What I Reminded My Daughter When She Returned to School With Chronic Pain

A couple of years ago our daughter became mysteriously sick. Month by month it got increasingly worse no matter how hard I hoped and prayed it would just go away. In the shadows of our son’s multiple-year diagnostic odyssey we were  numb, emotionless, and in complete denial. How could there be two kids in our family who had what felt like unending medical issues? Part of me wondered if they were connected, manifesting itself as another monster in a different body. As the months passed she was now unable to walk, hospitalized for 11 nights and test after test, day by day I felt sad for the 6-year-old who was so different from the little girl now lying in a hospital bed now hooked up to an IV of morphine. The pain for her was unbearable and the heartbreak I felt as a mom was unfathomable.

Eventually, after a couple of hospitals, numerous doctor consultations and a diagnosis of Lyme disease we returned to our life, after missing an entire term of first grade. She was still in pain, she was anxious about the pain and nervous about returning to the life she left so many months ago. Every morning she would cry, didn’t want to go to school and this once happy-go-lucky girl was in extreme pain disguised as a shell of the little girl she once was. We had a management plan, a pain plan and a treatment plan, but there were no guarantees. I remained numb.

One morning on an emotional battle to get her out the door the words came out of my mouth, “There are always options.” Hardly believing it myself, I quickly and desperately grabbed a bag, named it “The Bag of Options.” I put several things in it, with a note of what to try first. The list read; rest, ice/heat, Biofreeze, Tylenol/Advil and lastly a strong pain pill that would require a phone call home for me to pick her up. I asked her to try to stay in the order of the list and emailed her teachers explaining the new plan. They, too, were grateful for some options.

She looked at me, tear-free, took a deep breath, grabbed the bag and off she went. I am not going to say that there were not struggles after this day, but they were not even close to the same. Every day we would talk about “The Bag of Options” and what we could remove and what we might need to add. Slowly, one by one, the things that didn’t get used were taken out and eventually even the bag itself stayed home. This game-changing day was all it took to give her the autonomy in a situation that felt, in her little world, otherwise out of control. All it took was that little bag thought of in a moment of desperation for even me to feel that we were going to get through this.

In life, we all have this “bag of options” we just don’t always choose to look inside. The bag might be visible or invisible, it might be on a paper, or it might just be in our heads, but it is there. There are always options. Maybe it is a pain management or behavior plan, maybe it is a list of friends to call when things feel rough, toys to play with that can help sooth or distract a baby in pain, a list of quotes that motivate, activities or places that make us feel at peace, a special song or perhaps a pen and paper for the option to expressing our feelings on paper. There are always options and while they may not solve the core problem, they might just make it easier to manage. Dig deep and perhaps you might find something your bag that will change your life and your current view on an otherwise overwhelming situation.

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