Namine is terrified of what hospital staff often call “pokes.” But she knows them for what they are: needles. Needles to give fluids or take blood away. But all they really do is bring pain, so much pain that they send a normally very well-behaved little girl into the most violent of tantrums. That’s not misbehavior; that’s reaction. Reaction to familiar pain.
Last night, before being allowed to go home, the nurse had to remove Namine’s IV. Anything to do with the IV, in Namine’s mind, is to be avoided at all costs. If she wakes up with one, as she did upon regaining consciousness after the cath, then leave it alone. The nurse wants to put one in? Forget it.
But last night, a change: Namine held very still so the nurse could take the IV out. It hurt: even the removal of adhesive around the site caused her pain. But she let the nurse do her job.
After it was done, Namine was quite proud of herself. “I’m a brave girl,” she told us. She knew what she had done; what she had accomplished; what she had beaten. It wasn’t the needle, or the nurse, or the pain. It was her fear.
But today, it was worse. I’ve always had to hold Namine down for placing an IV, much as I might hate myself for doing so. And as soon as I told Namine this afternoon that they had to put an IV in her arm, she started to cry. But if she was able to handle an IV removal all by herself, then maybe, with a little help, she could handle having one put in.
I explained to Namine that it would hurt more if she struggled; that I didn’t want to hold her down any more than she wanted the IV in the first place. I asked her if she would hold still for the nurse. She hesitated… and nodded. She looked into my eyes. “Hold my hand?”
“Of course,” I answered. “I won’t let go.” She gripped my hand as though we would arm-wrestle. “You squeeze as hard as you want, sweetie. I won’t let you go.”
The nurse sat down opposite me at the bed, and he started to prepare Namine’s arm. I said to her, “You can look at me if you want. You don’t have to watch the nurse.”
“No,” she said, a glint of steel in her eye. “I want to watch.”
And watch she did. She cried out for a moment when the needle entered her arm, but she hardly wavered. She must have wanted nothing more than to tear her arm away, but she mastered it. She’d have squeezed my hand to powder if she could (and in a few years I expect she will be able to; she is strong), but neither of us let the other go.
“I’m a very brave girl,” she said with none of the surprise that was in her voice when she declared it yesterday. She knew it for fact now; there was no denying it. She knew now what Jessica and I discovered years ago: alone we are afraid; together, we can give each other strength, even to face what we fear most.