“Mom! It’s 7:45! Mom, WAKE UP!!” My middle child is screaming into my nightmare ripping me back to this universe.
“What? 7:45? 7:45!!! OMG! OMG! Ok, thank GOD you woke me up! We have to go NOW! C?! C, WAKE UP, SWEETIE, We have to go NOW. It’s bloodwork day and we are waking up late!”
The toddler is already crying. She doesn’t want to jump out of bed when she first wakes up. She demands our usual cuddle session, but there is no time! I don’t even change her out of her pajamas. I, quick as I can, grab our toothbrushes while yelling commands to the older kids. “Guys? Are you ready? Put socks on! It’s going to be freezing out there! Come on guys we have to go. NOW! Please!”
Luckily the kids know the drill. We go to the NorDX lab for bloodwork at least once a month and we have done that for all of their lives. My oldest was born with kidney disease so this is routine. Except now it’s covid so it’s not at all routine.
I grab a couple of blankets and force the squirmy toddler into some snow pants. Siblings are not allowed to accompany patients into appointments so the younger two will hang out in the car while I run in with the oldest. It feels awful to leave them in there, but we don’t have a lot of choices. Their dad has to work because I am the stay at home parent, with all three kids home 24 hours a day and one of the kids having a chronic health condition. One of us has to be stay-at-home and the other has to be bringing in money.
We do not have time for breakfast even though we are a big breakfast family. The toddler can’t wait to eat so no matter how much of a rush we are in, I need to find her a quick snack. I grab a banana and throw a handful of dry cereal into a plastic bowl to bring with us. We are out the door by 8:05.
We have to be because the lab opens at 8:30 and if we are not there before they open, they won’t draw her until closer to 9. She needs to get drawn right away so that her bloodwork is accurate. It’s a timed test and we need to do it FIRST thing in the morning. Already 8:30 is a little late.
I realize that the windshield is covered in a sheet of ice and there is almost nothing I can do about it. I blast the heat and get to work scraping away at the ice and praying that time slows down for a minute. I am so frustrated with myself for forgetting to get the car warmed up and cleaned off before I got all three kids outside in the cold just waiting on me. This is going to make us late!
Finally, I can see through the windshield and we are on the highway in less than two minutes. The roads are not slick and there is no traffic so maybe fate is trying to give me a hand here. We stop at the only red light between us and the lab and I offer only a smile to the person panhandling in the median strip. I glimpse at my dashboard and see that it is currently 18 degrees outside. I wish that I had a dollar but I didn’t even grab my wallet before rushing out the door.
The Universe smiles down on us and we are pulling into the parking garage by 8:25. I have no idea how I pull it off. I hand my cell phone to the middle child. He will be in charge of keeping the Elmo videos and PBS kids going for the toddler until I come back out. I take the oldest child’s phone so that the middle child can call us or text us if ANYTHING comes up. I can get to the kids in the car in 2 minutes or less if they need me. I park right next to the entrance, make sure the car is really warm, double-check the cellphone volumes, and lock the doors before throwing a mask on and racing for the entrance. We are wearing cloth masks but we need to pinch and pull out some new blue hospital masks when we enter. The tween grabs a child’s mask because it fits her better than this adult one which seems to be made to fit a giant. My fingers tie knots in both ear loops without even thinking about it or looking at it at this point. I want to rush the people guarding the doors through the questions. I know all the questions by heart and I know that the answer is “no” to all of them, but I do not want to seem rude and I want to show them proper respect and gratitude for their work in helping to keep these appointments as safe as possible. I try to slow my breathing and answer as calmly as possible even though we are in a hurry.
“Have you had any of the following symptoms in the last week? …Nausea? Vomiting? Unexplained rash? Trouble breathing? New cough? Runny nose? Sore throat? Chills? Fever? Body aches? Diarrhea? Have you been in contact with anyone who has had a confirmed coronavirus case? Have you been tested for coronavirus in the past week? What time is your appointment? Where are you headed? I see you already grabbed the mask. Please use some sanitizer and then put one of these stickers on your jacket so that they know you have been screened. Thank you.”
A couple of people have come in behind us and I notice immediately that the child does not have a mask on. We go all the way around so that we do not get too close and race to the elevator. I throw a glance at the car and see that the car is still there and no one is bothering it. The windows are tinted so I can’t see the children.
We are at the door of the waiting room and I hold my breath as I open the door praying that it is empty inside. It is not. There are no seats available because every 2nd and 3rd chair is taped off to make sure that people socially distance. That leaves only enough chairs for 3 patients to be sitting. We huddle up in a corner and try to look at the bright side. At least the person who knows us, and will get to us promptly, is working today. If it was a phlebotomist we didn’t know, this wait would be worse.
