Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Old Normal

The other day, I went to get a blood test. I have to get my thyroid levels checked every couple of months, so blood tests are pretty routine for me. I wouldn't say that I enjoy the experience, but it's such a nonissue for me that I don't really think about it. If someone told me I had to have a blood test every day for the rest of my life, I'd be annoyed at the scheduling inconvenience it would cause, but the actual stick-a-needle-in-my-arm part wouldn't bother me at all. It's almost like a game to me, where I do everything a split second before the phlebotomist tells me to. I tell her which arm has the best (only) vein. I point to the exact spot where that vein is. She tells me, "Make a fist. Squeeze it." I'm already doing it. If the blood isn't flowing into the tube, she tells me, "Pump your hand open and closed," but I'm already doing that too. I know when to release my fist and the exact second to apply pressure when she takes the needle out. I'm pretty sure I could be a phlebotomist myself.

This particular day, I'd just had a conversation with my endocrinologist in which she said something about how, after having cancer at such a young age, I must be tired of going to doctors and having medical tests done much more often than the average person. I was surprised at the question; I told her that I'd never thought of it that way. I just deal frequently with the medical side of life. First my parents took care of it for me, and then it gradually became my job. Now it's sometimes a nuisance because I have to answer the babysitting question each time I make an appointment, but it still feels like a normal thing to do.

People sometimes refer to a major lifestyle change as "The New Normal." I've been doing this stuff so long that I didn't even remember that it wasn't normal. I guess for me, it's "The Old Normal."

Here's the thing, though. That feeling of "no big deal" when it comes to medical procedures is not transferrable to family members. After the conversation with my endocrinologist, when I was waiting for my blood test, I heard a baby crying inside the lab. As a nursing mother, I couldn't help but listen and feel my heart ache for the poor baby and her mother. The little girl cried for a long time, and then her mother carried her out, pushing a stroller with her other hand. She was a very small Asian baby, maybe 4 or 5 months old, younger than Edwin, and she had little bandaids all over her skin, as if the phlebotomist couldn't find a vein. My heart just about broke for her, and I wondered what condition she was being tested for. I felt awful for the mother, too. I couldn't help but put myself in their situation, and I wondered, would it be easier for me to deal with Edwin having medical tests done because I've had them so often myself? Would I be able to talk to him calmly, tell him "it's no big deal," and really mean it? Or would I feel each stick of the needle as if it were my own skin? Would my personal medical nonchalance make it easier or harder for me to witness these things as a parent?

I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know this: seeing my child in pain could never, ever become "The Old Normal."

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