'If you can walk and you're not bleeding, I don't want to hear it.”
Any hopes my sons might have had of Mom kissing a boo-boo to make it better were often dashed by that motto. If they hoped I'd bestow a decorative Band-Aid just for show, they heard the “Band-Aids are only for bleeding” motto. And my posttussive emesis policy of, “If you're going to cough till you puke, you better do it in the toilet” offered little sympathy when my son with seasonal allergies was having his annual coughing fits.
Perhaps years in the ED of sympathetically mustering concern for pseudo-crises, which I can tell at first glance are nonemergencies, has depleted my softheartedness. Or perhaps not wanting to raise future drama kings, who will one day roll into the ED saying their paper cut is a 10/10 on the pain scale, has hardened my approach to mothering. Whatever the reason, no child of mine is going to whine about being hurt or sick unless he has a bona fide medical reason. When it comes to injury and illness, EP parents are all about tough love.
The dose of tough love my sons remember most was the day my youngest actually did break a bone. He fell while running for a touchdown, and said his leg hurt so badly that he needed to come out of the game, which he has never said before or since. I encouraged him to walk on what ended up being a spiral tibial fracture, and he will never ever let me live it down. In my defense, he had no bruising or deformity and minimal swelling. Nonetheless, my “shake it off” approach to a broken leg destroyed a little of my credibility when I've subsequently tried to call “drama.” Now, in addition to hearing, “But, Mom, I really AM bleeding!” when I deny them a Band-Aid for their little knee scrape, I hear, “But, Mom, that's what you said before they put me in a full leg cast” when I tell them their shin contusions will be just fine.
I could probably be a little softer and a little more maternal, but we know all the little scrapes and bruises are so minuscule that they are entirely forgotten with the slightest distraction. Why feed into the drama and reward unwarranted tears? Kids feed off their parents' anxiety, which means calm, cool, and collected parents have the calmest, coolest, and most-collected kids.
Tough Love, Tough Kids
Just how calm, cool, and collected are doctors' and nurses' kids when it comes to injury and illness? They often make better patients than adults. When it comes to whatever GI bug is going around, a doc's kid will only puke in the toilet because he'll be scolded if he doesn't, then calmly go back to what he was doing. Many adults will puke all over the house then rush to the ER with the emesis in a baggie for all to inspect. When it comes to epistaxis, a doc's kids will nonchalantly hold pressure on a bleed so brisk that a normal adult would fear he's hemorrhaging to death and require two Xanax. When it comes to trauma, I frequently see grown men and women with contusions flip out more than my 7-year-old did with his fracture. Tough love makes for tough kids.
EP parents are not only raising tough kids but also raising more informed kids. A health-related question will frequently give them more medical information than they ever wanted. Such was the case when my 8-year-old implored me to tell him about sex because, in his words, “When I'm 21 and I get a girlfriend, you don't want me to have to tell her I don't know how to do sex.” I augmented his vague notion that sex was “something about penises and vaginas” with a full-on presentation using pictures from my Netter's anatomy book, featuring ample information on STDs. A decade of trying to teach healthy behaviors to patients manifested itself in a lecture to “always wear a condom” so persuasive that he asked me, wide-eyed, “Even when I sleep? Even when I shower?” And my detailed oration on the clinical course of sexual infections left such an impression that I may have scared him. Later that night, he asked me, “What's that disease you were telling us about? Litterhea?” I had to think for a minute. “You mean Chlamydia, sweetie?”
“Yeah, that,” he affirmed with concern. “When I get a girlfriend, I'm going to make her get tested and if she has anything, I'm outta there!” I considered that a smashing sex talk success. Not only does a doctor-mom instill toughness, she instills invaluable knowledge.
When they ask questions, they get hard facts. When they get hurt, they get a hard edge. EPs' kids may not be in the most coddling hands, but they are in good hands. We are tough on our kids because it takes a lot to faze us, but that doesn't mean we care any less. Inside we are ever-vigilant and our capable hands are ever-ready to intervene should an emergency arise. We are teaching them to take care of themselves, imparting valuable knowledge, and instilling an attitude of “do no harm, take no crap.” To all the children of emergency physicians out there: One day, you'll thank us.
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