3 people are drawn ahead of us. I am already texting with the kids in the car. They are fine. It is still warm in the car. The phone we have doesn’t have internet or anything fun on it, so the kid and I are forced to listen to the classic rock on the radio that is on the shelf on the wall that we are leaning against and try not to be too obnoxious with our pleading eyes at the phlebotomist working the desk. Please call us up. Please call us up. Please call us up. We have taken coronavirus precautions very seriously since last March because we know how much is at risk here. We can not get coronavirus. We can not. It feels scary to be this close to so many people. We are rarely indoors anywhere with anyone other than our own immediate family and it is uncomfortable.
A big man comes into the waiting room and the phlebotomist asks him to wait in the hall. His beard is so big that his blue mask that is so huge on me looks tiny on him. He says, “Do I need to at least check in first?”
“No, sir. We are too full. Please step into the hall and I will come to get you when there is room in here.”
I gulp. Everyone in the waiting room gulps under our masks and feels a little bad that we are occupying the only space available.
The receptionist wiggles a finger instructing us to approach. I say my child’s name, her birthday, and confirm that we have the same insurance. No change of address from last week when we were here. “Standing orders this week, please. Just the usual.” I am feeling so grateful that it is finally our turn. My daughter was extremely anxious the entire time that we were waiting. I reach down and squeeze her hand! “Your turn!” I say with a smile that I force all the way up to my eyes so that she can see it.
“Um, I’m sorry. There are no orders in here.” The phlebotomist knows me and she knows I am not going to take this well.
“…No? Yeah, there are the standing orders that we always get. Would you please look again? They have to be there. We need these today. It’s really important.” I start listing off the orders that I know by heart after more than a decade of taking my child for these orders.
“I know they are important. Sorry. There is nothing here.” She is already starting to look around me and I am now feeling as anxious as my kid.
“Ok, um…I am going to run upstairs and get them to put the orders in and I will be right back! Please, hold our spot! Please, I have my other kids waiting in the car. And the kids haven’t even eaten yet…and..please!” I look around at the waiting room and back at the phlebotomist as if to illustrate my point that we both know this immunosuppressed kid should not be in here any longer than necessary with all these people!
“Ok, I will take her in as soon as you get back,” she reassures me. I let go of my daughter’s hand and dash for the door. “Be right back, sweetie! Wait here. I will be back in two seconds!” I race for the elevator but there is already someone stepping into it. I do not feel that it is safe to join them so I watch the door close and wait a second before pushing the arrow up so that the door doesn’t just open right back up with them still in it. I hope that no one comes up behind me and I will have to decide if I want to get on with them or ask them to wait or wait even longer myself.
There is no one at the desk in the pediatric nephrology office and I am trying to figure out the least rude way to get the staff on the other side of the room’s attention when they turn around and walk toward me. I do not wait for them to come all the way over or to speak to me through the mic. “Hi! C’s mom here. She’s downstairs and her orders aren’t in. and it’s PACKED!! Can a nurse please put her orders in like right this second? Sorry! Thank you!”
The receptionist says that I need to speak to the nurse directly so I am stuck waiting still. The phone in my pocket rings and I answer it. “Mom? Are you done yet?”
“No sweetie! Not yet! Is everything ok?? Are you guys cold?”
“We are fine. No. We aren’t cold, but A needs to pee.” A is fully potty trained and never has accidents unless she needs to pee and someone doesn’t take her to a potty as soon as she says she needs to go.
“Can you ask her if she can hold it for one second?”
“Yea, she says she can.” but we both know she probably can’t.
The nurse arrives and I say the whole Spiel again.
I run for the door, turn the knob, and wish that they had one of those sensors so I didn’t have to put my hand on it. I squirt some sanitizer on and rub my hands furiously while running for the elevator. Someone is in line. I wait for them to go first even though I desperately want to get to my kids. One is alone in the waiting room downstairs now and the other two are in the car.
When I finally get to the lab, there is already a patient at the desk being helped and there is only enough staff and space for one at a time so I wait again. The second the person steps away from the desk, I am there asking if our labs are in yet. “No, nothing yet. Next person, please.”
I am so frustrated. More and more people are coming in. 5 people have gone ahead of C and she is starting to grumble about being hungry. For a split second, I lose it, I feel the tears flood my eyes and I say something out loud like, “I hate this! Oh, God, I can’t wait until this is easier.” and then I realize what I have done. I have been trying to remind my kiddo to be calm. This is ok. We got this. We know how to do this. And then I go and collapse into the grief and anxiety of the whole experience. It is tedious and stressful and we have been doing this for 11 months. It was hard enough to navigate the medical world before Covid but these restrictions make it almost absurdly difficult. It is hard to explain. If you only have to get one blood work over this year of Covid, maybe this story will seem exaggerated. If like us, you have 3 dozen blood draws and dozens of doctor’s appointments to navigate on top of that, you will understand how we are just exhausted. Our resilience is feeling the strain. We do have this. We know we have this, but that doesn’t make it less hard and scary.
