Karate builds character and increases self-esteem. That’s what they told me when I enrolled my timid 7-year-old at White Dragon Martial Arts. I dutifully took Jaye three times a week, believing it would help her become more assertive.
It did. Maybe too much, I thought as I stood outside the examination room at the doctor’s office, listening to my daughter unleashing her karate moves.
During each lesson, the karate instructors had been adamant: “Don’t ever attempt these moves outside of class unless you’re threatened with serious physical danger and need to protect yourself.”
See where this is headed?
Shots, blood tests, peeing in a cup, gagging on a tongue depressor—to an adult, this is standard operating procedure. To a kid, it’s torture. When it happens during a routine visit to a pediatrician or family physician, familiar faces and comfortable settings ease most anxieties. But unknown individuals equal stranger danger. That’s how Jaye perceived the situation when her chronic stomach aches led us to a pediatric gastroenterologist.
On the very first visit, the specialist ordered a test that required threading a tube into my child’s nostril, down her throat and into her stomach. I recoiled. “But aren’t you going to sedate her? And numb her first?”
The nurse grabbed my elbow and directed me toward the door. “Don’t worry. She’s going to be fine. It’s been our experience that parents only heighten a child’s fear of the procedure. Why don’t you have a seat outside?” Her python grip told me this was not a request.
I was terrified, and for good reason. Once, I’d had a nasogastric tube inserted under general anesthesia; I was awake and alert when a nurse yanked it out. Never again. Kill me now.
Standing there in the hallway, I could hear Jaye crying, “No! No! Please don’t do that! It hurts!”
That did it. I hurled myself against the locked door. On the other side, there was a shout—not of fear but determination, an eardrum-busting “Aiii-eee!” that I knew well. Jaye had assumed the first position of the kata, the self-defense technique she’d learned from “Sensei Steve,” who headed up the karate school. She’d earned a belt for her prowess in performing this set of precise, powerful movements, so I knew someone was about to get kicked.
The first crash told me Jaye had connected with the examination table. A grunt followed. Her second kick had landed accurately. I contemplated calling my insurance company.
This isn’t like us. Really. In most situations, my family is peace-loving and kind, but we get a little tense when blood, pain and sharp objects enter the picture.
My younger daughter, Em, a fan of Twizzlers and gummies but not of dentists, never got out of the chair without at least one filling. She’d flail, kick and chomp unless she saw in advance what stickers and toys she’d get for good behavior. The staff knew to place the goodie basket within her field of vision if they wanted to keep all 10 fingers.
When a new family with three kids moved in across the street and asked me who my dentist was, I happily gave his name. Then I overheard Em telling Cindy the gruesome details of her previous visits. Cindy must have filled her two brothers in because—as I learned during my next checkup—as bad as my daughters were, those kids were worse.
Halfway through my semi-annual cleaning, the hygienist paused. Normally smiling and good-natured, Bonnie wore an unpleasant expression. “Are you the one who referred the Lawrence family to this practice?” Her tone scared me. A vicious-looking dental device hovered over my open mouth. Honesty seemed prudent. I nodded.
She sighed and rubbed her jaw. “Aaron, their oldest, punched me in the face. At least I got my fingers out of his mouth before he clamped down.”
I stopped giving families with children referrals to my doctors or dentists. I carried enough guilt over my own girls’ behavior to avoid additional burdens of conscience.
Although the roundhouse-kick episode was extreme, no visit to the doctor was ever stress-free. My daughters dreaded the annual checkup and asked every year if they’d be getting a shot. When Jaye found out she’d completed her childhood immunization schedule, she grinned like a Super Bowl winner headed to Disney World. “I never have to have another shot again!”
I bit my tongue. Oh, kiddo, I hate to tell you, but adulthood throws plenty of painful curve balls. “You might feel a little pinch” is the least of it. Childbirth, c-sections, IVs, mammograms, MRIs, colonoscopies, surgeries, stitches, sutures, chemotherapy—we may measure health care in dollars and cents, but our necessary share of discomfort and even suffering is the cost of wellness.
Jaye will have to navigate her own medical crises without me; and a fierce battle cry isn’t quite as acceptable for adults as it is for kids. But if that’s what it takes for her to survive, then I say let ’er rip.
Linda Lowen teaches at the Downtown Writer’s Center and is co-producer and co-host of Take Care, a health and wellness radio show on WRVO. She lives in Syracuse with her husband and two college-age daughters, who go by Jaye and Em in her writing.