Thursday, March 15, 2012

Vocabulary and Other Lessons at the ER

C woke with a fever Tuesday morning. He'd had an ear infection the week before and was still on antibiotics, so I made an appointment at the doc's and when we were loading him into the car seat I noticed his soft spot was swollen. Turns out that soft spot is called the fontanelle, we've heard that word so many times in the last few days I'll always remember it. And the swelling that Z and I thought was a mere curiosity was actually a great big hairy deal that sent us to the Pediatric ER here in town. My sweet C got an IV, he had a CT scan, and he had a spinal tap. The bottom line is he seems to be fine. He doesn't have meningitis or anything funky in his brain, anyway. They think the ear infection or a mystery virus somehow caused the fluid retention.

This was our first visit to the ER for either of the boys. And it was every bit as awful as I'd imagined it would be. We couldn't arrange child care for T for a couple of hours, so Z dropped us at the hospital. My weeping got a bit hysterical as they inserted the IV. Unsurprisingly, finding a vein is difficult in a wee babe. It only took two tries, but the look on his face as it was happening was so painful I was gasping and doubled over. Afterwards I told the nurses it would get better after Z arrived, he was much more stoic than I could ever be. The resident suggested it would be a bad idea for me to be in the room during the spinal tap. Z got there before that procedure and agreed that I shouldn't be in the room. He stayed and held C's hand. I felt like such a coward for leaving.

I would have taken C's place as the patient if I could have. Don't get me wrong, I was serious when I said I was a coward. But it turns out that there is something worse than physical pain. I'd rather have gotten the spinal tap because it would have hurt me less than watching C go through it. What a shitty lesson to learn. Both the something-worse-than-physical-pain part and the how-very-much-I'm-motivated-by-selfishness part. It makes me so ashamed.

But I also learned something wonderful about who my sweet son is. I'd rather have come upon the knowledge in a less painful way, both for him and me, but I'm still grateful for it. He's only 6 months old, we are learning who he is every day, although you can learn a lot about a baby in half a year. He is so good natured that I can't believe my anxiety ridden, pessimistic body created him. Even when he is in pain he smiles at us, he lets his brother abuse him without complaint, he is an all around good sport. When the nurse was struggling with the IV to get blood to flow so she could draw her samples he did something that blew my mind. He'd been screaming and crying, but it slowed to a keening and his eyes slipped out of focus, his lids heavy. The nurse looked at him in surprise. "Oh my gosh, he's self soothing." I was stunned as well. And proud and even a little envious, although I don't begrudge his ability to cope one single bit. I am amazed by him. When I came into the room after the spinal tap the same nurse told me he did it again during that procedure. He already knows how to help take care of himself. How can a baby be so wise? How can I ensure that we nurture and develop that part of himself? 

I took this picture to send to my parents after the IV was inserted. He was telling me and them that he's OK. 

He was exhausted after the spinal tap. 

He still is a pretty sick little boy. The night we got home from the hospital his fever spiked to 104.1. He's been up for hours in the middle of the night for the last few days. And he's had diarrhea for 8 days. If I were him I'd be a fucking train wreck. But it's no effort to get a grin out of him. I hope he teaches me how to enjoy life the way that he does. I can't imagine loving him more, and yet every morning I wake up to find I somehow do.


  1. What a beautiful and self-aware post. Thank you for writing.

    1. The writing helps me sort through my feelings, the thanks should go to you for reading!

  2. hi karen! this is kelsey and ellie's friend ele (who lives in seattle). i've been reading your blog since discovering it a few weeks ago.

    i'm so sorry this happened to C! that sounds like such a tough and scary thing to get through. i hope you are all on the mend and feeling better now.

    one thing you said in this post really resonated with me. i have a ... difficult relationship with my family, especially my father. oftentimes, when i tell him about something i want or am going to do, he reacts by very gravely telling me all the ways i could die or get seriously injured while doing it. i couldn't understand for the longest time why he was so negative and grisly. then, i read a short story in which a couple (very logically) discusses whether or not to have a child. the husband suggests that people have children to create their own immortality, and the wife responds (after several dramatic events), that no, having children doesn't make you immortal; rather, it makes you twice as mortal because there is twice as much to lose. and that really clarified for me why my father acted the way he does: because i am his mortality, and when i hurt, it hurts him. in that way, i can begin to understand his real (but difficult-to-see) love for me.

    so, when you mentioned "the something-worse-than-physical-pain part" i thought about how you ought not be ashamed, because to me, that just shows your true and so-strong-it's-physical love for C, which is a beautiful, if complicated, thing. does that make sense? i'm sorry to write a novel in your comments section, but this is just to say that C and T are lucky to have such loving parents!

    1. Ele! Hope you are well. I had so much fun decorating E&K's wedding cake with you.

      Thank you so much for your thoughts. As I new parent I can totally see where your father was coming from. I think we all do the best we can as parents, but I hope to temper that response with my sons so they can go out and enjoy life without having to listen to tales of doom from me. But, who knows if I'll be able to bite my tongue when they are teenagers? The simple thought of them driving a car terrifies me. There really is twice as much to lose, and their lives seem infinitely more valuable than your own.

      You are very kind to read here and your comment had me thinking all day. Thank you very much.