It’s been ZERO days since we’ve been to the ER.

If you follow me on social media or know me in real life, you know that we live at the ER. Last year, I think Glow Worm (6) had to go to the ER ten times due to adverse reactions from his food allergies and oral immunotherapy (the medically overseen process of increasing exposure to food allergens). We go so often that the nurses and doctors recognize us – and even comment about frequent flier cards or permanent parking spots.

Gamera (8) stapled her finger in art class this morning. She’s fine now. Don’t worry.

When their art teacher called me, I was initially very confused. After all, who hasn’t stapled their finger before? (I mean, I don’t think I have, but according to my friends, many of them have!) I didn’t understand what the big deal was. Why didn’t the teacher just pull the staple out? It couldn’t be bent because it hadn’t been shaped by the bottom of the stapler. What was the big deal?

Well, the teacher was going to pull it out, but she wanted to get my consent. But then, Gamera refused to allow the teacher to pull the staple out so I rushed over. Turns out, it seemed as if the staple was through to the other side and was in far deeper than I had originally assumed. I worried I would injure her more if the staple was in crooked or somehow bent – and don’t we need our fingers?

I was originally going to pull the staple out anyway but she wouldn’t even let us touch her. She was on the verge of panic and I could tell she was trying very hard not to cry as much as she wanted to. Oh, she was crying and sobbing, but it could have been much worse. Gamera is also an anxious child, so I made the decision to take her to the ER despite knowing that it would be a super quick and easy procedure I could have done myself.

Thankfully, Hapa Papa works from home and he met me and the older three kids at the ER, whisked away the boys and picked up the youngest from preschool. My kids always get injured at the most inconvenient times – like during pickup.

The doctor told me since the staple was wedged in the fingertip, it was unlikely that there would be a lot of bleeding since the blood vessels at the tip are spread out in to tiny capillaries. If the staple was in the length of the finger, there would have been an increased possibility of her bleeding a lot.

He gave Gamera two shots of a local anesthetic because she was terrified and each time he tugged gently on the staple, she panicked and wept. He even suggested x-rays and that’s when I put my foot down. X-rays for a normal staple that most likely went in straight? NO. I consented to giving her the local anesthetic because at least it would numb her finger and she wouldn’t freak out anymore even though I knew it would likely hurt more for the shots than just pulling out the staple. *sigh*

What do you know? The doctor gave her the medication, Gamera cried a lot, the nurse and I held her hands, and he pulled the staple out easy peasy. Okay, that’s not entirely true. It took some effort because it was deep in her tissue but it was still swiftly taken care of. She cried some more at the small welling of blood and they used some gauze and gave her a bandaid.

I confess, I was annoyed.

I mean, not that I wanted Gamera to be in pain, but I could have resolved this whole situation for FREE – and now, after a $200 copay, emergency room doctor fees, paying for the local anesthetic, gauze, and bandaids, it will end up costing about $1,000.

Ask me how I know.

But then, I chose to be thankful that it wasn’t worse, that we have the funds to cover this unexpected expense, and that we take Gamera’s feelings and fears seriously. I also made sure she understood SAFETY and paying attention to her surroundings and maybe not having her FINGERS in direct contact with the business end of a STAPLER.

The gift of Taking my Daughter’s Pain seriously

As I drove Gamera home from the ER, I thought of two things.

First, when I was sixteen, I fell and hurt my right arm. I was too afraid to tell my parents when they came home that night but when I woke up, my wrist was swollen to the size of a tennis ball. My mother told me to go to the doctor – but I distinctly recall my father saying I would be fine. That it was nothing.

Turns out, my radius was fractured.

Two years later at college, I fell and broke my foot. My father’s response when I told them over the phone was, “What am I supposed to tell my friends?” As if my injury and pain was something shameful. To this day, I am baffled. What did my broken foot have anything to do with his friends? What did it mean that he cared more about their opinions (which I can’t imagine being terrible) instead of my health and safety?

