We’ve just come to the end (hopefully!) of the first wave of “sick” that has entered our house this year (it’s been a couple of years in fact, although I realize I am inviting all sorts of germs into our lives by merely admitting our luck…), and as usual, it’s got me thinking…thinking back to a description of a Sagittarius parent (yeah, that’s me!) I read somewhere years ago. Of course I have no idea where I read it, but in my recollection it went a little something like this: Sagittarius people fall into parenting like Winnie the Pooh falls into a Heffalump trap – unexpectedly. And once we are parents, we feel much like Pooh does, once he has fallen into the Heffalump trap – unfamiliar with our surroundings, and at a complete loss for what, exactly, we should do next. But like Pooh, we have to do something, so we do the best with what we have – make it an adventure, in fact – and everything turns out alright in the long run.
In other words, Sagittarius people are not inherently domestic. Quite the opposite, really. We are reluctant to have children in the first place, lest they slow us down. We’re bumbling idiots when it comes to parenting babies. We are not great with the details, or with having the best answers, or with doing the right things. But we’re here. And we’re willing. And we’re a hell of a lot of fun.
But where does fun leave us when someone gets sick? Let me tell you…
The first time Emerson got sick (really sick, not just a cold…and I will take the time to note here that every time she had a cold as a baby, I “slept” sitting up with her in my arms so that she could breath better – this little tidbit might come in handy as you find yourselves judging me in a few moments…) she had just turned two, and we were just about to jump on an airplane and fly across the country for a wedding. She had been acting very whiny and clingy – which was completely out of the ordinary for her – earlier that morning, but I was too busy on the phone dealing with the ramifications of online credit card fraud (a story for another day) to really soak it in. (It was only later – much later – that the light bulb flashed: when a kid that doesn’t cry for no reason is crying, pay attention!) So I pushed Emerson aside for more pressing issues – yelling at a couple of bamboozling scumbags from Brooklyn, and packing…
Soon after, Matty came home and we drove an hour and a half – in scorching heat – to the airport. Before our flight took off, we stopped so that I could get my haircut and Matt (with Emerson) could take care of some last minute errands. After waiting…and waiting…and waiting for them to come pick me up again, they finally pulled up, with the news that Emerson had thrown up all over herself, her car-seat, and her “blankie” – three things that were due to join us on our impending flight. After a – very brief – back and forth about what could be wrong (and hugs, and concern) we decided it was probably just the heat, and continued on our way.
At the airport, Matty dropped us off to check in while he parked, at which point Emerson promptly threw-up again (this time in the bathroom into some paper towels as I was cleaning her). At this point I was more than a little concerned and briefly considered not getting on the plane, but quickly changed my mind, thinking that we would kick ourselves if we missed this flight over what was probably just a little carsickness. (The speed of this decision was heightened by the fact that we were being summoned to our gate – by name – over the airport intercom.) So we ran to the gate, made our flight, found our seats to the motion of the plane taxiing out to the runway, and then sat. On the tarmac. For an over an hour.
But on the brighter side, Emerson seemed to be feeling fine. Her appetite was back, and she happily ate six bags of pretzels – which Matty procured by giving his magical “I’m going to seriously hurt you” face to the stewardess reluctant to part with more than our allotted one bag each. (Yes, you would think that as parents of a small child we would have brought food onto the airplane. You would think…) Emerson spent our flight to Chicago sleeping, and Matty and I spent it intermittently reading, talking, and speculating on what a great trip we were going to have, without a single thought of the earlier part of the day.
Of course we missed our connecting flight to our final destination. Of course there were no other flights that evening. Of course it was “not the fault of the airline” (um…sitting on the tarmac…remember?), of course they were not going to pay for a hotel room, of course we could not have our luggage (we had left soiled blankie in the car, and backup blankie was in our checked luggage – so smart, let me tell you…). And Matty’s “I’m going to seriously hurt you” face was not working so well in the land of Al Capone. But Emerson was doing much better – eating yoghurt, and happily dancing around…
…until we were escorted to a hotel via the shuttle ride from hell – complete with parking lot traffic, winding detours, and a few “throw you out of your seat” quick stops. By the end of it, Emerson was leaning against me, moaning softly, and I knew she was going to be sick again. And she was – just as we stepped out of the van in front of the hotel. To my dismay (did I say dismay? I meant disgust…) no one stopped to ask if she was OK or offered to let us go before them in line so that we could get checked into our room first. Everyone (including a doctor) just stepped over us in the race for the desk clerk. People…
By the time we reached our room, Emerson was burning up (not that I actually carried a thermometer with me…or Tylenol…) and I was sure she was dying of some horrific disease. But what did I have to offer her? Nothing. Just an evening of fear, at a cheap hotel room somewhere in the outer orbits of a city where we knew no one, with no pain relievers, no fever reducers (it’s doubtful I even knew there was such a thing at this point…), and no blankie. The only thing I had to offer (aside from a cool washcloth on her forehead and a hand-towel as a poor substitution for blankie) was sympathy, and even that ran out at around 3am. I remember telling her at this point, that she needed to stop crying and go to sleep. And she did…because she’s Emerson.
