Penance

After a week of sickness burning through our house like this year’s ever-present wildfires, Grace revisited the pediatrician today for another round of bloodwork. It was at her infectious disease doctor’s behest; he does not have the capability to do blood draws in his office and waiting at the hospital’s lab is an all day affair. So, to the pediatrician’s we went.

Although our whole family has had this virus to some degree, Grace has, predictably, been the sickest. She has a deep, thick cough. Her sinuses, which have been congested since her virus of March, are impassable. She has had stomach issues, and is not interested in food. She is pale and lethargic, choosing to spend most days lounging on the couch or bed. She’s got a virus and she’s got it bad.

Naturally, in these days of pandemic-pandemonium, there is one virus at the forefront of everyone’s mind. And today, for the first but surely not the last time, Grace was tested for it.

We were lucky to get in today. Children’s Hospital is doing drive-through COVID tests, but only at three locations in the city (none convenient to us). By the time the infectious disease doctor’s order went through, it was a quarter to 4, and we were fortunate to snag a 5 pm appointment across town at the main hospital.

Grace did NOT want a COVID test. She knows, as probably everyone knows by now, that the test is a nasal swab. The moment the test was mentioned she threw a fit, flatly refusing to do it. When I made the appointment, she said she wouldn’t get in the car. Her anxiety came in handy for this—she won’t let me out of her sight, so when I got in the car, she had no choice but to follow me.

We drove across town to the drive-through COVID test center serenaded by Taylor Swift. Grace tried to sing along with “Wonderland,” but soon collapsed into a coughing fit, then silence. When we got to the test center, we drove through the maze of orange cones to a newly built garage staffed with three young nurses in full PPE.

I said a little prayer of gratitude for those three young nurses. Whether they volunteered for the job or were assigned, they are risking their health and that of their loved ones to test little children for this insidious virus. I am grateful to them and to all the other healthcare workers who so selflessly work for the sickest among us.

When we drove up, there was one car ahead of us. The dad emerged from the back passenger side and went back to the driver’s seat, and a little girl, maybe 4, maybe 6, darted briefly out of the back door. She screamed as she was swabbed. Her cries echoed through the parking lot as a nurse approached our car. It was an ominous greeting.

Immediately, I told the nurse I would have to help hold Grace while she was swabbed, and would possibly need another person too. I climbed into the back seat with her, bear hugging her while she bit me repeatedly as hard as she could. Another nurse rushed over and held Grace’s head while I struggled to contain her flailing arms and legs. Though I weigh nearly three times as much as her, she struggled mightily, and it was all I could do to hold her arms tightly to her chest.

The swab was over in seconds, but the trauma will last. For both of us.

Grace sobbed as we drove away. I thought about pulling over so I could hold her, this time in a motherly embrace, but she cried, “No, please, no, let’s just go home.” She shook and shuddered in the back seat for several minutes, crying from this most recent injustice. Soon enough, she started playing with the toy they gave her, and her tears slowly ebbed.

The bites and bruises on my arm are small penance for this latest crime against my baby girl. It is traumatic for both of us when she has to be restrained for a medical procedure. I don’t feel right allowing nurses to get hurt, so I always volunteer to hold her. But it is heartbreaking. I don’t want this for her. I don’t want any of it for her. I wish I could take it away from her. I wish I could wave a magic wand and take it all away.

Grace apologized tonight for biting me. As her parent, I should probably have asked for an apology. But as a human being, I feel that I am the one who should apologize. Once again, I have forced her into a situation she dreaded, because medicine requires it and doctors have tight schedules. Once again, I held her down while someone probed her body against her will. It is no wonder this child has anxiety. Anyone would.

The bruises on my arm will fade, but the bruises on our hearts will take a little longer to heal. For both of us.

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