I had to bring my kid to the ER last night.
Not my Type-1 diabetic, the other one. The sweet one with the bubble-gum voice and the bright blue eyes with gold flecks around the pupil. The six-year-old youngest child who wants to be the center of attention but has to talk loudly because he has three older siblings.
He broke his wrist playing on the playground while his older brother (the diabetic) ran soccer practice. He fell right on it, got up and looked at me with elephant tears in those big blue eyes, and said, “Mom, can we go sit down? I think I need a cast. Can we go to the doctor’s?”
Since I only just paid off the bill from our last visit to the ER, I went and sat down with him, looking closely at the wrist he now held close to his body. I asked him to wiggle his fingers and rotate his wrist, and all such things you do before you run to the ER. Since he was able, I waited. I used to be the “you’re-fine” mom. Then Type-1 diabetes happened, and celiac disease and hypothyroid disease and a broken elbow and viral hives and diabetic ketoacidosis. I’ve changed. I don’t have the luxury anymore of ignoring pain. I know sometimes you’re not fine.
I waited to see if Zac’s pain would pass, if the fall was just a bruise and not a break, and I got my husband’s second opinion and called my doctor. I may no longer ignore symptoms, but I also know the cost of modern medicine. We have spent many thousands of dollars on medical bills in the last three years since Finn’s diabetes diagnosis, and it has put a significant strain on an already tight budget. Raising four kids on one income is never easy.
The doctor said use an Ace bandage and call us in the morning; the swelling increased and so did Zac’s pain, and Todd said, “Take him in.” So off I went, Supermom, on the way to the hospital, again. The car, like a trusty steed, knows the way. It does feel good to take care of your kid’s needs, dropping all the normal rhythms of life to respond to crisis. It’s an adrenaline rush, speeding off to the ER in the hopes of making the pain feel all better.
The adrenaline rush erodes in crowded waiting rooms and teary blue eyes and a little arm covered in soft blond hairs, held close in protection. Then the numbness sets in. The be-brave, don’t-show-your-fear, stuff-the-feelings feeling. The adrenaline is just a sour taste in your mouth. Now you just taste bile when they say words like, “pain during X-ray” and “sedation and reduction” and “morphine.”
After ample warnings and morphine that made him (and then me) nauseous, they brought a huge portable X-ray machine into his ER room. The tech tenderly raised his arm and rotated his swollen wrist, and the room went dark and the voices turned to echoes. I sat down before I passed out completely.
As I breathed through it like a woman in childbirth, willing away the nausea and the blackness threatening to take me over, pushing away my embarrassment as the X-ray tech turned his attention to me, I thought to myself, “Shouldn’t I be better at this by now?”
In the last year, we’ve been the ER three times. (One of them was for me, after an unfortunate incident with a car door and my forehead, but that’s another story.) Before that, Finn visited four times for diabetes-related maladies and a broken elbow. These numbers aren’t that high, but when you compare the last three years (seven visits) with the previous ten (zero visits), and add on three other scheduled hospital stays and countless doctor visits, I thought I would be better at the whole sick-kid thing.
But here’s the thing: you never get used to seeing your kid in pain. It never gets easier. I will never be able to completely swallow that nausea or chase away the darkness closing in, because I will never get used to seeing my children suffer. It will break my heart every. single. time.
I’m a Jesus-follower. I have been most of my life. In the last ten years, however, my faith has been stretched, almost to breaking, because of suffering. I suffered heartache and loneliness. I watched my husband suffer physical pain, then my son adjust to a life-threatening disease. I watched dear friends lose a son to cancer, then my own beloved brother-in-law a year later. I’ve poked and prodded my precious son with a thousand needles filled with life-saving insulin, but his pain is still mine. My husband’s back pain was mine. The painful grief of my in-laws and my devoted husband was mine. Even a tiny broken wrist – every wince of pain - was mine.
I could shake a fist at God, or even cry out the “whys,” but I honestly didn’t do a lot of that. If anything, I was tempted to believe that God just didn’t care. But then there is the problem of Jesus. God, his Father, allowed Jesus to suffer and die, and Jesus did so willingly, because his suffering meant my salvation. The death of Jesus means that I don’t have to be punished because I have done a million wrongs.
I dare not suggest that the suffering I have seen and felt around me was for a reason. It’s too trite, too unsatisfying. But I do take comfort in knowing that my heavenly Father knows the pain of watching a child suffer. When we suffer, he suffers. My loneliness and heartache? It was his. Back pain – it was his. Grief – he wept, too. Needles – he felt every one. A tiny broken wrist – it was as if he was broken, too.
Why must pain and suffering and grief happen at all? I cannot even try to tackle that question. I’ll leave that for people smarter than me. What I do know is this: I worship a God who knows suffering in a personal way, and counts our tears and captures them in a bottle. I worship a God who isn’t distant and uncaring, but who comes down to our level, to where we sit in the dust, and weeps with us. He is near, he understands, he feels the pain we feel.
I’ll probably be in the ER again sometime soon. Raising kids can be treacherous. It won’t be any easier because I’m putting ruts in the road to the hospital. But I do know that I’m not alone when I suffer my children’s and loved one’s pain. My God knows that kind of suffering. He’s lived it, too.