You can count on one hand the amount of times I take my kids out of school for reasons other than illness. Today it may appear I had no good reason to take Cade out of school.
His older brother, Anker, had a doctor appointment with the Pediatric Cardiologist. Anker doesn’t often do well at doctor appointments. He equates doctors with poking, prodding, and the need to fight for his life. Growing anxiety is the way he prepares for the doctor. The last time we visited Dr. Van Gundy, Anker was too anxious to sit on the doctor’s table. So, the 6-foot something doctor bent his knees as he sat on the bare floor and invited Anker to lay down beside him. Anker responded to this gentle giant, and lay on the floor, allowing the doctor to examine his heart.
I was touched by a doctor who understood our son’s increasing anxiety. Try as he may, Anker could not utilize the resources to successfully express his fear. Dr. Van Gundy communicated compassion to our son, while offering us a great sense of relief. After all, it is no easy task taking a growing boy to intrusive doctor appointments…we have the bruises and bite marks to prove it.
There are two things about Cade which prompted me to take him along to this appointment. Cade adores his older brother. In the fifteen years of his young life, he has loved his special needs brother with a depth of understanding and strength which blows any observant onlooker away. He gently guides Anker to try the things the O.T. or speech therapist, or optometrist request Anker to do. He models the task, and playfully and patiently invites Anker to follow his lead. Down Syndrome individuals respond well to peer role models, and with gratitude, we have a wonderful role model sharing life beside his brother. Anker felt relief today, with his brother beside him.
We have experienced many doctors in our special needs journey: doctors who have little sense of compassion, those who lack understanding of our child’s specific needs, and those who are absolutely outstanding. These outstanding doctors are the ones who speak with compassion as they offer respect and care to our child. They are acutely aware of the specific special physical needs of our child, and are the very doctors we remain faithful to. Since Cade desires to be a doctor himself, we find great value in exposing him to the characteristics of these outstanding doctors. I knew Cade would offer support to his brother, while gaining an education himself.
Cade sat closely as the nurse examined his brother. Anker began to shout with anxiety, and Cade talked gently to his brother. Anker calmed down. Dr. Van Gundy entered the room and carried on a conversation with Anker, “You are growing whiskers, aren’t you, Anker?” He took time to visit with our boy. He took time to ask questions, and he gently examined Anker while sitting beside him, this time on the examination table.
Heart problems are prevalent in individuals with Down Syndrome. Many are born with heart defects and require heart surgery. This is one statistic we have not had to bear. But, Anker does have a murmur, which we must continue to watch closely. Dr. Van Gundy referred us to a Pulmonary Specialist to rule out sleep apnea issues, and blood tests to check for Leukemia, Diabetes, and thyroid–all medical issues which have a higher occurrence rate in individuals with Down Syndrome.
So, we take the yearly tests, and we continue on with life. We stop for a special milkshake topped with whipped cream and a cherry, then head back to school. Anker asks to stay home with me–feeling a little too stressed to return to his afternoon classes. Cade returns to his texts and tests; having gained a little more knowledge from experiencing a life lesson on character with his brother and an extra-ordinary doctor.