Second, I remembered two years ago, both Gamera and Sasquatch (3) were terribly sick. Gamera had complained for several days that she was in a lot of pain and I joked that she had the man flu. I brushed off her cries as being overdramatic and attention seeking. On New Year’s Eve day, I rushed Sasquatch to the ER because he couldn’t breathe and we were immediately admitted because he had pneumonia. When the attending doctor explained his symptoms, I realized with horror that Gamera likely also had pneumonia.

Sure enough, when I got home the next day and took Gamera to the doctor, she also had pneumonia. In addition, she had a heart murmur. My therapist, Dr. T, encouraged me to take her pain and feelings seriously and because of that scare, I have since tried very hard to do so.

Oh, how far I have come.

When we got home, Hapa Papa made a random comment about the cost – because he, too, was annoyed – and Gamera started crying even more because she felt bad about incurring this expense.

I could NOT have my baby girl crying about costing us money because she was hurt.

Hapa Papa immediately apologized to Gamera and comforted her. At some point, Cookie Monster (10), in true supportive big brother fashion, said Gamera wasted our family’s money. When I disagreed with him, he said that the four of them constantly wasted food and money and time. I told them emphatically that they were not wastes of money or food or time. That our job as parents was to provide food, money, and time for our children.

While both Hapa Papa and I complain about our kids wasting our money when they break EVERYTHING in our house and treat our house like garbage, the lesson to learn was NOT that my actual children were wastes of money and space.

I reiterated that they deserved to eat food and exist in our house.

our female bodies matter. our pain matters.

I also sat down with Gamera and tried to hammer in home the importance of taking her pain, her injuries, and her body seriously. As a female body – and an Asian one – we are taught that our pain doesn’t matter. That we are imagining our pain or being over dramatic. We are taught to swallow our pain and move on.

We are told that to suffer is life; to suffer is to be a woman.

And while those statements are true to the extent that life is full of suffering and women bear the brunt of it – I do not want my children – but especially my daughter – to believe that their suffering is inevitable and thus, their pain doesn’t matter.

Yes, I do think my children can be too soft and could do with learning a little more resilience and toughness, but then I think of our world and wonder why? Why am I so eager to strip their feelings and harden their hearts? Especially when they do not yet have to?

I find that people who have suffered a significant amount in their lives fall into two categories. Either they are kind and compassionate to others who are also suffering (regardless of magnitude), or they are dismissive and heartless and think that people should just suck it up and get over it because it’s not as bad as what they themselves experienced.

Guess which type I am.

Changing the narrative around pain

But now, now I am trying to reprogram my brain.

I have spent the majority of my life ignoring my pain. I am so good at ignoring my body’s physical sensations and emotions that I am broken and emotionally stunted. (Though it comes in handy for intermittent fasting.)

Though a lot of my evolution is a result of therapy, I also learned a lot from black women and the scholarship around how they are treated with racial bias in medicine, preventing them from receiving proper medical care and pain management. I am grateful for friends like Danielle Slaughter of Mamademics who are willing to teach and explain why the myth of the strong black woman is killing her.

When I mentioned to Dr. T once that I was so confused why my children didn’t seem to know how to survive and would just die if they were to grow up as I had, she reminded me that my childhood was not normal. That my children seem too soft and lacking because I was forced, by abuse, to adapt and survive. That my children lack these coping skills because they are growing up differently, unwounded.

Now that science is beginning to discover that trauma can change our genetics and is literally passed on to our children and future generations, I am further galvanized to break this cycle of pain and abuse in my children.

Also, it is a lie that our children can only learn toughness and resilience through suffering and torment. 

Literally anything in life can teach our children resilience and emotional toughness. I am beginning to understand that my children can acquire coping skills and also be physically and emotionally safe. (What a sad commentary on my upbringing.)

More than anything, I want Gamera – all my children, of course, but her especially – to know her pain matters.

She matters. She is worth being taken care of. She is worth being taken seriously.

Maybe, if I convince her of this, I will also believe it for myself.