Everyone has a story from their childhood which stains their persona, causing permanent damage in the pattern of grief or pain. We are human. That’s a perk of having a highly functioning brain and opposable thumbs.
But how we handle those situations from our past is what forms our coping mechanisms. Let’s face it, some adults handle stress better than others. The remainder of us have stressors which trigger unhealthy behaviors.
Whether it be overeating, drinking heavily, smoking or extreme exercise; the cause is all the same. We are numbing the pain from our past. I don’t think people are consciously choosing these harmful devices, but inadvertintly use it as a crutch to wipe out traumatic memories.
When my brother was young, my parents hired a babysitter to keep us safe while they went to a baseball game in a city 30 miles away. My parents had used this babysitter before and were comfortable in their choice.
I was ten at the time, but already was proficient in my brother’s ailments. Asthma attacks were a common nighttime event, and numerous times I had watched my parents take my brother into the steamy bathroom when he had croup.
But this night was worse.
It started with a sporadic cough and complaints of a sore throat. The babysitter gave him some ice cream to help cool his throat. Unfortunately, no one knew until later that my brother had developed an allergy to milk. Combined with croup, his barking seal cough quickly worsened.
I said to the babysitter, “When he barks like this, my parents turn on the hot shower and have him sit in the bathroom breathing in steam.”
The older teen showed no concern for his cough, but after much nagging and begging, she reluctantly turned on the shower. Obviously, she had never heard of this medical condition and her anxiety level was hovering at a negative three.
I, however, had developed a strong case of the worries at a young age, watching my mother worrying about my brother. Learned behavior is such a bitch.
We knew it would be challenging to reach my parents at a professional ball game since it was the pre-cellphone era. So calling them for their advice was out of the question. Since the shower trick was not helping, and my brother five years junior was having labored breathing, I asked the babysitter to call the pediatrician.
She didn’t think that was necessary.
REALLY? He sounds like a seal choking on his huge rubber ball. When do you think he will be blue enough to get your attention?
Since I knew where the doctor’s number was, I called her. Back then you could call doctors at home and they would be happy to help a parent in distress. I’m sure this familiar pediatrician was surprised to hear my voice in the middle of the evening, but she agreed my brother was in danger.
After my brother barked into the receiver, he handed the phone back to me. The doctor asked to speak to my babysitter. Miss Nonplussed decided to take calls at that point.
“The boy is dangerously ill and needs to get to the hospital NOW!” insisted the doctor.
I’m fairly sure I remember the monotoned babysitter’s astute answer.
“OK,” she mumbled.
Since the doctor needed to be at the hospital – and we were in a direct path to the ER from her home – she instructed us to wrap my brother in a warm blanket and watch for her red Toyota sedan to pick us up.
We arrived at the hospital just in time.
Entering the doors of the ER was to be the last time I would see him for the next several days. Unable to reach my parents at the game, the pediatrician took a chance and without parental consent performed an emergency tracheostomy. Now he could breathe through a tube exiting his neck.
My parents eventually were called overhead interrupting the game, and instructed to come to the hospital immediately. Thankfully, my brother survived this traumatic case and we had an amazing physician who took matters into her own hands. I know there was a special place in heaven saved for her after that night.
Today, whenever I hear one of my daughters cough, my gut tightens, my palms sweat, and my pulse quickens.
Is it croup? Does it sound like her throat is closing?
My poor kids! They can’t clear their throats without me straining to check them out.
So when my daughters are actually sick and I have to keep them home from school, I try my damndest to keep my cool. I don’t want my kids to feel my anxiety, and develop their own worries. So I stifle my fears. I care for them with a smile on my face and the “hell-no-Mama’s-not-worried” voice.
“Eh, you’re not that bad. It’s just a little cough.”
After the lights are turned off and the kids are tucked into bed, with the whir of the vaporizer as their white noise; my mind turns to that full box of Goldfish crackers in our pantry and an inviting bottle of Pinot Noir.
That would take the edge off.
And I as I center my breathing, I remind myself, “Don’t compare this sickness to the past. We’ll get through it again.”
I’d like to say, my meditation techniques help me avoid the panic attacks, but someday I’ll walk right past the pantry and the liquor cabinet, and be secure in what life gives me.
But that day isn’t quite here.
Does this happen to you or am I alone on this one?