The only room available for us was in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. The doctor stressed that Sasquatch wasn't in this area because he needed it, but because it was the only private room they had open. Until they did the spinal tap they couldn't absolutely know it wasn't bacterial meningitis, so they had to keep him isolated. Things began to happen very fast.
My family was swinging into gear as well. Sasquatch's beloved Auntie Leigh arrived at the hospital to stay with me. My mom and mother in law worked out child care for the other kids so my mom could come to the hospital too. Other than that, no one knew. I didn't call anyone to let them know. I had other things to do. I did call my husband. I think I called the school, or asked someone else to do it for me, but I'm not absolutely sure I even did that. An unexcused absence wasn't really high on my worry list at that point.
As soon as we got to our room in PICU they prepared him for the tap. He didn't even flinch when the IV was started. I understand the whole resident system a lot better now, but it was still unnerving to hear the resident who was doing the tap being walked through the procedure by the Infectious Diseases attending. I kept thinking "you're putting a needle in my kid's spine and you've never done it before??". What's wrong with this picture? They didn't want to give him a sedative, saying that since he was so out of it anyway it would just slow them down. I put on my best Shirley McClaine in Terms of Endearment voice and said GIVE HIM THE DRUGS, I don't want him to remember any of this. They did. (And he doesn't). They asked me to wait outside while they did the procedure. I refused to leave the room. They shook their heads and said if I felt faint I should sit down. If they'd had any idea of how faint I already felt I'm sure they would've forced me to leave long before the needles even came out. Leigh stayed in with us, which was good, because Sasquatch did wake up during the procedure and I needed all the moral support I could get. She told him jokes to distract him while I held his hand and cried silently into my own shoulder.
The test results came back pretty quickly. Viral meningitis. The only treatment really is IV fluids, rest and time. We settled in for the wait. There was a child dying in the room next to us and you could hear family members coming and going over the course of the evening. I came face to face with one of them on my way back from the bathroom and can still see their face. I have no idea of what I looked like at that point, but I don't think I looked like that. I get a sick feeling in my stomach just remembering it.
My mom and Leigh swapped out places. I stayed put. The fluids slowly dripped in. The Film Geek called for updates and tried to figure out the fastest way home. A room on a regular peds unit opened up and they moved us out of PICU. The child next to us died as they were transporting us out. My mom went home to take the other kids to her house for the night. I sat in the most uncomfortable easy chair I've ever had the misfortune to know and watched over my sleeping child. At about three in the morning the attending came in to check on him. His fever was down, he was slightly more alert, and the doctor said that it looked like he was responding well to the treatment. He told me to try to get some sleep, agreed that some sadist had designed the chairs and went wearily about his rounds.
I did manage to doze off and on, until about seven when the day nurse came in to get his beginning of the shift vital signs. It was the first moment of levity in the whole experience. I hadn't noticed that on the outside of our door was a sign warning that you had to have a mask and protective gear on to come in the room, because they were still treating it like it was bacterial. Now that I thought about it everyone except the doctor who had come in the room since we'd been in there looked like they were suited up for the plague. Well, this nurse was evidently too many shifts into a long work streak because she ripped the sign off the door and said "Does anybody in this god forsaken place know what they're doing? Can they not read V-I-R-A-L??" Terribly unprofessional, yes. But I think at that point I realized that if my kid was going down the tubes she probably wouldn't be talking like that, and I finally started to unclench. Just a little. (For all I know she talked to everyone like that. Who knows? Not my first choice in a pediatric nurse, but to each his own. In a strange way she comforted me, and I'll take it).
I've experienced the amazing effects of IV fluids many times in the last few years, but never more profoundly than that night. Around eight in the morning he told me he was thirsty. At ten he felt a little hungry. He ate some crackers and they even stayed down. By eleven his neck wasn't hurting every time he moved it. By mid-afternoon they were talking about sending him home. And by late-afternoon, in a dry run to see how well he could get around, they had me take him to the little playroom on the unit. He sat in a chair while all around him the longer term residents did an art class. The clown came up and started talking to him and one of the assistants asked if he wanted a picture with the clown. Sasquatch allowed as to how that would be fine by him, but was adamant that his arm be positioned so you couldn't see the IV. My high maintenance kid was back. Thank god.
The next year at our local elementary school a child died from viral meningitis. And several others were hospitalized. That same year a good friend lost her two year old daughter to the flu. Someone please tell me again. Why is it that we want children? Does the fear ever go away?
I've had some interesting experiences with my kids. There was the time a brand new resident, who seriously should have known better, told me that she was pretty sure that Gumby had leukemia, based on nothing but a rash. (He didn't). Can you say unglued? The kid in The Exorcist had nothing on me. There was the time Surfer Dude got away from me and ran across a busy street at full speed. Untouched. There was the drinking of paint thinner, the positive TB exposure test (back to the same infectious diseases guy), the time after his tonsillectomy that Sasquatch pulled out his IV in front of newly pregnant me and shot blood all over the place, the enlarged lymph node in Surfer Dude's neck that just wouldn't go away, the time Sasquatch patted a diamondback rattlesnake and so on and so on and so on.
But for sheer in-your-face helpless terror, this one takes the cake. I don't ever want to be in a position like that again. It's strange though. I now have the perspective of helping with procedures on kids from the "objectivity" of a medical "professional" standpoint. And here's what I've found. I'm not objective, I'll never be objective and I frickin' HATE peds. I can feel the panic emanating from the parents, I see my own children's faces on every kid in pain. I hear their cries. And I hate every minute of it.
It's too close to home.
So I keep the picture as a talisman, a reminder that things can turn out okay, after all. A little nudge to always be grateful for what I have, to always appreciate the amazing things I've been given in my life. A reminder to cherish my children on a daily basis.
Because underneath it all...I'm still always scared.