Friday, September 14, 2007

the anniversary

The photo is just an ordinary Instamatic type snapshot, taken by a total stranger. The content is nothing unusual, either. It shows a young boy and a painted up clown both smiling straight into the camera in a generic room. Ordinarily, this photo lives in my file drawer, in a folder marked personal. Sometimes I take it out just to look at it and run my finger across it. Occasionally, after a rotten day I'll find it to remind myself of what is and isn't really important. Always on September 15th, the "anniversary", I hold it close to me and say a silent word of thanks.

But even tucked away, I always know it's there, always a reminder, always tangible evidence of the time I honestly thought one of my children was going to die. A time when events spiraled out of control at warp speed. And there was nothing I could do about it...

Sasquatch was six years old and it was the year the Film Geek was in Michigan teaching. He had been gone one month, with nine yet to go. Gumby and Surfer Dude, at almost three and one respectively, were home with me all day, being too young even for preschool, and Sasquatch was a couple of weeks into first grade. When I picked him up at school one day, he said he didn't feel well and before I could even answer him he was sick all over the car. I took him home and put him in bed, figuring that our luck with the stomach flu that was going around school had just run out. For a day and a half he ran a fever and was unable to keep anything down. I called our pediatrician who said to keep him as hydrated as possible, give him Tylenol for the fever and just let it ride its course. Not really anything else you can do, she said, these damn viruses are everywhere right now.

It had been a Monday when he first got sick. I kept him in my bed to keep an eye on him and noticed during the night Tuesday that he was burning up. I woke him up around five Wednesday morning to give him some Tylenol, which promptly came right up, just before he slipped back into sleep. At seven thirty he called me in and said the words that still make my stomach clench, nine years later.

"Mom, my neck really hurts."

I wasn't a nurse then, and I ran to get the kid's medical book I always had handy. Looked up the meningitis symptoms, and realized, running down the list, that the only two he didn't have were seizures and death. Took his temp. 105. Called my mother. Get here now. Ran to our neighbors and asked them to stay with the younger two until my mom got there. Put Sasquatch (who was pretty much unresponsive at this point) into the car and drove hell-bent for the Emergency Room.

And got stuck in bumper to bumper rush hour downtown Los Angeles freeway traffic. Every now and then Sasquatch would briefly rouse long enough to retch into a plastic grocery bag that I found on the floor, before lapsing into a semi-conscious state. Every time he moved his neck he would cry. I called a friend from the car because her husband was a big computer geek and they had a great program to give very specific directions and I said this is where I am and this is where I need to go and can you get me there on side streets NOW? She couldn't make the program work and map quest then wasn't what it is now, so I sat on the freeway, fully expecting that any second my kid was going to go into the next thing on the checklist - seizures. I tried not to think of the lone symptom left. All around me people in their cars were singing along to the radio, eating their breakfast, putting on their makeup and doing all the other things people do when they know they're going to be in stop and go traffic forever. I was about an inch away from totally losing it.

Why didn't I just call the paramedics? Well, for a couple of reasons. First, and foremost, is that we were with an HMO that insisted you come to their hospitals for all your care. Of course the closest hospital was in Hollywood and we were in South Pasadena, eleven (LA) miles away. The paramedics would have refused to take him to our HMO. Never mind that I had a Level One trauma center a mile away. Or that I had to drive past a Children's Hospital on the way to "our" hospital. In hindsight I should absolutely have taken him to the one nearest me. At the time it never even occurred to me. This particular HMO - Kaiser Permanente - is such a major force in California that they can pretty much do things any way they want to. And they like to exert their power at every chance. When we moved to Kansas, in a perfect illustration of the Stockholm Syndrome, I was beside myself that we actually had to get a different health care plan because Kaiser wasn't available here. That, my friends, is brainwashing.

Things sped up considerably once we got to the hospital and before I knew it we were being seen by an infectious diseases specialist. He examined my son, who at that point was lying face down on the bed, not moving at all, and said

"We'll have to do a spinal tap to make sure, but I'm virtually positive he has meningitis."

Never before had I really understood what people meant when they said that the room spun. I kind of fell backwards into a chair. The doctor continued

"However, I'm also pretty sure he has viral meningitis, not bacterial, and that's a lot less dangerous."

I asked how he could tell. And he said

"The bacterial kids look a lot worse than this."

I looked at my unconscious, yet still retching kid, able to feel the heat off his body as I stood next to him, and asked how they could possibly look worse than this. He paused a minute and then said

"You don't really want to know."

to be continued...


Thalia's Child said...

Oh my goodness. I just popped over to check you out from cre8buzz (I'm pickles) and you'd nearly stopped my heart.

