I step into the exam room carrying a small tray of supplies: one unit-dose syringe, a cotton ball moistened with alcohol resting on a 2 X 2 square of gauze, a Band-Aid dot. On the exam table the patient, a 5-year-old girl, squirms in her mother’s lap.
“She’s here for her flu shot?” I ask, merely to verify the inevitable.
“Yup,” her mother replies. “And it’s not going to be easy.”
“Most kids don’t like shots,” I mutter in a quiet voice as I slide the tray onto the counter top. “Here, let me show you how to hold her.”
I instruct the mother to turn the child to the side, sitting her on the mother’s thigh with the child’s legs draped between her own. “She can give you a big hug under your arm, around the back. Now hold her forearm with your one hand and hug her tight with the other.”
The mother complies with my instructions. As I pick up the syringe and cotton ball, like a frightened puppy the child lets out a yelp and begins to writhe in her mother’s lap. “Hold her tight,” I reiterate, as I slide my free hand beneath the girl’s upper arm to steady her shoulder.
I dislodge the needle cap with my teeth and stand poised, ready to slip the hypodermic into the deltoid muscle. Suddenly the child breaks free, kicks and screams, turns and twists, thrusts her head back and forth. Blindly, the mother sweeps her arms through the air in an effort to recapture the child. In the fray she falls to the side, taking the child and me with her down to the padded surface of the exam table.
There we lie, like the Marines in Iwo Jima, a frozen fleshly sculpture of arms and legs, intimately conjoined in intricate knots of skin, bone and muscle.
Eyeglasses cocked awry, the mother looks up at me, hugging her daughter for dear life, while I rest along the contour of her curves. The image burns into my mind. Without thinking, I say, “You know, if this were a photograph, it would undoubtedly appear as a black-and-white full-page spread in Life magazine.”
Quickly, I administer the shot. The mother releases the little girl and we all sit up. The child is sobbing, and so is the mother, as tears squeezed from her laughing eyes cascade down her cheeks.
“Thank God you’ve haven’t got a photographer in house,” the mother wheezes, as she wipes her face with the back of her hand.
Another memorable Kodak moment in primary pediatric practice to treasure.
This piece was originally published in the Spring 2013 edition of ConnAPA News.