where did the tears come from?

Every month I speak to medical students from Rutgers University. It’s a small group of third year students who are in their pediatric rotation. I’m a “patient representative” who is there to share our family’s story and the good and bad of what we’ve experienced with doctors. I look forward to these Zoom sessions and am always impressed with the students and appreciate being able to sneak in as much as I can about ALD — the often missed signs of ALD and the importance of newborn screening.

After we go around doing introductions, I share the video that bluebird bio made about our family. It’s a great way for the students to learn a bit about our journey and “meet the family”. While the video plays, I usually take the opportunity to slip away from my desk to make a cup of tea or check in with Dan and Jack. Last night I sat and watched the video with the students.

I found myself in tears.

I did regain my composure by the time the video was over and got through the next hour and a half managing to hold it together as I shared stories of working with many exceptional doctors and some who were lacking empathy and/or the ability to recognize when they may need more education about our not as rare as you might think disease. I always try to be approachable and relaxed, using humor to make everyone as comfortable as possible as I share stories about witnessing our son unravel, searching for answers, receiving a life-threatening diagnosis, watching as our once typical, healthy son fight for his life, and learning to adapt to a life that none of us ever imagined. I’ve done this enough that I can let the words just flow. I did a fine job, but I couldn’t help feeling distracted.

After the session, I got up and went directly into Jack’s room, knowing that time with the boy would brighten my mood. We sat and watched The Impractical Jokers and laughed until it was time for us to get ready for bed. I did feel much better after spending time with him.  Jack is doing great. He loves his adult program and time with his other mothers AND can comfortably live at home. His health continues to be stable and, except for an occasional tear shed while watching those ASPCA ads, he always has a bright smile on his face. 

Although I felt better, as I tried to fall asleep last night, I kept thinking about my reaction to watching the video. My only explanation for yesterday’s tears is that it’s been a while since I let myself really focus on what we went through 15 years ago. Sure – I share it, but I remove myself as much as I can from the story. I fill in as many of the dark spots with humor and light. It’s how I survive.

If I were my own therapist, I would ask myself how this strategy is working, and I think my answer would be that it’s working pretty well — I don’t want to live in the dark. I want to live in the light. I want to enjoy all the good our family has experienced and not waste time with the what ifs. BUT maybe sometimes I should consider allowing myself some time to be frustrated or mad or sad. I’m not sure how or when, but I will sure try to avoid doing it in front of a screen full of students.

Love, Jess

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