Talk about a royal tank. Worse than a tank, actually, a royal disaster. Maybe I jinxed it by blogging about it a few weeks ago. Because my poor son has resolved to never, ever, set foot in the pediatrics office again. That’s how badly his appointment for a flu shot went down.
In my time as a physician assistant, I worked in two different family practice settings. In both, we provided vaccines to children. Our medical assistants were skilled at giving multiple shots to even the most fearful of kids. There wasn’t a swirl of activity and dialogue around “shot anxiety.” The assistants went into the exam room and gave the shots. Bam. Done. And the kids returned for the rest of their vaccines, no more afraid than the time before.
I think there’s a lesson here.
Shot anxiety is real, no doubt about it. My son is terribly phobic when it comes to injections. So panicked, that when it was his turn to get his flu vaccine, he bolted from the pediatrician’s office and left the building. That’s how scared he was. And talk about dangerous; in his heighten state, he could have fallen down the corridor stairs or been hit by a passing car in the parking lot. And here I thought I had done everything I could to help him get ready for his shot:
I waited to tell him until that day, so his worrying wouldn’t interfere with school or his sleep.
He worked on relaxation techniques.
I told the receptionist in pediatrics that his vaccine needed done as quickly as possible, so he wouldn’t sit for 30 minutes in an exam room and panic.
How does the saying go? “Even the best laid plans….”?
As much as I tried to make things go well for my son, I ended up making many mistakes that day. I should not have said “shot anxiety” to the receptionist. I should have said “No, thank you,” to the licensed counselor who came into our exam room, reassuring us she knew exactly what to do and say to help my son but clearly did not. Not only did her platitudes draw out my son’s wait and further torture him, but she said the absolute worst thing she could have:
The shot won’t hurt a bit.
My son didn’t get his flu vaccine that day. He went into panic mode and fled. The next day I sat down with the director of the pediatrics clinic and, well, it wasn’t a terribly helpful conversation. But the one thing that will always haunt me about our talk is the director’s opinion that:
You’re his mother, you should know what to do.
Wow, lady, why don’t you give that knife a twist after stabbing me in the heart? I thought I was advocating for my son. I gave him little time to worry by telling him only hours (not days) before his shot appointment. He worked on relaxation techniques. We had his iPod along in case he wanted some music to sooth him (he said, “No.”). I requested my son not wait half an hour in an exam room anticipating a stick in the arm and guess what? That request was ignored. Rather, someone came into the room saying she was trained to help, but instead put my son’s feelings front and center, even lying to him about his vaccine.
The director was right, absolutely right. I should have known what to do. And that involved remembering how we did shots in “the old days.” With compassion, most certainly, but without the overwrought “feelings” part. Because, at least in our family’s experience, talking about shot anxiety just makes my son feel those feelings more intensely. And I knew that. I told the staff in no uncertain terms, let’s do this thing. Because that is exactly what we did in my day. Professionally. Staff acting in charge.
But then I put my trust in someone else, and she blew it. And my son has paid for it.
He is not just scared, he is terrified. Shots occupy his thoughts as he lays down for sleep. I had my own doctor’s appointment the other day, and he was certain he was getting his vaccine there. He doesn’t trust his doctor’s office. And he’s not vaccinated against influenza. And what’s worse? I’m not sure he trusts me anymore.
The counselor who tried to help my son meant well. And the mind-body connection is a real thing. But vaccines must be approached in a way that doesn’t compromise what pediatricians and their staff do best: care for the physical health of children. My advice? Just do the shots. Don’t get tangled up in the feelings dialogue if it is part of your pediatrician’s office protocol. If kids get the vibe a counselor is trying to “convince” them shots are ok, kids are going to think they have a choice whether to get them or not. And it’s not a choice. It’s a necessity. As a parent, act like vaccines are not an option. The nurse doing the shots, if he or she is good, will act the same; giving vaccines is all part of the job. And kids will recognize that. They still won’t like the “pokes” but that’s totally normal, it’s ok. Not getting their vaccines is not.
(Oh, and another “my bad” that day? Long sleeves. It didn’t even occur to me how resistant my son would be to removing his arm from his shirt. Mental note: short sleeves.)