Every Appointment an Adventure

Raising a child with autism can turn ordinary experiences into adventures. Ezra has been taking a medication (unrelated to autism) that requires regular monitoring of his blood chemistry. As it happens, he’s also one of those people whose physiology makes drawing blood a challenge.

Once a month, I accompany him to a doctor’s office, where a nurse struggles with a needle to coax the blood from his left arm.

“How are we doing today?” she said this morning.

“Fine,” Ezra mumbled, looking down. It’s not that he was being unfriendly; these kinds of social exchanges simply don’t come naturally to him.

When she enters the room, he’s often in a giggly mood. Perhaps it’s his nervous reaction to stress. Instead of sitting upright as she requests, he lies back or even curls up in fetal position, chuckling about whatever is on his mind. (Today it was the next movie he’s eagerly anticipating.) Sometimes I try to see the scene from the nurse’s point of view: How often does she encounter a full-grown patient sprawled across the examination table, guffawing over The Lorax?

For me, such moments are the norm. On his first visit to an optometrist, Ezra puzzled over the cumbersome phoropter used to check his vision and answered every question with his usual high energy: “Why are the letters so fuzzy? I can’t read any of them! What happened?”

That afternoon, at the optician, I stood with him, examining rack after rack of eyeglass frames, finally choosing one simple pair, thinking it was the first of many he would try on.

“That’s good,” he said.

“Here, let’s try another,” I said. I’d been through this myself, always taking a while to settle on the right frames. Not Ezra.

“No, that’s good! That’s good!” he said. He was done.

“You sure?”

Of course he was. He always is.

Most of us are intimidated dealing with medical professionals. We follow the rules. We do as they instruct us. Not Ezra. Once, I sat in the lobby of a therapist’s office while inside Ezra underwent a computer test designed to gauge his ability to pay attention. Half an hour into into the 45-minute exam, the technician came out, looking chagrined.

“We’re going to have to start over again,” she said. “Your son unplugged the computer.”

So much for his attention span. Still, as always, I had to admire the way Ezra asserts himself in the world, the way he so often reacts in the most instinctive and natural way.

That’s what he did last fall, the first time a nurse ever tried to draw blood from his arm. I had done my best to prepare him, describing in advance exactly what was going to happen.

Apparently not very effectively.

“What are you doing to me?” he screamed at the poor woman, at such volume that patients waiting in the lobby must have had second thoughts about their own appointments.  “Oh, no! I’m bleeding!”

The good news is that people learn. After a few months, Ezra is now so accustomed to the needles and tubes that he sits calmly, practically motionless, for his blood draw. This morning, after the nurse had put the Band-Aid on his arm, he smiled.

“I was very good,” he said. “I did not move.”

Who knows? Maybe next time we shop for glasses, he’ll try on two or three pairs of frames.

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