Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Seven Stages of Dealing with a Child in Pain

You've heard of the seven stages of grief? Well, the last six days I have experienced the excruciating range of emotions that accompany watching your child experience pain.

Last Thursday evening we were playing in the backyard. Hubby had just returned from a three day fishing trip. We'd all missed him terribly and were playfully jostling for his attention. He'd filleted some of his freshly caught bounty and it was slowly baking in the oven, bathed in lime and butter. 

Mr 8 was talking non-stop about the highlights of his week. The two youngest were insisting on dressing up and I thought I'd take advantage of the soft, sinking light to snap a few pictures in the backyard.

This one was taken seconds before it happened...

He's dressed as Human Torch - from the Fantastic Four. He's about to try to fly and shout "flame on", only, as his feet touch down on the ground he trips and falls forward onto his arm.

I know instantly that it's broken from the unnatural angle at which his elbow is hanging. I peel back his costume and shout for my husband.

This is when the first stage begins...

1. Clarity
I know exactly what to do and do it instantly. Call an ambulance? No, we decide driving will get him there faster. While his father is comforting him, attaching a makeshift sling and moving him to the car I move instinctively, thinking with perfect clarity- I put on a bra and shoes, find warm clothing for myself (because hospitals are always freezing), find clean clothes for Hamish (in case he gets to come home) and pyjamas (because I know in my heart it'll be at least one night). I grab the iPad to entertain the other two and every muesli bar and packet of snacks in the pantry for their dinner.  I even remember to turn off the oven.

2. Frustration
When you want to be somewhere instantly, the time it takes to make the journey is incredibly frustrating. Add to that the sheer agony of listening to your child scream with pain and time seems to stop. Every other traveler on the road seems to be moving tens of kilometers under the speed limit. It is, literally, the only time in our lives I've told my husband to drive faster.

3. Helplessness
Waiting at the counter of the emergency department. Waiting - after they've moved husband carrying child into the children's area - to give mundane details like Medicare numbers and addresses. Waiting for X-rays. Waiting for orthopedic surgeons to drive in from home. Waiting for an operating theatre. Being told we'll have to wait until morning.

4. Exhaustion
We were moved to the children's ward just before midnight. Matt had taken the other two home a couple of hours before. Hamish's fear and pain and frustration had softened to exhaustion like mine. I was able to convince him to go to the toilet, put on his soft pyjamas and hop into bed. He closed his eyes and was asleep instantly- the benefit of morphine coupled with exhaustion. Complete exhaustion has the opposite effect on me and I woke nearly every hour.

5. Calm
They shook me awake to take us down to surgery. They gowned me up, asked Hamish to chose a bear and then we chatted to anesthetists and watched Giggle and Hoot. With a cannula in, he was wheeled in the "room with the bright lights" as I'd been explaining to him. All the better to see you with...  They helped to put him at ease, showed him the lights and special camera and then put him to sleep while I stroked his hair and promised I'd be right there when he woke up.

6. Fear
They'd told me to go back to the ward. Grab a coffee. Get something to eat. I barely made it to the lift before bursting into hysterical sobbing. 

I'm a planner. I'm the kind of gal you want to organise your picnic. I'm really good at thinking of every possible eventuality and preparing for it. It's rare that I don't think about what well do if it rains, or how to repel the insects.

So, on that early Friday morning every possible outcome ran through my mind. Reactions to the anesthetic, complications during surgery, permanent damage, the list goes on. I returned to a ward full of other people and I have never felt more alone or more afraid in my life.

7. Relief
That moment when he opened his eyes and looked for me.

I'm finding, however, that unlike the stages of grief these do not end with acceptance. 

Every moment since then has been various combinations of the above, taking me on a wild roller-coaster of emotional hell:

I experience calm and clarity when dealing with nursing staff, taking more X-rays and monitoring his medication,

Helplessness when he would just lie there in pain,

Fear when he wouldn't stop vomiting,

Relief when a visit from a good friend cheered him up and he managed to actually eat (though, I defy anyone to willingly eat hospital broccoli!)

Helplessness returning home and leaving him at the hospital with his Dad,

Relief to finally sleep and then hold him in my arms again the next day,

Frustration when it took four hours for the hospital pharmacy to furnish us with meds before we could leave to come home,

Helplessness when he refuses his medication. When they wear off he's unbearable- I'm calling them pain shit-fits,

Exhaustion when I finally convince him to take his meds and we go back to sleep for another hour or two. 

I'm still completely and utterly spent. And drowning my sorrows in bad television and chocolate ice cream. Here's hoping this ride finishes soon.

Disclaimer: I kinda feel like I should apologize or explain my need to blog about my kid being injured; that I should justify why I took photos of him sitting miserably in a hospital. That I should try to justify myself before I get comments such as 'what kind of mother does that?' 
But, you know what? In those darkest moments I needed my friends, my community and the way my friends share is through images. The way I share is through my writing and this blog. Every single person who reached out to me on Facebook and Instagram gave me a little more strength to get through this. And feel entirely vilified and very grateful.  


  1. I swear it's a Hamish thing! My Hamish had surgery too this week and the only surprise was that it wasn't related to jumping off something for a change. Hope your little man is back to being a superhero soon! PS I took lots of photos!

    1. Oh, Kate! Hope your Hamish is better soon. Hope your mama heart recovers soon too. xx

  2. Oh the poor little thing. I remember that feeling so well, that horrible sinking stomach, hot face kinda feeling when one of your children is hurt. The worst.
    Hope he is better soon. They seem to recover faster than us xoxox

  3. Hi Sarah,
    You just do whatever you need as dealing with your emotions. Don 't worry. I totally understand you as i had my sick daughter in hospital for one year. Hope you'll be better and catch up the blog school.

    1. Thank you, Catherine. We all cope differently with stress, don't we. I'm so far behind on blog school right now, but I'll get there! : )

  4. Poor small fuzz and poor you! I hope that everything gets to feeling and better soon.

    1. Thanks, Jen. Everybody's lovely words have certainly helped x


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