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October 6, 2010

A sick child violently narrows one’s focus.

This is day eleven of fever and ague for my younger son.  The world has shrunk–all my worries, but one, have vanished.  His sweet little pale sweaty face on the pillow, the bedside table crammed with politely rejected offerings (Tea? No? Darling, would some nice soup taste good?  Please, just one bite of egg.  Toast?  With jelly?  A popsicle?  Would you like me to make some pudding?)  The thermometer, which read the same thing for so long that I was sure it must be broken and bought another (actually, I had consoling-windows friend buy me another, since she has become my personal delivery service, bless her heart) is obsessively fetishized.  The fever goes up and down, goes away altogether, comes roaring back.  True to his personality since he was born, he does not sleep much during the day, but at night, in my bed, he sleeps fitfully for hours and hours and hours.

I wake when he moves, when he talks in his sleep, when he coughs or rolls over.  Once, a couple of nights ago, I woke to find him drenched in sweat.  I changed his t-shirt without waking him at three a.m.  He opened his eyes, said something wildly incongruous, looked around in bewilderment.  I laid him back on the pillow, viscerally reminded of changing his diaper in the middle of the night.  I kissed his head.  He slept.  I couldn’t.  I wanted desperately to take his temperature.  I lay there listening to his breathing, drifting, until the sky finally lightened.

He’s markedly lighter when I pick him up.  His eyes, ringed by black circles, are enormous.  His lips are chapped, his voice hoarse.  He’s distilled down to some essence of absolute sweetness, and reminds me vividly of his lost baby self–there is no swagger, no attitude, no independence.  We are always together, day and night.  I run baths for him, smooth his hair, kiss his hot neck.  I’ve made nests all over the house, and we move from one to another in a predictable sequence as the day goes by.

In graduate school, I taught a class on ancient religion.  One of the texts we read was written by a twenty-two year old woman named Perpetua who was martyred by the Romans in the year 203.  She was from a noble family in Carthage, and was imprisoned before being killed.  But she had just given birth, and lest her nursing infant perish, she was finally allowed to have the baby in prison with her.  “I obtained for my infant to remain in the dungeon with me,” she writes, “and forthwith I grew strong and was relieved from distress and anxiety about my infant; and the dungeon became to me as it were a palace, so that I preferred being there to being elsewhere.”

I remember thinking, when the kids were babies, that I’d happily sit in a dungeon as long as they were with me.  The intensity of that connection waned (of course!) as they grew up.  But it comes back when they’re sick, and right now this filthy house has become to me as it were a palace, where my wants are simple and few.  If he’d just get better, if the fever would just go away, if a little color would come back into his cheeks, I’d rejoice.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2010 1:00 pm

    I hate to do this – I NEVER do this – but 11 days of fever is too many days, and he’s scaring me, just a bit. I’m a physician, and a mom, which means I worry very, very easily, and not always rationally, but I’d love to know what your doctor said.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      October 6, 2010 1:07 pm

      No mono, no strep, no Epstein-Barr, nothing amiss in bloodwork. Probably Just A Virus. If he’s not markedly better tomorrow, I will take him in again. No rash. A very slight cough, just today. No congestion. No ear infection. No headache. No trouble breathing. No sore throat. No swollen glands. No sore spleen, nothing to indicate poor liver function or kidney troubles. Drinking fine. Not dehydrated. Threw up once, and only once, in tandem with a fever spike.

      He is more or less himself, though a wilted version of himself. Has managed to eat part of a scrambled egg today, which is progress.

      I will march back into the doctor’s office and request more tests if this does not resolve today or tomorrow, however. I have been googling some very scary things.

      • October 6, 2010 1:50 pm

        Thank you; I did not mean to impugn your mothering or worrying, both of which you clearly excel at. Just…hate sick. Want everyone healthy. Preferably immediately.

        My only thought (easy to miss, important not to) was Kawasaki’s disease (although I am quite definitely not a pediatrician). May be worth mentioning to your doctor.

        Now I am quite definitely done with the unsolicited advice. Appreciate the update, and applaud the egg-eating!

        • irretrievablybroken permalink*
          October 6, 2010 2:24 pm

          After reading that New Yorker piece about 7 years ago about Kawasaki’s disease, I suspect it EVERY TIME one of the kids get sick. I did see our pediatrician checking out my son’s hands, feet and eyelids. Shudder. Do you know the article I mean? I would link to it, but the New Yorker archives are behind a paywall unless you subscribe…

          Thank you for the unsolicited advice, by the way. I have been reading your website with great pleasure since you first commented here….

          • October 6, 2010 10:52 pm

            I do remember that article – I think that most of my medical knowledge about Kawasaki’s comes from that source (arguably, as legitimate as any other). Again, pediatrics is not what I do every day (although worrying about babies is; does that count?), so please take my suggestion with the bucket of salt it deserves. I did not mean to add to your worry.

            Thank you for reading my stuff; I am immeasurably flattered that you do, and that you like it.

  2. October 6, 2010 1:48 pm

    *wrings hands*

    *thinking of Younger Son*

    *hoping for Marked Improvement Instanter*

  3. October 6, 2010 3:22 pm

    Poor boy and poor you too. Hope tomorrow brings either rapid recovery or a trip to the dr which confirms that it is not anything on a scary list.

  4. October 6, 2010 4:25 pm

    Here’s hoping the trip to the doctor’s tomorrow is unnecessary.

    Thank you for the story of Perpetua, it made me weep. As the mother of a one year old I am still in the midst of that intense connection and am grateful for it every day.

    When your boy is better and this awful week and a half is behind you I hope you are able to forget all of the fear and only remember that for a short period of time he belonged to you once again.

  5. Amanda permalink
    October 6, 2010 5:52 pm

    My baby boy is 11 months old. The last four days have been marked by fever and glassy eyes, populated by a sad little zombie baby who’s lost his words and signs and sparkle. No dancing, no clapping, no giggling boy. It sucks the life from you. I haven’t slept in… oh, forever… Who can sleep when you have to listen to his breathing, feel his skin, adjust his blankets. Rock, coo, soothe. Too much to do.

    I feel you, is what I’m saying. You’re singing my tune right now.

  6. October 6, 2010 7:04 pm

    I will be anxiously waiting to read that all is well with your little guy.

  7. nancy d permalink
    October 6, 2010 9:07 pm

    I will be checking back regularly to find out how you both are doing. Take care

  8. Celeste permalink
    October 6, 2010 10:38 pm

    Nursing sick children always feels so purposeful…nobody else can be the mom, and the mom is always what they want the most.

    My child has a two-day supply of fat on her and when she’s been sick enough not to eat and to burn it off, she reminds me of a baby bird. I become positvely fierce in attention when she’s sick like that. I hate the sickness but the focus you describe is intense.

    I wonder if he’d like some ice chips?

  9. October 7, 2010 6:53 pm

    Is he feeling better? I hope? Chickensoupy thoughts are with you.

  10. minoti permalink
    October 7, 2010 10:00 pm

    hope your son feels better soon. it’s not at all fun reading what you’ve written. poor little mite. hope you and he have a good night, and perhaps a trip to the pediatrician tomorrow will bring you some peace of mind. do update when you can.

  11. October 7, 2010 11:19 pm

    I hope he feels better soon. You write beautifully of the angst of having a sick child, but I am sure you would rather be writing about anything, anything else…

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