be a blip in our history that we would barely remember. I nodded but was not convinced or consoled. I held my baby, not quite eight weeks old, tighter to my chest and took a deep breath of his sweet baby smell.

Flash back almost twenty years. My brother, Aaron, is two or three years-old. I am thirteen or fourteen. Aaron had bronchial problems and a few times had to be rushed to hospital because he couldn’t breathe. On one of these occasions, they had to either give him shots or draw blood, I can’t remember which. From all his previous experiences, Aaron had become terrified of needles, and he screamed and clawed at our mother’s shirt. The nurses had to strap his arms and legs to a board. They even strapped his head down. This just terrified him more as he tried to thrash around. Every scream squeezed my heart harder, and tears poured down my face. When the nightmare was over, Aaron was back in our mother’s arms. With a small, defeated voice, he whimpered, “Mama, don’t let them hurt me again,” and he buried his face in her neck. Those words shattered me. My parents and I cried with him and put our arms around each other. That’s the only time I ever saw my father cry.

Aaron’s tiny voice echoed in my ears as I looked down at my son. Though Quinn can’t talk yet, I could feel his eyes pleading, begging me not to let the doctors hurt him. I know it sounds crazy to think that a little baby would have such thoughts, but the need to protect him was the strongest thing I’d ever felt.

Dr. L left the room to call my husband and tell him to meet us at the hospital. I sat in the room with Quinn in my arms and cried. My hands shook violently as I dressed him and got him ready to leave. I don’t remember driving to the hospital. The next thing I remember is sitting on the scary side of the registration desk and rocking Quinn’s car seat with my foot. Matt came around the corner and threw his arms around me. He must have defied every traffic law to get there as fast as he did.

Together we made the walk to radiology for Quinn’s ultrasound. As we entered, we saw the technician waiting for us. She immediately ushered us into the lab. I removed Quinn’s clothes again and laid him on the bed. He started to cry when she rubbed the cold gel on his belly. I was allowed to lie down next to him to help keep him calm. Matt paced the floor nearby. I whispered lullabies in Quinn’s ear while the technician tried to get a good picture of his stomach. Then she asked me to feed him so she could get a second picture of the food going through his system.

When we finished the second set of images, the tech took us back to the radiology waiting area until the results came back. Quinn laid his head on my shoulder, and I bounced him and patted his bottom. I continued to sing softly in his ear as Matt and I paced the waiting room together. We exchanged comforting looks and small squeezes, trying to stay strong for each other. Neither of us vocalized our fears. We didn’t need to. We didn’t dare say our what-if’s out loud.

After what felt like forever, the radiologist poked his head into the room. “It’s normal,” he said. Matt and I finally breathed for first time since we entered the waiting room. The tears that had been building finally fell as relief overcame us. We held each other, our baby son in the middle, and said a thousand thank-you’s to the radiology team. Quinn would not need surgery.

It was simple infant acid reflux after all, and the baby antacid prescription is like a magic elixir. Quinn’s so much happier and more content now. He’s sleeping better, smiling more. Which means Matt and I are sleeping better, smiling more.

It could have been so much worse. Our friends’ child had several surgeries, including a liver transplant, before she was a year old. I know our Friday night in radiology was nothing compared to what they went through, and I count our many blessings. I can only imagine how it must feel to live with those fears and emotions every day, and I admire their strength.

I know this incident was just a practice scare, a little hazing as part of our initiation into parenthood. In our future, there will be broken bones, black eyes, bloody scrapes, stitches and other injuries. There will be chicken pox, the flu and unknown illnesses. And we’ll survive all of it because we’ll have to. Here we go …