When I worked in the ED there was a tech who came out of a room after I had been in for my initial assessment. The kid was sick-ish. Meaning probably admission material but not ICU level and potentially could go home if he had a robust response to treatment. I was maybe twenty-five. I was good at what I did. But I was and still am in a sense; controlled chaos. I remember the tech came out laughing and I asked him what he was laughing at? I was assembling my IV equipment, glucose machine, i-stat for chemistry, and an 02 mask. He said, “The parents, they looked like woah! When I went in right after you walked out, so I told them, ya know she’s good. That’s just how she is. Your kid is gonna be the best taken care of kid here though with her as your nurse.”
I remember I stopped what I was doing. I had big curly hair. Still do. It was everywhere. I was sucking on a cough drop because my asthma was acting up and there had also been a GI smell I just couldn’t get out of my nostrils earlier from another kid. I had a pile of stuff on my IV cart. Other nurses would, set things up, make it all pretty, put the tubing in the same spot every stick etc. I don’t think it was ever in the same spot. That tech held for me for countless IV starts. He knew to just hold the kid. That as much as it looked disorganized I was actually crazy like a fox and never dropped anything on the floor. And if I did I had a spare. In my pocket. He’d had to fish out a spare from my pocket. Once. Maybe twice.
I got the line in that kid in one smooth shot. By the time the Attending saw him he was sleeping soundly, his parents each had a coffee in hand, and they all had blankets. The kid had 02 going and fluids and meds. He went home five hours later.
I’m still sorta that way in psych. Sometimes I think clients don’t know what to make of me. I still am completely unable to recognize how chaotic I can seem but in psych I think it’s more maybe I seem detached, distracted. When in reality I’ve already got you assessed and am narrowing down my medication options and also deciding what gem I’m going to slip in to shatter your defenses to get you to really feel something and maybe by default cry.
I don’t realize that I have a style or a way or a presence until people tell me. That moment was eleven years ago. I still remember the look on the tech’s face, and can imagine the look on mine. First off I didn’t realize I came across like a tornado in that room. Second I had no idea the tech thought I was good at my job or that he remembered after hundreds of lines where to find the spare three way stopcock I always kept in my pocket. Never know when you’re going to need to push adenosine. Just saying.
In psych though clients have a different relationship than in the ED and different expectations. Over the years I’ve been asked directly by a few clients at the intake what my assessment is, diagnosis, and some have even asked what I think their personality traits are. It’s kind of fun for me. I may totally geek out in the moment when I get to be like the cop at the end of a case explaining and divulging all the things I’ve picked up. The ones who ask after one appointment ask because they are skeptical. Skeptical that I’m paying attention. Skeptical that I know what I’m doing. Skeptical that I could get to know them enough in sixty minutes to make recommendations like medication. I get it. But I kill it. Every time. Because hello people. Since 2007 I’ve done nothing but rapid assessment in one form or another every day for hours a day. I also got a couple degrees and training in it. That moment when I relay straight faced, with eye contact, everything I’ve observed, surmised, and suspect and how that relates to my recommendations they usually stare back, jaw drops a little, and sometimes their eyes well up with tears, sometimes they just open in surprise and sometimes a little hint of admiration. It’s that moment they feel seen.
I felt seen by that tech in that moment eleven years ago. It doesn’t happen often that some one catches me off guard. I generally think I’m invisible so am always surprised if some one reflects something incredibly accurate about myself back to me. The scariest time that happened was last week. In the car. With my sons.
I asked the boys if they like living in our town. I bring it up now and then because I’m not sure if we will move or not. They rambled on in their 5 year old way about yes, maybe, no, but we should live next to their cousin, because that’s their lifelong goal and dream to live next door to their cousin. I laughed and said, well if we move with your Aunts and cousin you won’t be in school with…then listed their friends. Then they were contemplative, and I said somewhat surprised, “I kinda like living here.” Never thought I would like rural living. Declan says, “Because there’s no people Mama. You don’t like people. That’s why you like it here.” I looked in the rearview smiling and surprised, “What do you mean baby?” “You don’t like big crowds, (how the hell did he know the word crowd?!) that’s why you didn’t want to go to the Fair. It’s why you like to just be by the pool. It’s okay Mama. We like living here.” Damn. Just like that. I was actually speechless.
None of it was wrong. I don’t like people. Especially big crowds. The pandemic didn’t help. I also blame working in healthcare. We see the worst of humanity. Makes it hard to want to really engage with random people. And yes, the yearly town fair is the bane of my existence. I will not work at it. I will not attend. In every way it is completely abhorrent to me. Cow manure. People. Bees. People. Hill. People. No parking. People. I also do prefer my pool. To everywhere in the world. My two favorite people are my sons. After that there are maybe ten-fifteen people I think I need regular contact with (Yes Mom. You’re on the list;).
Aside from that though, the point is my son. I think I am raising a future mental health professional. Because he saw me. What’s funny in those moments is his twin brother is totally silent. He’s the observer. He’s going to be the politician. He doesn’t agree or disagree outwardly but I know if I asked him he’d know his brother was spot on. He just wouldn’t be the one to call me out. Twins. It’s a whole thing. I am so often trying to survive the grind of single mom-ing, business owning, and being a clinician that I forget they are watching. Seeing. Learning. They know me as well I know them. It’s a scary thing. This vulnerability with our kids. I feel it more as a single mom. Because they spend 85% of their time with me. And I with them.
These boys are perceptive and caring and it’s weird to start to shift from thinking of them as these dependent beings to independent beings who can make assumptions about me. Learn from me. Emulate me. They did not get my general disliking of socializing. These boys talk to every one about everything. It’s cool that they can see this part of me, and be different from me, and we can all be okay with that.
That moment in the car was a parenting first. Feeling “seen” by my kids. In a way I really hadn’t ever experienced with them. I just keep hoping what they see is good enough, wise enough, and strong enough for them. It’s such a shift from childhood and seeking our parents approval, to adulthood and seeking it from our kids. It’s part of parenting I didn’t expect and still find it hard to define at times.
This is one parent’s reminder. They are watching. Always.