The orders finally pop in the system and C can go next. I know she has got this. Still, I have never left her when she was getting a blood draw. I tell her I will be right back. There is still a person in the chair and they will need to sanitize it before she can go any way. I run as fast as I can for the 4th time this morning to the elevator. Someone is there. I consider taking the stairs but don’t want to touch all the surfaces between here and there. So many doors. I get to the car, unlock it, set off the car alarm, put the key in the ignition to quiet it, then go around to the back of the car to get the toddler out. She doesn’t want to put down her PBS kids but I tell her she can have it back as soon as she pees. I unzip the snow pants and pull her pants down. Her underwear feels damp but not wet…but when I find a discreet spot to dangle her over the ground so she can pee (we can’t go inside to use the bathroom) she says she already went. I guess the snow pants absorbed it all or something because I check again and she doesn’t feel wet. I get her back in her seat after running a hand over her car seat to check for wetness. I do a quick assessment of the temperature inside the car to make sure that it is still warm enough for the kids. I apologize that it is taking so long and my middle kid says, “This sucks! Hurry back, ok mom?”
“Almost done, baby. It’s crazy in there. I promise I will be back soon!”
I do not stop at the screening desk this time, but hope they recognize me from earlier and also from the past 11 months. “Its just me again!” I shout from under my mask and head straight for the elevator.
When I get to the hall outside of the waiting room I have to squeeze past a line of waiting people. For whatever reason, they are all men and I feel uncomfortable being so close to them because of coronavirus and also because this is that small of a space and they are men. I wish that they made any attempt to move to the side even a little bit to let me through but they do not move an inch.
None of the people inside the waiting room is my kid, so I automatically let myself back into the blood drawing-room. I know she’s in there. I know the way. We have been here a million times. She is so brave and a real pro at blood draws. She is almost done when I get there and I know we are so close to putting this part of our day behind us.
We load our palms up with sanitizer for the umpteenth time and beeline for the door. “Can I take my mask off now, mom?” “Yeah, baby, it’s ok out here. There is no one out here.” We are both so relieved that it is over for now.
“Donuts??” My middle kid asks. He knows there is a good chance I will say yes because he has been so helpful with his little sister while I took C to the appointment.
“Ok! Let’s get donuts. What time is it? 9:15. You don’t have class until 9:45 right? Ok. We can make it.” We pull into the house by 9:43 am and I get the kids to online school on time. I have just enough time to put the toddler in a bath and throw her peed in clothes into the laundry. By 10 am I am on a telehealth appointment for the oldest but I do not pull her out of class for the appointment. She misses enough school as it is. I answer the doctor’s questions and bring the phone to her room so that they can see her for a second because they “have to at least lay eyes on her.”
“Be safe… be healthy.” the doctor says to me before she ends the zoom meeting.
We both know the heaviness of those words. “We are trying. I can not wait until we can get vaccinated.” I don’t even mean to say it, but it’s true. I wish that we could have some idea of when we might be eligible. Especially for J who has to go to work every day.
“I know. I am so sorry you can’t get the vaccine yet. I have been advocating for caregivers of our patients to get vaccines ASAP but there doesn’t seem to be any movement for that to happen. In New Hampshire, they are prioritizing parents of high-risk kids but Maine just isn’t willing to do it.”
I know this is true, but it still hurts to hear it. Some part of me had hoped she might say, “yes! They are including caregivers of chronically ill children in the next wave of vaccines!”
“Let me know if there is anything we can do to support your advocacy. We could write letters, make calls, provide statements…Anything.” Please just tell me how to help you make this happen. We need this.
I don’t let myself think about the vaccine too much because I know that even if we get it soon, children will still be waiting for approval first for ages 12-15 and then for 11-5. No matter how you look at it, we have a while before our whole family is vaccinated.
I thank the doctor and she says kind words to me about me being a good mom. Most of the doctors do not do this, but I appreciate that she sees me in this moment. Maybe she is a mom too.
I look over at the sink full of dishes. I check in to make sure the big kids are doing school work, roll up my sleeves, and clean enough plates to serve real breakfast on. Donuts will have only quieted their hunger. They will be needing more substantive energy so I grab some eggs and pull out some bread for toast. I look at the clock and resist calling the doctor’s office to check on the results of the bloodwork. Even if I call now, I will have to just leave a message and they will call me back when they are ready to call me anyway so it really won’t speed up the process. I decide to check the online health chart but no lab results are showing. I could use the peace of mind that all is well, but I will have a few more hours before I get it. We will do this all again next month as long as the lab results are ok. If they are “off” we will repeat labs in a week.
I can not wait until Coronavirus is over or as close to over as we are going to get.