She called me when I was at work.
My daughter, who lives three time zones away on the other side of the country, never calls me at work because she knows I am often busy with patients, unless …
Dexter was screaming madly. His harsh wail tore straight from the phone into my heart. She said he just got his 4-month immunizations and had been inconsolable for almost 30—what must have excruciatingly long—minutes. Shots the first time weren't like this. Could he be having an allergic reaction? What should she do?
Her sentences were analytical, her voice composed and collected, but I could detect a quiver of anguish that was impossible to hide. Here she was, a new mom, calling me because I was her mom, and I was also a doctor. I was supposed to know.
I said, give Tylenol and call the advice nurse right away. And, if the shots were the same as before, allergy was unlikely. But what if, she speculated, he was having a reaction to an inactive ingredient of the immunization, perhaps different this time? It killed me that I didn't have an answer.
While I spoke to her softly and assuredly, my insides were in a wild panic. Although I am a board-certified family physician, I was completely out of practice when it came to pediatric primary care. It was the farthest thing from my subspecialty and what it is that I do—hospice, and palliative medicine for acutely ill, hospitalized adults, most of them elderly, with a zillion chronic conditions. Furthermore, you're not supposed to treat your own family because, as I was in the process of discovering, you can't think straight when it comes to your own loved ones.
But quickly my daughter’s newly exposed mettle permeated my thoughts: how brave she was in the face of the unknown; how supportive a parent she was, frightened in a way she had never been before, but managing to stay cool in the presence of her precious infant crying incessantly for half an hour—probably all the while trying to talk herself out of something actually being wrong and if only she had more motherly patience. I wondered if I would have ever had that same unflappable endurance.
She texted me minutes later. Said the advice nurse explained that it was most likely the local pain from the injections, so Tylenol would help. In trying to temper his agony (and probably her own), she had been holding him tight against her the entire time, pressing those very thighs that were tender from the shots! Then, along with the text, appeared a most adorable photo of Dexter in all of his immense sweetness, now comfortably reclining in his baby swing, legs clutch-free, with happy dancing eyes and the widest smile ever.
That pic meant everything it needed to, to mend that gash in my heart and calm an anxious me, 3000 miles away, in a single instant. Then she admitted that she can't handle it when he's so inconsolable, and she starts to cry a little too, because she feels so bad. I felt even more proud of her.
I texted back: Don't worry, that's exactly why you are the wonderful and good mom you are. It's okay to call me, too.
What makes my daughter so special to me was her immediate reply: And that's why you are the wonderful and good mom you are.