Honing your parental instincts is a bit like learning to drive, figuring out when to brake, when to step on the gas and when to call AAA. Meanwhile, you never know what’s right around the bend.

For new parents, there’s the first fever, virus and ear infection. Do you call the pediatrician? Or do you let the Tylenol do its job and ride things out a bit? And how do you keep the panic at bay? There’s a human being depending on you.

But the parent-child connection runs deep. When my daughter was an infant and had acid reflux so bad she’d throw up out of her nose several times a day, I often felt like I was the one struggling to breathe. I could feel it.

Time — or is it age and more children? — relaxes us but strengthens that connection. We know our children inside and out, their quirks and fears. And the more you’ve experienced as a parent, the better conditioned you are to handle the next bump in the road.

Still, it’s a constant juggling act of deciding when to react and when to stay patient (freaking out is another option but I don’t recommend it). It’s easy to get swept up by catastrophic “what if” thinking. I remember watching my son struggle to get on the swings as a toddler and furiously googling Muscular Dystrophy symptoms. I told myself to calm down, turned the computer off and gave him time to grow. He’s fine on the swings now.

But our instincts can serve us well at times too. I was reminded of that during a recent medical procedure for my daughter that ended with two trips to the hospital and another trip to a specialist.

It started with a sedated MRI. As part of the procedure, her eyes were taped shut. Afterward, she seemed fine until we got out into the car where she rubbed her eyes constantly and cried. She cried all the way home, which she doesn’t do and has never done after an MRI before.

I ran through all the possibilities in my head, wondering if it was a reaction to the anesthesia or anything else.

Having a special needs child especially fine tunes your parental instincts. My daughter can’t speak so I’m constantly assessing body language, moods and energy levels. It’s like being a mommy detective. You study the clues and see where they lead you.

Her tears eventually stopped after the MRI but her sensitivity to light didn’t. Red rings around her eyes got bigger. I called the phone number on our hospital discharge paperwork and got nowhere.

It was time to call in reinforcements. I called the pediatrician and my husband called back the anesthesia department. Our pediatrician thought she may have a headache. The anesthesia department, meanwhile, said corneal abrasions — scratches on the eye — sometimes happen during sedated MRIs so we headed to the emergency room.

Sandwiched between a football player with a broken arm and a little girl with a virus, a doctor put numbing drops in my daughter’s eye and dye to look at them with a light. We were sent home with eye drops and told to come back if things didn’t improve in 48 hours.

The next morning, my daughter rubbed her eyes and again shied away from the light. I knew what I needed to do. I ignored the 48-hour suggestion and got her into her ophthalmologist that morning.

I’m not a doctor, but I’m a mom. And I know my kid better than anyone. This time my instincts served me right. Another set of numbing drops with more dye showed what the emergency room didn’t catch the first time: a large corneal abrasion on her right eye. We went home with stronger antibiotic drops.

Today, her eye is fine. And I’m grateful that I listened to my parental instincts. It’ll serve me better the next time we hit a bump in the road of parenting.

Twitter: @mfeighan

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