January 30, 2015
Fighting the Fear
“No, Mommy! Please! No!” His desperate screams fill my ears and I have to turn my head away so that he won’t see the tears that threaten to leak out of the corners of my eyes. So that he won’t know how much his helplessness and vulnerability break my heart. Oh, how I long to rescue him from this pain! To protect him from this terrifying situation that causes him this out-of-control panic. Instead, I hold him even tighter, pinning his arms so that he can’t move. He may believe at this moment that I am the worst parent in the world by subjecting him to this agony, but I know that this is what he needs in order to be healthy.
“Sh, it’s okay,” I keep whispering into his ear. “I’m here, Sweetheart. I’m right here. Just squeeze my hand. Sh.” I continue to hold him securely while he continues his frantic cries. He is unable to hear my words of comfort. The roar of fear has caused his ears to be deaf to my voice. He is so blinded by terror that my face, the room we’re in, everything becomes fuzzy and out of focus.
I pray silently, Please, God, let this be over soon! The phlebotomist patiently attempts a third and then a fourth time to locate a good vein, to draw enough blood to fill 10 – yes 10! – vials to be sent to the lab for testing. With each passing minute, with each painful stab of the needle, with each piercing scream, it gets increasingly difficult to watch.
I knew when our little foster baby had his organ transplant four years ago that it would mean life-long concerns about his health.1 I knew when we adopted him two years ago that it would mean a life-long commitment to his care. That it would mean sacrificing countless hours, summoning boundless energy, and experiencing immense inconvenience.
What I didn’t know, what I never could have planned, was the indescribable love in my heart for this resilient child. The unimaginable heartbreak of watching him endure repeated medical tests. The fierce protectiveness that I feel for him every time we step foot into this place.
And I didn’t know how significantly the medical trauma of his early years would affect him.2 That it would cause him to have such ongoing fear. That every time he has a medical procedure, even a minor one, he is re-traumatized, and the healing has to start all over again.
Normally, getting your blood drawn should not be such a traumatic event. It shouldn’t be such a major ordeal every single time! One would think that after being subjected to various medical procedures hundreds of times over the past six years, that he would get used to it. What is he so afraid of? Why doesn’t he just remain calm and hold still? He knows it’s going to be over in a few minutes. Why isn’t he brave enough to fight this fear?
Finally, mercifully, the needle comes out, the band-aid goes on, and I reassure him once again that I am here, and that he is safe. And he is safe . . . until next time.
Precisely 24 hours later, like clock-work, my cell phone rings. I predict, with barely a glance at the name on the screen, that it is the transplant coordinator at the hospital calling me with yesterday’s test results. I can tell instantly by the tone of his voice that the news is not good. For the past few months, his levels have not been within the “normal” range – an indication that something inside his little body is not working correctly. Perhaps it is an early sign of rejection or a symptom of an auto-immune disorder. Despite several medication adjustments and lifestyle changes, the levels have not improved. They have continued to creep in the wrong direction, causing his medical team to become more and more concerned.
As if that information isn’t bad enough, the voice on the other end of the line continues with more disconcerting news. When one organ fails to function properly, it sometimes affects other healthy organs, causing them to work harder, and putting them at risk for being damaged. This, unfortunately, seems to be the current case. The numbers don’t lie. Another one of his organs is not working as it should. He will need further testing. More complicated and invasive procedures. The blood draw, which had caused him so much anguish the day before, was only the beginning.
As soon as the phone conversation ends, my fear begins. I sink to the floor, right in the middle of my bedroom, and cry, “No, God! Please! No!” My husband, who happens to be working from home, tries to remind me that everything will be fine, but I am unable to hear his words of comfort. The roar of fear has caused my ears to be deaf to his voice. I am so blinded by terror that his face, the room we’re in, everything becomes fuzzy and out of focus.
What if his organs are indeed failing? What will that mean for him? Will he need more surgeries? What if he needs to stay in the hospital for months at a time like he has before? How will this affect his life expectancy? The uncertainty, the panic, the unknown future and the unanswered questions – they have paralyzed me. Those “what if” questions will do that every time!
My faith momentarily wavers, and that lapse scares me most of all! If I really believe that the Lord is in control, what am I so afraid of? Why don’t I just remain calm and be still before Him? Why aren’t I brave enough to fight the fear?
One would think that after experiencing God’s faithfulness and love hundreds of times over the years, that my trust in Him would be strong and unshakable. As much as I hate to admit it, my faith is weak and fickle. It falters so easily. Really, I am no different than my child, frantically clinging to my Father’s arms.
How can I help my child fight his fears when I struggle to fight mine?
I try desperately to quiet the screaming panic in my heart so that I can hear My Father’s voice:
Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
And therein lies the key to fighting my fear . . .
I am with you. If I really believe that the God of the universe, the Creator of all things, is with me, I can fight this fear. I can find the courage to face this situation, no matter how terrifying to me, knowing that He is in control. Nothing that happens in my life or in the life of my child, happens when He isn’t looking. He knows. He sees. He is present.
I am your God. He isn’t some distant deity, uninvolved and uninterested. He is personal. He is my God. He knows my heart, my circumstances, and my needs. If I truly trust Him, I will not be dismayed. I can be courageous!
I will strengthen you and help you. He doesn’t promise me a life free of pain. My child’s ongoing health concerns? They may indeed be long and painful. Difficult and exhausting. If so, My God promises to give me strength. To help me and sustain me.
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. My God will be right here with me, no matter what happens. He will be upholding me with his righteous right hand. Not his cruel hand. Not his hand that might make a mistake. He will uphold me with his righteous hand.
Oh, how I pray for an unwavering faith that embraces God’s promises no matter the storm I face! An abiding faith that stands firm and resolute no matter the battle before me!
I want to show my child what faith looks like.
I want to show him what it means to cling to the truth of God’s promises.
I want to show him how to be strong and confident and courageous.
I want to show him how to fight the fear!
1. The incredible story of God’s provision for him during his early years: http://psalm1139mama.blogspot.com/2012/09/a-chance-to-thrive-part-1.html
2. A brief look at how traumatic it can be for a medically-fragile child, and the life-long affects: http://psalm1139mama.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-long-road-of-healing.html