How My Son’s NICU Experience Traumatized Me
It's not like I was a huge fan of doctors to begin with, to be honest. I remember having childhood panic attacks at the possibility of needing a throat swab from my pediatrician to rule out strep throat. And if I needed shots? Forget it. I was sobbing quietly into my mother's shoulder. I have always had a white-lab-coat phobia, and after my son's NICU stay and detailed medical issues, it's only gotten worse.
Day after day, my husband and I would wake up on that plastic couch in our son's hospital room, and every day for almost three months, it seemed doctors would come in and tell us bad news — really bad news, too. Not small stuff that seems big at the time. No, the blows they were delivering were harsh and scary and sometimes not at all accurate. We would be told to prepare for the very real possibility of a chromosome disorder, and so we spent weeks with our stomachs in knots and our anxiety through the roof, waiting on those results to come in, only to have them forget to tell us when they did. Or that he was breathing three times faster than a normal newborn should, and no one knew why, nor did they seem very interested in finding out why.
For an entire summer, I cringed each time a doctor set foot into my son's room, not expecting answers, only more uncertainty, more negativity, and very little compassion or sympathy. It was shocking to be among professionals who chose to work with children, yet so few offered an ounce of kindness or semblance of humanity.
My husband and I had to band together and fight for surgeries that eventually made it safe for our son to come home. Having to demand a surgery that, two weeks post-operation, ended a 90-day NICU stay? Unbelievable.
It's been over a year since we brought Jack home, and his progress is more amazing than I dared let myself hope for way back then.
My willingness to lean on doctor-given advice and seek out medical professionals, however, is completely gone. The emotional toll those months took on our entire family has not healed in regards to the white lab coat. It seems silly and overdramatic to use a word like “scarred,” but that's how I feel.
It's the reason I stay hyper-vigilant during cold and flu season and prefer to let him work the sickness out on his own, rather than running to the doctor. I put off well-baby check-ups and vaccines until the last minute, and during those visits, I am firm in my assessment of his development and well-being, unwilling to let another doctor wrongly assert their diagnosis-sans-hard-facts again.
Unless absolutely necessary, I avoid medical environments altogether, and the knowledge of any upcoming appointments nearly sends me into a full-blown panic attack. The anxiety gnaws at my stomach for days leading up to those meetings, and I spend the entire appointment close to tears.
It doesn't seem like something I can get rid of, and searching for a different doctor to ease my fears and work through this anxiety isn't possible with our current medical coverage.
When we left the children's hospital with our son finally in tow after a long, scary summer, I thought we would finally be able to move past the emotional setbacks we had been served.
Clearly, I haven't.