I’ll spare the minutiae of the next few days. They were spent at a friend’s house – still two hours away from our final destination – calling doctors back home, oscillating back and forth between thinking Emerson was well enough to drive up into the mountains and thinking we should rush her to a hospital, and concluding our saga of phone calls with the guys back in Brooklyn (who we finally got to come over to our side when we mentioned a phone call to Andrew Cuomo…). After three days of this (yes, I did say three days) I finally reached a point when I said, if Emerson’s fever is not gone, I’m taking her to the hospital. (Obviously by this time I had at least purchased a thermometer). At that point, Emerson’s temperature was 105.
We brought her to a clinic thinking she was suffering from some rare, unidentifiable virus, praying that there was some simple cure for what was ailing her. Ah…yeah…there is. It’s called Amoxicillin. It’s prescribed to most children suffering form a double ear infection. Duh.
So after being told that everything was going to be fine and that we should wait a few days before driving into the mountains (lots of pressure on the ears…and let’s remember, she’s already been on two flights!), we proceeded to drive right up into the Rockies to an outdoor wedding rehearsal in roaring winds. Needless to say, the trip could only get better from there… and it did. Although my response to sickness didn’t.
The second time Emerson had an ear infection I vaguely remember bringing her to a parent-toddler class anyway.
The third time Emerson spiked a high fever we were on vacation with friends. Instead of going home right away, we walked around town with Emerson in the stroller, intermittently giving her Tylenol (that our friends had packed…not us). When she didn’t improve after a few hours we were convinced that she had another ear infection, and spent the entire three hour ride home asking her if her ears hurt, to which she responded every time “no, my throat feels ‘spicy’.” OK, fine, but what about your ears? Don’t they hurt?
We came dangerously close to doing a self-diagnosis based on our – obviously astute – observations and having our friend’s brother (a doctor in Chicago) call in a prescription for antibiotics so that Emerson wouldn’t have to wait until the next day (with her aching ears) to see a doctor. Thankfully we changed our minds, went home, had some Thai food, and waited for our appointment the next day…at which time we were told Emerson had Coxsackie A Virus, aka Hand-Foot-and Mouth Disease, aka blisters inside her throat, aka why her throat was feeling “spicy.” (Did I mention we ate Thai food?)
I would love to say that in the time between then and now (a little over three years) my reaction to sickness has improved markedly, and I think in some ways it has. I now understand the need to rest, to slow down, that nothing we “miss” is more important that my child’s health, but I’m still not quite perfect.
This last time around started with Emerson sounding a little stuffy. Matt noticed it first, and mentioned that it sounded like she was coming down with a cold. I made light of it, but did notice as the days progressed that she did sound congested – sounded, in fact, like she had gauze stuck in her throat – but her nose wasn’t running, so I left well enough alone. That is, I left it alone until she complained of a sore throat a few nights later. A really sore throat. But that’s how cold’s begin, right? I told her I knew how she felt, encouraged her to drink some tea and some soup (which she insisted made her throat feel worse), and kissed her goodnight, telling her she would feel better in the morning.
A little while later I heard crying coming from her room, ran up to check and realized she was crying in her sleep. (Which she never does…) I wanted to grab her right away and put her in bed with me (at least my instincts of keeping my kids close when they’re sick is a good one…no?) and after an hour of the moaning, I had to go in. We spent the night in and out of sleep (why do these things always happen in the middle of the night? or on vacation? or on airplanes?) with Emerson burning up (I kept thermometers around for a while after the above mentioned incidents, but they have since disappeared), complaining of a head-ache, and telling me her back hurt so much it was “going to break in half.” As I encouraged her to sleep, a million things went through my mind – brain tumors, meningitis, rare terminal diseases I had not yet heard of – and in the midst of that was another horrible thought: I have no idea what to do. We had gotten rid of all the pain medication in our home years ago when it was all recalled, so I couldn’t offer that. I had given away all the “baby” books that I could look up symptoms for childhood illnesses, and I had no homeopathic remedies up my sleeve. I couldn’t even monitor her fever – for lack of anything else- because I had lost the damn thermometer.
I am the parent. I am supposed to be the one with the answers, but I felt helpless. The only thing I could offer were words – hesitant words at that – and a hand to hold. I think I even told her at one point in the wee hours of the morning that I didn’t know what to do, that maybe she should try just going to sleep. Which she did…because she’s Emerson.
