His doctor stood his unclothed self on the scale. She took his weight the way my doctor took mine. She pulled the long “big boy” ruler out and told us how tall he was. They were at the table. He sat there, watching that light, tracking his doctor’s movement. Her voice was soft and light, filled with some playful tone all the kids must love. He took her in through the entire exam. I told Dr. Jenny that he was trying to convince her not to make him take any vaccines. He was smiling, occasionally singing, even though he wouldn’t sing his doctors doctors song.
She bent down and talked to him. She asked him questions, in between talking to me and Dawn about his last few weeks and how he hadn’t really slept well in the last week. She gave him that wood thing they stick on your tongue that always makes me think of manicures. Bryce took it and smiled. She asked his permission to look for monkeys in his ears. He said yes, and I was silently surprised because he really hates for us to look in his ears. He must have known she was only looking and not cleaning. He must have believed allowing the doctor to do these things would prevent an upcoming needle meeting.
He would need two needle sticks, she told us. I think me and Dawn looked at one another; we took deep breaths. She goodbyed to our boy because the doctor didn’t have the hardest job. The nurse did.
She entered with the tray. The tray was what Bryce saw first. He learned what the tray was early on, well before his memory structures formed. He doesn’t remember everything yet, but he remembers the tray. He kept silent when the nurse spoke to him. She asked him if he was ready. He didn’t answer. She told Dawn to sit on the exam table and hold him. Bryce was still cool. He stared at the nurse, followed her movements, listened as she told him exactly what was about to happen.
Every other shot came back before me during moments like this. The same nurse from last night was the first person responsible for making my boy scream during those first months. There was a woman in dark navy scrubs and gym shoes. Another wore a blue coat. I remembered all of their gloves, flapping at their wrists right before they held that blasted point. Bryce didn’t know what that point meant, but I did. I’d flash back without fail to that time in Dr. Parsons’ office, as a boy, when I yelled for my mama to save me and he told her to “tell him okay, tell him okay.”
Bryce has lungs like mine. I heard the clink of the implements on the shiny tray. I thought about those early days when he was so small, when he didn’t react until a second and a half later because his head and neck muscles weren’t listening to him quite then. They weren’t following sharp points. Life was so much more innocent.
I readied myself. Dawn held him lovingly, her arm bracing his other one so he wouldn’t snap. The nurse cleaned the area of impact as Bryce volunteered his hand. She explained it to my son. He heard her, probably nodded as if to say he understood. She cotton ball dried the finger. I sat there and tried to close my ears.
He gave no sound when the finger prick ended. The nurse talked to him about his fingers. She placed the long thin tube at his small spot of blood to collect the redness. She told him and us that sometimes it took effort to get blood from babies. When she prepped the next spot, there was more worry. Surely two pricks in one sitting invited disastrous wailing. There was a baby in another room, down the hall, still yelling from when we first arrived.
Bryce took the needle into his arm without a sound. His eyes bulged, his head steadied, but he didn’t flinch as the kind woman ushered that familiar stick into his forearm. Imagine our collective shock when he sat and took the next needle with as much quiet as the first.
After she pulled the needle, he turned to look at me. The clouds of disappointment, the tenderness of his skin, came up to his brain. His brows furrowed, and I touched his arm and rubbed it and told him he was great and strong and brave. He didn’t go into that common place of frightful yelling. Dawn was yaying and congratulating him the way she does when he says that he’s gone to the potty. Even though he says it sometimes when he hasn’t actually gone. The nurse voiced her pleasant surprise. Those words—all of our words—distracted him. I thought about it later and asked myself what I would’ve said if he did, in fact, cry. Would I have called him strong? Would I have said he was still great? Would I have held him like his mother was holding him and said nothing at all, choosing instead to comfort him wordlessly?
The nurse missed no beats. She flipped through her pockets. Her hand was filled with little paper pieces. I looked up at my boy’s eyes as she went from one sticker to another. She asked him which one he wanted. She gave him two stickers, and when he saw Elmo, he brightened and sang Elmo’s name the way a friend would when seeing another friend walking toward them. And all of us lifted and sighed with joy because Bryce liked Elmo so much that the momentary pain of getting tested for lead and stuck for TB was so far away from the red friendly face smiling at our growing child.