The cost of a lucky penny

I wouldn’t call myself a superstitious person. I love the whimsy behind the notion of a lucky penny, but I’ve never held one as a belief. But last week a penny did make me realize again how lucky I am.

A penny that got firmly stuck in my son’s throat.

Can anything focus your gratitude more acutely than a late night trip to the ER with a frightened child? In those panicked, frantic moments all the complaints, issues, and worries that filled your mind mere hours ago become, well, trivial doesn’t begin to cover it. You become so sharply aware of all that you have to lose it is difficult to breathe.

Hours before my husband drove off with my baby to the hospital while his sister and I curled up in a ball of worry, I was sure that my life and myself were lacking in a variety of untrue and uncharitable ways. And then in an instant, all that I wanted was that messy, ordinary, imperfect life back.

Waiting for updates and playing the worst of scenarios on a loop in my mind, I did not get much sleep. Moving from urgent care to the emergency room and finally being admitted to the hospital after midnight, neither did my husband or my three-year-old.

Much like its host in a fit of obstinance, the penny was not budging. It would need to be forced out which meant anesthesia, operating rooms, and a feast of terrors for my anxious mind.

As I lay curled up beside my baby’s tiny body in his hospital bed waiting for his procedure, I thought about all the other mothers all over the hospital cuddling their own babies. I thought about all the other mothers all over the country sitting in rooms like the one I was in, many dealing with far, far more serious threats and full of the same fierce love.

I thought of an article I read about racism in the medical world and in the treatment of people of color, how some modern medical students still believe black people have thicker skin and higher thresholds of pain. Were there black children whose cries weren’t believed, whose tears weren’t comforted by nurses like my white son’s?

As a woman, I have struggled for the respect and support given to men. But I am still a white woman and this is still a world where that matters. Were there black mothers who weren’t listened to and respected and believed and kept informed like I was? How many families, even in my own city, didn’t even have the option of tearfully fretting beside their baby in the incredible children’s hospital our white family visited without worrying much about the cost?

Growing up in a solidly middle class, white, Protestant family, I was taught that I was blessed. It is a beautiful idea and for many years it brought me comfort. But now it sticks in my throat. It gnaws at my heart. So much of what I have and have always had isn’t blessing or even luck. How can it be when I have it at the cost of so many others? No, I am privileged.

It was our privilege that got my husband and I good degrees from good universities that lead to the kind of jobs that allow you to spend all night and all day in the hospital with your son without needing a coworker to cover your shift, without your boss chewing you out, without losing your job. No, we will be asked by my husband’s coworkers if we need anything. We will be excused and checked in after. How can a nation so proud of its family values allow for a system where it is acceptable for a mother or father to lose their job because they cradled their own sick child or sat beside their baby’s hospital bed?

We tried not to see the cost in every step of his care and still try not to worry about the bill that will come and how much or little help our latest insurance plan will offer. No parent in a country so full of wealth should have to add cost to the innumerable worries that come with seeking care for a sick or hurt child. At least our middle class whiteness means we have savings, a house, family that can help us out in a crisis.

Not everyone is so … lucky. Is that the word? We were lucky he didn’t choke, lucky it was only a stuck coin that brought us to the hospital, lucky nothing else went wrong. But me, no, luck has nothing to do with all that I have. And all that too many don’t.

Heather Rae Darval lives in Seattle and when she isn’t writing or volunteering at her kids’ schools, you can probably find her biking her two kids all over the city like a total badass.

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