The Agony and The Empathy

Last week, Hal threw his back out. The bad kind. The worst kind.  In the ten plus years we've been together, I have never seen him in that much pain. Hal couldn't move for 48 hours and it did a number on all of us seeing him like that. Archer sunk into a depression and refused to talk to anyone for two days while Revi, we have now realized, PHYSICALLY felt his pain to such a degree she didn't walk for an entire day.

Just like Hal.

I spent all night Thursday with her at the ER because after taking a fall on the playground at school Thursday afternoon, Revi became inconsolable. For hours. After her fall she complained of back pain, asked for bandaids (to put all over her lower back, sort of like the heat pad Hal had strapped to his) and then refused to stand or walk.

She was screaming when I came to get her at school, screamed all the way to the car complaining of back pain and then, when we arrived home, continued to scream. Every time I tried to stand her up she would collapse and after several hours of her refusing to even attempt to stand or walk, I called her teacher at school to make sure I knew exactly what went down. Her screams suggested more than just a fall on the playground.

But, no. Bo, Revi and their teachers all spoke of the same story. Revi was running on the playground, fell and BAM: hysteria.

I called our pediatrician and explained to her what was happening. There was no bruise, no scratch... and yet Revi was in excruciating pain, refusing to walk or stand.

I was told to take Revi to the ER right away, so we called a sitter to help Hal, who still couldn't move, with the other kids, and I took Revi to the hospital where we waited with her screaming in my lap every time I shifted my weight.  After two hours, we were finally seen.

Everyone assumed she had broken something. Her pelvis and or tailbone specifically, since that was the area she was pointing to.

She screamed through her X-rays as I held her down and I cried because I was so fucking scared something terrible was happening and after hours of seeing your child in that much pain, it's just... I lost it. (This was our first experience with an injury-related ER visit.)

When her X-rays checked out normal, the doctors tried to convince Revi to attempt to stand. She would not.

"OWWY!" she screamed. "MY BACK HURTS!"

The ER doctor called a second doctor from upstairs to come down and take a look at Revi. It was nearly 11pm at that point and we weren't allowed to leave until they could confirm she was really okay.

The second doctor eventually tricked Revi into walking, after sending me out of triage, to which Revi lost her shit and had no choice but to stand up and run after me down the hall.

"You can go home," they finally said, handing me some Motrin.

"Oh my god, it's because of me," Hal said, over text message. "What if she's just... empathizing."

No way, I thought. Not like this. 

But then, the next day, when I woke up sick (because stressful weeks do that to me) Revi did not leave my side. At first I thought it was ME who wouldn't leave her side--I slept with her in her bad half the night--but Revi was fine. She scratched my back and played with my hair.

My mom tells me she was the same way, often having to leave school if a friend fell ill because she felt sick, too. As for me, I have never been able to watch movies where people are in pain because I throw up. I physically react to scenes of torture, murder, mayhem.... I am weak on the inside like whoa. I take after my mom in that department. (The reason I became a vegetarian at a young age was that, as soon as I was old enough to realize WHAT I was eating and HOW it came to be dead on my plate, I couldn't do it. Even now, if I so much as see an image of a piece of meat, I imagine the animal's death -- what it's face looked like, how it died, etc etc.)

Of course, I have never physically felt the pain of another in the agonizing way Revi clearly felt Hal's, but after doing some googling, I found several sites that spoke of such things.

...A significant minority of otherwise healthy people experience not just the emotional component of pain, but also the sensory one, when they observe others in pain...


And this:

So, perhaps Revi has what Archer and I (and many of us) "have" but, like, WAY BEYOND. (Bo is the opposite of course. She does not feel pain EVER. Not hers. Not the pain of others... She's like Demi Moore in GI Jane, bruised and bleeding and "COME AT ME, BROS.")

Saturday morning, Hal was back on his feet, albeit slowly. (He's still in a bit of pain, which sucks.) And Revi was back on hers.
photo 4
As it turns out, Bo and Revi both have sensitivity issues - Bo's is mainly substance related but Revi's uncovers a whole new layer of mind and matter and I suddenly feel like I get it with her. All of a sudden, the last three years of Revi's extreme stranger sensitivity, anxiety and clingyness makes sense.

And I want to hug her for a hundred years. I want to hold her and hug her and surround her with love and health and happiness from now until forever. I want to protect her from the gaping wounds she will no doubt encounter throughout her life... I can't do that, of course. But the next best thing is to be aware that her "weaknesses" are in fact her strengths so that we can discuss what is happening to her body when she, too, needs a bandaid for her invisible boo-boo on her knee, even though it was Bo who scraped her leg...  So that we can help empower her to empower (and protect) herself...
photo 1
Revi, refusing to walk or stand in the ER
photo 3 Revi, the next day (she wanted to keep her bracelets on)
photo 2 photo-2
I would love to hear from any of you who have experienced anything like this. It is apparently not as uncommon as one would think. And yet. I feel like I've uncovered Revi's great secret -- like suddenly everything makes so much sense to me, not only with her, but with issues I've had in the past... sensitivities, physical reactions to others, etc. There is so much talk these days about Introverts and Extroverts, but empathy is a defining characteristic as well. Recognizing that some of us carry more (or less) empathy than others is important. Where I am on the empathy scale is different from where Bo is on the empathy scale is different than where Revi is and so on... Some of us "feel" when others do not. That's a superpower! It's also, as Revi's incident proved, something we need to be aware of and nurture with care.