To our children,
No matter how old you get or how far away you go, we will always worry about you with a neurosis unique to EP parents. Raising kids these days is stressful enough without nightmares at work planting extra seeds of angst. Constantly seeing bad outcomes makes us more aware of worst-case scenarios. Being an EP means harboring an incessant fear that these worst-case scenarios will happen to you.
We're not so neurotic that we worry when we see once-in-a-career cases. We've never imagined you being injured by a killer whale or while knitting. These things do happen, judging by the latest round of diagnosis codes. We have codes for burn due to water skis on fire, injury while knitting or crocheting, sucked into a jet engine, and struck by an orca. Most EPs will never see most of these diagnoses, and they don't affect our parenting.
Those weird things happen to “them.” You will not hear us remind you to wear orca block when you head to the beach. We will not admonish you not to drink and knit when out with your friends. Those are merely fantastical tales we tell at cocktail parties.
What no one wants to hear are the daily realities that do happen to “us.” No parent wants to hear about the overdose or fatal SUV rollover because it hits too close to home. Those remain abstractions to most parents, but to us they are vivid and personal. We've seen how life can change or end because of one mistake, like not clicking your seatbelt or trying that drug. We know all too well that these things happen in our community to kids like you and to families like ours. Close proximity increases empathy, so the more we see a tragedy, the more we're cursed by uncomfortable intimacy with the pain it causes. We internalize the hardships wrought by frequently occurring tragedies so they are imprinted on our amygdalas and always in our minds when we're parenting.
Each time we see a calamity that, but for the grace of God, could happen to you, we respond with behaviors that you may have picked up on over the years. First come the hugs. When we see something tragic happen to someone else's child, we need to hug our own children and tell you how much we love you. Let us do it. Don't ever get too cool for us to hug you because we need these hugs more than you realize.
Next come the lectures. After we finish taking a minute to thank God that you are OK, we start our Darwinistic plight to help you survive whatever cruel reality we've just witnessed. Our lectures mean to help you avoid tragic mistakes other people make. We lecture about good and bad choices so you make better decisions than our ED patients.
We hope we can imprint your impressionable brain so that making the right choices becomes automatic if we acquaint you with a firsthand perspective of the consequences of, for example, doing drugs. It's OK to think that killer whale injuries only happen to “them,” but it is not OK to think car accidents and drug overdoses do. Your young age makes you feel invincible, and you think it can never happen to you. With every lecture we give and every patient story we tell, our hope is that we're teaching you that it can and that you avoid the pain and suffering that can come from stupid choices.
When we say, “Wear your seatbelt,” it's because we've seen too many snapped bones and mangled bodies, or worse, had to tell a family their loved one was killed in a car wreck. When we say, “Wear your helmet,” it's because we've seen too many brain bleeds and deaths from skull vs. pavement. When we say, “Don't drink and drive,” it's because we've seen too many trauma victims. When we plead with you not to try drugs, it's because we've seen heartbroken parents after their child tried some pills and never woke up. When we tell you, “It only takes one time,” it's because we've seen the patient who died, too drunk to make a good choice when someone offered him heroin the first time. When we say, “Please run away from fights or commotion,” it is because we've seen gunshot victims in the wrong place at the wrong time when someone pulled a gun.
We know we seem like worrywarts and nags. You may be thinking, “Oh, no. Here comes another lecture from dad,” or “Geez, mom, I know. You've told us a hundred times.” But we need to keep saying it, as much for us as for you. It is a helpless feeling to see your child leave home and know you can't always protect him. Repeatedly trying to impart our wisdom is our way of trying to protect you a little. What our lectures are really saying is, “I love you. Please come home safe.” We couldn't bear it if the things we see at work happened to you.
Your EP parents
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