Kaycie said...

Oh. My. God.

I had a friend lose a child to bacterial meningitis. Fine at breakfast, dead before dinner. This is some very scary stuff.

I'm glad I already know he's ok. I'd be wondering all night if I didn't.

Kimberly said...

Ditto to the first comment. It's beating rather erratically now.

my two cents said...

I still remember this, too. XO

ciara said...

(((r.c.)))i can totally relate. my nephew got meningitis which turned into enchepalitis. he was in the hospital for about 32 days. he had it around the same age as your son so i'm looking forward to part two of your story. xo

Anonymous said...

I remember that, it was so scary!

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Oh my God, this is scarier than any book or movie. I know about Kaiser Permanente. I was with them for two years in New York before I wised up. Obviously, there's a happy ending to this because you write about him and his brother fighting. Did this make you want to be an ER nurse?

laurie said...

oh boy. keep going.


you stirred me up before i'd even had my coffee.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely hate Amy being poorly, just a little cold I find hard to deal with. I have just read this post and it has brought tears to my eyes. I cannot imagine having to cope with such a thing. My heart goes out to you.

Crystal xx

The Rotten Correspondent said...

thalia's child - welcome and thanks for stopping in. Sorry about your heart!

kaycie - bacterial meningitis scares me to death. and yes, Sasquatch is alive and picking fights!

kimberly - welcome to you, too! It has a happy ending. I promise.

my two cents - how could we ever forget?

ciara - thanks for the hugs. Encephalitis. Ugh. Terrifying.

annonymous - you wouldn't be next door annonymous, would you?

wakeup - it was one of the factors in the whole nurse thing, but interestingly enough medicine was always my first choice. I just kind of fell into the whole TV thing.

laurie - I've stirred you up?? Those caps made me fall off my chair.

crystal jigsaw - I have absolutely no tolerance for my kids being sick. It makes me out of my mind crazy.

Okay, all, I'm off to work until ten tonight, so I'll check back in later on. I do want to say though that I feel kind of bad about this whole "serial" thing, especially since both Ree and Willowtree are doing it. Of course it makes it look like I'm jumping on the bandwagon, but it really would have been a VERY long single post.

Why haven't any of you told me how long winded I am??

PixelPi said...

What a nightmare. Even knowing that ultimately this story has a good ending, the very words "meningitis," "HMO," and "Kaiser Permanente" put fear in my heart too. Of course being in LA could only make it worse by a magnitude of thousands. Have a good shift. And I will definitely tune in for the next episode.

Jen said...

Good God, I'm so glad to know that Sasquatch was obviously, eventually, okay. But as a parent, I can understand how incredibly terrified you must have been.
And of course, now you have me worked up over the whole HMO thing. We have United, and it's not great, but it's not horrible.

How awful for you.

Akelamalu said...

Oh honey I was there with you! Both my boys gave me frights just like that, but neither turned out to be meningitis thank God.

Anonymous said...

yes, that would be me.

I finally got my computer to work.

Jo Beaufoix said...

RC it must have been terrifying.
I must admit I wondered a bit about Miss M last week but she didn't have the sore neck and seemed ok with light.

The sore neck part is the give away.
poor 'little' Sasquatch.

So glad I know he's ok.

Pauline said...

I just dropped by from Akelamalu's and now I'll just have to drop by again to read the next part of your rivetting story. (Thankfully, I know your child survived or I'd be chewing my nails 'til part 2)

Amy said...

My sister had bacterial meningitis. She remembers having a headache one night. That's it.

Tragically funny things: She thought she was in a giant refrigerator and the TV was the monitor through which she was being spied on. The only person she recognized for a long time was my mom, and she kept asking about her husband, "Mother, why is there an Arab in my room?" She didn't remember his dark hair, almond eyes, olive skin, or big nose. Once she was finally released, every time she went to the grocery store, she bought baking soda. When she at last had about 12 boxes of baking soda, she remembered she might have some at home.

You really got me with this one. I can only imagine how terrified you were. I'm looking forward to more.

Iota said...

What does HMO mean? Help.

Why do these things happen when husbands are away?

Meningitis is very parent's worst nightmare. This story shows us why. I too am wondering if this is what made you an ER nurse.

laurie said...

iota, HMO is a health maintenance organization.

it's really a dirty deal among insurance companies and health care providers to make sure that you do everything except die first before you actually get to see a doctor, and when you do get to see a doctor it's not the one you want to see because, well, your HMO doesn't cover that particular clinic...

we love our HMOs. so efficient. so caring. so cost-effective.

Stepping Over the Junk said...

I think I am about to DIE reading this...OH MY GOD