I was never a Girl Scout, but my personal motto has always been "be prepared anyway, no matter what, and always have gum." So far in life, it's worked out well for me, but when you're a parent, there are some things you simply can't prepare for no matter what, like a medical emergency.
There were tons of things about taking care of another person that I was insecure about before my sons were born and everyone told me not to worry, that it would come naturally, that I'd just slip into parenting more easily than pulling on a custom-designed ballgown. For the most part, they were right. Though it's not that way for every parent, I felt a bond with my children instantly, a love that shocked me by its depth. The love I felt for them was like putting on a pair of glasses I never knew I needed and seeing clearly for the first time. When they cried, my instinct was to hold them and try to comfort them, even if I wasn't exactly sure what to do to make them stop.
For the things I didn't know how to do, that's where the internet came in, as well as good old-fashioned books I'd highlighted so much they had more neon-pink text than plain text by the time I was done. I figured out the right way to swaddle, how to burp a baby in a way that was the least likely to end up with me covered spit-up, and how to explain why leaves fall off trees in a way that wouldn't leave my kids crying and running to offer every leaf on the road a Band-Aid (but to be fair, that one took practice). As my kids have grown older, I may not be one step ahead of them, but I've managed to at least keep up with them and their needs. All except one, that is.
Even though I know people were trying to make me feel better when they said that parenting would come naturally, they lied. I've learned that becoming a mom isn't enough to prepare you for everything, especially when it comes to your kids and medical emergencies.
It doesn't matter how squeamish you are, because as a mom you're expected to just add "field nurse" to your resume like it's NBD.
Baby books and articles will tell you at what point a fever is high enough that you should take a baby to the doctor, and there's no shortage of diaper-rash pictures on the internet to compare your kid's to when you're worried that what you're seeing isn't normal. But at 2 a.m. when your child is hacking so hard that their little chest is heaving, watching a video of "toddler with croup" isn't going to make you feel confident in the decision over whether or not you should pack up and head to the emergency room. Loving your child and being a caring parent doesn't equal having a medical license (unless, obviously, you're a parent who's in the medical field). And even experience doesn't help in this case. My kids have had countless colds, but every time they get sick with a lingering bug, I always question when and if I should take them to the doctor or if I'm overreacting.
Kids fall down and cut themselves constantly and parents are supposed to make the decision as to whether or not stitches are required. It doesn't matter how squeamish you are, because as a mom you're expected to just add "field nurse" to your resume like it's NBD. But it is.
Recently, while we were on vacation, my 3-year-old son Remy got his hand caught in the door jab of a heavy door and nearly severed one of his fingers. (I'll just pause here so we can all catch our breath, because... yeah). I was horrified at both the fact that my child was injured and also shocked by all the blood, but someone had to grab his hand and try and stop the bleeding until the paramedics arrived and until then, my husband and I were the only grownups around. Plus, Remy was scared and waving his hand around and I was afraid that if I didn't hold him still he was going to rip the injured part of his finger clean off, making it a true amputation.
EMTs, 911 dispatchers, first responders, and those in the medical field go through extensive training in order to know how to deal with accidents when they happen, but it's me as a mom who's on the front lines, and I have no way to know when disaster will strike or how to handle it when it does.
The whole incident was traumatizing (for me, not for him; he got a crapload of toys, tons of special treatment, and thinks it was awesome that he got to ride in not one but two ambulances). He broke the finger as well, so he had to have surgery to repair the damage, forcing us to trade in our hotel room for the hospital for a few nights. He's unlikely to suffer any long-term damage, but I now freak out any time either of the boys even looks at a door. And I realize that it's not just finger injuries I have to worry about.
There's a million different ways for kids to get hurt, and few ways for parents to prepare for them beyond taking a CPR certification class. EMTs, 911 dispatchers, first responders, and those in the medical field go through extensive training in order to know how to deal with accidents when they happen, but it's me as a mom who's on the front lines, and I have no way to know when disaster will strike or how to handle it when it does. Before the accident, I was super smug about the fact that I have a First Aid kit in my car and carry Neosporin and wound-washing solution in my diaper bag at all times. I told myself that even though I don't like the sight of blood, I was prepared to handle it when my kids got hurt. But it's hysterically pathetic now to realize how completely wrong I was.
For every second of everyday for the rest of my kids' lives (or mine, whichever lasts longer), I have to face the very real fear that something medically traumatizing could happen to them.
I witnessed this awful thing happen to my child pretty much right in front of my eyes, and not only did I not see it coming and try to take steps to prevent it from happening (kids come in contact with doors ALL THE TIME and they're fine!), but when it did happen, I was completely unprepared to deal with it.
And even though his hand will be alright, now that I've seen behind the curtain of crazy sh*t that can go wrong, I can't just forget what's back there. For every second of everyday for the rest of my kids' lives (or mine, whichever lasts longer), I have to face the very real fear that something medically traumatizing could happen to them. And I can drive myself to the brink of madness trying to protect them from all those possible accidents, but even if I do that to myself, there are still things that could happen to them that I can't even fathom. Where is the parenting book on that? Everyone expects that as mom I'll just know what to do to help my kids when they need it. But medical protocol isn't instinctual. There's not a way to really know what you'll do or how you'll react in an emergency until you're actually in one, and having that fear, the "how will I handle it if something bad happens?" fear constantly creeping into the forefront of my mind in every situation isn't exactly a reassuring thought.
The entire time we were in the hospital, all of the medical staff kept telling Remy what a brave boy he way, how amazing it was that he wasn't crying or thrashing against the doctors. They were astonished that he said he wasn't in pain and stayed still for all of the various poking and prodding he had to endure. He was an absolute hero. Yes, my kid rocks, but damn it, so do his father and I! So does any parent who keeps a level head and manages to make it through in the face something that unimaginable.
Being a parent is many things, but it's not a one-size-fits-all suit that preps you for every kind of emergency. If my son's accident has taught me anything, it's that no matter how hard I try I can never truly prepare for everything parenting is going to throw my way.