Our trip down to Baltimore, if weather and traffic are in our favor, takes less than three hours. Last week, Corrigan slept nearly the entire ride down and, like most little car snoozers, didn’t wake until the car stopped moving at the first stop light. Cor has made the trip more than 60 times in his life, so it shouldn’t be a shock to me that he can identify landmarks now and understand where we are heading but I was still surprised when he woke, looked around at the strip mall on one side and graveyard on the other and exclaimed, “Ambulance!”
He then sat straight up in his seat, leaning forward on his car seat harness and taking it all in. He was tense and his head moved back and forth at everything around him. He began flapping his hands and twisting them like he does when he is anxious. I turned off the radio and spoke softly, and in an upbeat way, to him. I told him that he was going to the hospital but only for a check up. I couldn’t lie to him and tell him that there would be no ouchies, because every visit includes a chest poke, but I tried to reassure him that he would not be going in any ambulances and that we would be heading home in no time.
In a fun development, Corrigan understands the premise of “I Spy” now, so distracting him with things to find while we drove through the neighborhoods was productive this time.
We are not sure how much Corrigan truly understands about his world and all of the things that he experiences, but it has become more and more clear that his lack of fluent language does not mean that his comprehension is as delayed. Clearly I can see emotional changes in him when he is fearful and I often wonder if he is physically affected as well.
Personally, I know that my body reacts physically to Johns Hopkins. It can be the easiest drive down in the world and I can be heading to that appointment without a single concern for Corrigan, singing happily along to the radio, yet there is still a point in every trip that my stomach begins to clench. If you are familiar with the drive, it is when the road slopes down and past Mercy Medical Center on the right. The moment the car begins the descent, and before my eyes can even see Hopkins, my stomach will clench violently and then my guts turn to jelly. For a few seconds, I feel a desperate need to find a bathroom (sorry!) but then it goes away.
Each visit, both good or bad, I also end up with what I call my “Hopkins headache”. I can take medicine prior to arriving, or during the visit, or even after and it has no effect on the Hopkins headache. I have tried to count to ten, relax my jaw and forehead and drink plenty of water, but by the time the appointment is over, my head is pounding. I’ve actually had to pull over on I70 before, just to vomit from the pain. However, once I reach Mt. Airy, headed west towards my beloved mountains, it dissipates almost magically. I have a physical reaction to Baltimore and there seems to be little I can do about it.
So if *I* experience something like that, and I am not the one that has had to endure the needles and restraint, the confusion and pain, or any of the things that little Corrigan has since he was 3 days old, I would imagine that he must too. I’d love to fix that. I would love to help Corrigan so that these trips to Hopkins, the ones that he will have to take for the rest of his life, are not so hard on him.
People always mention social stories for kids like Corrigan, and my first response is that he would enjoy the stories but I am not sure he is at a developmental level to understand the story and translate it to his own situation. Or maybe he would and, once again, I am not giving him enough credit. Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a social story for each hospital? But even if there were such a story, maybe a cartoon Corrigan and included landmarks of his trip in and what will happen once we arrive, how can anything erase the years and years of bad memories?
He is still going to be held down. He is still going to be jabbed. He is still going to have to strip to his undies and be weighed out in the main area in front of strangers. He is still going to have to experience the things that cause him such anxiety yet every good story has a happy ending, right? What IS the happy ending though? He gets a sticker he doesn’t care about and a long ride back home?
Like I mentioned a few posts ago though, he is making great strides with his anxiety. In the old PCRU, in the former building, we would hear the screams of children that stood in the doorway of an open elevator, realized where they were, and showed their displeasure vocally. They would scream and cry and break your heart and parents would walk in, faces pale and taut, dragging a traumatized child behind them. Mark and I would often say, “Corrigan is going to be the exact same way one day” and he was. Many many visits, I had to pry his tiny fingers from the door frame, literally yanking him loose and tossing him into the waiting area, but there’s none of that anymore. He has matured, resigned himself I suppose, to the things that he has to endure and then we get in our car, hold our breath until we leave the city limits, maybe puke along the side of the road, and then take a deep breath and head back to the place we feel safest. I am so thankful for safe places. I am so thankful each and every time that we get to leave that city.
We love you Baltimore. We do. We love you for housing one of the greatest hospitals in the world. And for your crab fries at Lexington Market, OH MY WORD. But the sight of you makes us sick. It’s us, not you, I am sorry.