The next morning Emerson said she felt much better, so I put off my plan of going out and buying a thermometer and pain reliever. Of course by mid-morning she was beginning to complain again, and by the afternoon she was miserable…and I still didn’t have anything to make her feel better. (Did I learn nothing from my previous experience?) All I could offer, again, was soup and tea, which she still didn’t want to drink because they hurt her throat so much, but I (strongly) encouraged her to drink because it would “make her feel better.”
Is anyone else reading the symptoms here? I finally did…just before I took her to the doctor’s office that evening…at which point she sounded like she had swallowed an entire box of Q-tips…which is what you sound like when you have strep throat. Duh.
After the diagnosis, I finally went to the drugstore and got what we needed (and stopped on the way home to pick up a couple of free bikes on the side of the road, because who can pass up a free bike, even when you are taxiing a sick child who needs to get home?), again relieved that there was such an easy answer to it all.
Later that night, I sent an email to Emerson’s teacher telling him she would be out of school the next day, and he responded, saying: Poor Emerson! As her teacher, tell her I give her permission to eat all the ice cream she wants! Ice cream? Now why didn’t I think of that? Why didn’t it ever cross my mind that when your throat is swollen and you feel like you want to rip it out of your body that maybe something cold, something numbing, might feel good, and maybe hot soup and tea would not. Alas, I truly am an idiot…
…but I planned to work on that…right after we got back from a trip up north to visit with cousins and take our annual voyage to Santa’s Villiage. Restful, right? Granted, I was mindful of trying to make sure Emerson took probiotics, ate well, and went to bed at a reasonable hour…at least for the first couple of days…
Everything went well though, and by the time we got home, Emerson seemed to be on the mend, except for that light rash all over her body…but these things happen, don’t they?… and it’s not itchy…and she’s feeling fine… so let’s just go swimming in a heavily chlorinated pool in the morning and head out to gymnastics class in the afternoon anyway…shall we?
(Yes, I know…I know!)
By the end of the day, the rash was not so light anymore, and although it still didn’t seem to be bothering her, I decided to call the doctor. (The on-call doctor…because it was Columbus Day – a holiday, of course…) The doctor listened to the symptoms and told us it was an “Amoxicillin rash” – something that many children get after they have taken the drug for a certain amount of days – and that she would be fine for school the next day. So we put her to bed, not thinking twice about it.
But the story goes on…
At some undisclosed hour in the dead of night (of course, true to pattern…) Emerson came into our room complaining that her entire body itched. After a little fumbling around, I turned on the light and discovered red welts all over my little girl’s body – so undistinguishable on her face that her head looked like one, huge, flaming mosquito bite.
So here I was again…no knowledge, no tricks, no drugs (I had them for pain now, but not for itchiness…), nothing. Just lying there with my daughter, holding her hands in mine so she couldn’t scratch at herself until she finally fell asleep.
So now we know that Emerson is allergic to penicillin. And we are well stocked with oatmeal bath, Benadryl and calamine lotion. (I realize this blog makes me sound like I feed my children drugs with breakfast. I really don’t! I am a big proponent of natural healing, but not to the extent of rejecting all pharmaceuticals. I use what works – which in this case wasn’t the oatmeal bath!)
In the middle of all this madness (on our trip up north – after the strep throat, before the allergic reaction) I was looking through a sewing book (of all things) and came across this tidbit:
In our home, the healing basket is a petite vintage picnic basket containing all the things that one might need when he or she is not feeling well. It is a first aid kit, without the medicine, so to speak.
The most important things in the basket, however, are really about connecting, slowing down, and truly being with and at the side of the one who is hurting. The healing basket is something we can reach for in times of pain, stress, and sadness – and it’s a place where our children can find comfort with our help.
The list of things she keeps in her basket range from Band-Aids and arnica to books, water bottles and a “magic spray” of water and essential oils, (She’s full of good ideas, this lady…) but to me, the most important thing the basket contains is security . It sends a message to the child that they needn’t worry – their parent is here, they are in charge, they know what to do. (Even if they really don’t!) That, it seems to me, is the most powerful healing tool of all.
Needless to say, I have been collecting items and ideas to put in my own healing basket – on my healing shelf rather – (at least I’ve been thinking about collecting items…still more in the idea part if you really want to know the truth…) so that next time one of my children needs comforting – even if I have no idea what is wrong with them or what to really do about it – I will have something. Something that shows them that I know; that I anticipated this moment; that I’m ready; that there is no question; that everything is going to be OK.
And, after briefly entertaining myself in the world of internet astrology, I’ve discovered that maybe there is some hope for me after all: