I can write this NOW that I am drenched in the lighthearted, humor filled hindsight of a happy ending.
Our youngest child, nine-year old Mitchel comes down with the stomach flu on Saturday night. We do all the stuff we always do with the stomach flu:
“Here’s a bucket, please try to not barf on the floor or on your bed because that would be a pain.”
Hand on forehead: “Yep you’ve got a fever. Hang in there kiddo. It’ll be over soon.”
“Well, guess you won’t be eating tacos for a while. Yikes!”
“No, ice chips will have to do for now.”
He is supposed to have a friend over on Sunday so when he wakes in the morning he tries hard to convince us he is fine. “I feel much better now that I have all the tacos out of me. I hate tacos. I only have a head ache now. I’m ok.” His cheeks are bright pink.
Hand on forehead: “You’re still very warm. Sorry dude, gotta call off the play date.” He doesn’t protest too much. That should have been a sign. By noon he puts himself back to bed. I check on him and ask if he needs anything and he mumbles “Sub.” I ask him what that is, thinking a meatball sub may not be the best thing for him right now. He replies, eyes glazed: “Doot. Doot. Doot. Where am I?”
His oldest brother Duncan is visiting for a bit for food and a little sibling terrorizing and carries him upstairs for me so we can watch over him on the couch while we finish the last movie in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy as is tradition on the last weekend of Christmas break. Mitchel claims later to have thought he was flying on an airplane.
A couple of hours pass and he becomes delirious. Hand on forehead: “He’s burning up. We need to get him in the tub.” He shivers in the cool tub. It does not cool him off.
“Mitchel. Chew these Advil. Come on buddy.” He does this with much coaxing and we think this will work.
Another hour passes. All of his siblings gather around him, the perils of Frodo Baggins ignored. They stare at him in angst. He does not know who they are. At first it is funny but then he goes completely limp and floppy. It takes all of us to get his shoes and socks and coat on.
To take him in.
I think only to grab my phone and the new insurance cards that are still in a sealed envelope, fresh and new, untainted yet by Siwinski mayhem. David has gone to basement to cry. Dan won’t leave Mitchel’s side. These two seem to worry the most about him, ever since the trampoline incident. Dillin is at work and does not know what is going on yet. Calm Maria is efficiently getting his shoes on and Duncan and Grant are in denial that this is a big deal. But fear is in both their eyes. I tell them all: “He just needs an iv for an hour or two to get some fluid and Tylenol in him. It’s OK. It will be okay. No biggie. Don’t panic. We just don’t want to mess with this high fever.”
We get to Holy Family hospital through the first real snow storm of the year. The ER receptionist: “What do we have going on tonight?”
Me: “Pretty sure it’s just the stomach flu but he has been delirious the last few hours from a high fever.”
Her: “What was his last temperature reading?”
Me: “Ummm…burning up hot, gauging by my hand on his forehead. He doesn’t know who he is.” She frowns at me and I bow my head, faced with the knowledge that I don’t know JACK about being a good mom because of the symbolic fact that I do not own a thermometer. A nurse pops out and takes his temperature to judge the severity of things. It’s 102. An hour after he has chewed up his Advil. We are whisked pretty quickly into a nurse’s station to begin the process of getting a space in the ER.
Now, let’s back up twenty years so I can explain the thermometer thing.
We arrive home with baby Duncan and an entire bag of hospital stuff including a thermometer. I am told the best way to take a baby’s temperature is in the bottom hole, which I find very alarming. I pray Duncan never gets a temperature. Ever. Or at least until he is a man. Three days pass and Duncan’s little baby cheeks go pink and I, a new, very tired mom am freaking out. I don’t want to do this terrible temperature taking deed but I am positive my baby is sick. Probably dying.
My friend Pam, who lives next door, rushes over after a frantic call from me to inspect my broken baby. She gently (and kindly) says: “Well. He does have quite a few layers of clothing and blankets on him. Maybe we should start with taking off one or two of his twelve layers and see what happens.” He immediately cools down and the silly that I feel is overshadowed by the relief that I don’t have to invade my baby with a thermometer
Fast forward six months. Duncan is at crawling stage. He has a cold and a low grade fever. I know now how to do this business of rectal temperature taking, though I still find it kind of wrong.
(But I can say twenty years later that I have done much worse than THAT to scar him and he still seems okay.)
His temp is only 99.5 and he is sleeping soundly in his crib. Grant finds me on the kitchen floor trying to scoop up this little blob of silver that has come out of the thermometer I have dropped on the floor and broken. I am fascinated by how it moves around, escaping my fingers. Grant yells “STOP!!!! THAT’S MERCURY! IT’S POISON!!!!” and I jump in surprise and watch the tiny blob roll down our slanted floor into a crack in the base board, disappearing.
“What do you mean its POISON?!?!? I stuck that thing in his BUTT!! OMG! I KNEW that was just WRONG!!!! And now that POISON is sliming around in my house forever and he will probably find it some day and eat it and die!!!! We could ALL die!”
Needless to say, ever since then I have always used my hand, leaving the thermometers we have been offered with each new baby, at the hospital. Obviously Duncan did not die, but he is not very good at math and I often wonder if it was exposure to mercury that caused this. Grant: if you are reading this, I can see your eyes rolling. Stop. That’s not nice. I didn’t know it was mercury. But I do UNDERSTAND the phrase “exit only”.
Anyhoo. Now you know why I am a bad mother and do not own a thermometer. I am simply not responsible enough.
BUT at Holy Family the nurse uses this forehead swiper thing that takes one half of one second and come to find out from the judgmental receptionist, can be bought for a mere $39.99 at the store.
Mitchel is still completely listless and unable to answer questions as we are checked into an ER room. They do a blood test and stick a long horrible swab all the way up his nose and probably well into his brain. I think “They are doing a brain swab.Why would they do this for the stomach flu?” This wakes Mitchel up a bit. He is pissed OFF and suddenly able to answer the ER doctor’s questions PERFECTLY and I am feeling like a moron AGAIN as he banters a little bit with the doc: “Yes. My name is Mitchel McRae Siwinski and the sum of all things equals 4,578, 584.” The doctor leaves the room to do some doctor stuff. Grant looks at me and we are both thinking it’s going to cost us $10 k for this particular episode of stomach flu. Crap.
But then he sinks back into delirium and an hour later we are called out into the hallway to hear the ER doc tells us his white cell count is four times the normal count, which could mean meningitis or leukemia and we both go frozen with fear and things go to surreal. We make a phone call to our beloved pediatrician of 20 years to soothe us and explain what a lumbar puncture is and that yes, it’s important to do. We don’t want to mess around if its meningitis.
We do this and a few other tests and then because this hospital does not have a pediatrics unit we have to be transported by ambulance to Sacred Heart as per hospital protocol. But before we hit the road we are told: “It is NOT meningitis. So there is THAT. But we don’t know about the other stuff yet.”
I numbly joke to the ambulance driver before I hop in: “Do you know how to drive this thing? It looks nasty out here.” He smiles and tells me that as long as we don’t have to stop we’ll be good to go.
The stuffed bear with the name tag Charlie sits with him on his wheeled stretcher contrasting colorfully against my child’s pale face. The male nurse gave the bear to us as we were leaving. I remember thinking that his were the only earlobe gauges that I have seen that looked cool. He actually pulled it off.
I take pictures of Mitchel in the ambulance. He will want to see what things look like when he shakes this stupid stomach flu.
I reply to the hundred or so texts from the children. “Your dad is coming home for a bit to grab a few things… it will be fine…Mitchel is fine…it will be okay…yes, you can all stay home from school tomorrow.” This last text scares the crap out of them which starts a whole new string of texts. I tell them all “Stop! I am just being practical. I’m calling it a snow day.”
There is a gap in available doctors while staff changes happen, so we have to be admitted into ER instead of directly to a room upstairs. The ER doc here tells me that everything is pointing to a very nasty virus but that we need to monitor his white cell count and get past the delirium. I whisper to him: “What about the L word?” and he tells me that NOTHING is pointing to leukemia and my heart starts beating again and my brain is no longer numb and I notice that this doctor is very good looking and am suddenly aware that I have no makeup on and am in the same clothes I have been wearing for four days because I have been on staycation. There are guacamole stains on my jeans. I send a text to Grant: “Please bring my lipstick and a brush. VERY important.”
For another twelve hours, Mitchel’s temperature goes up and down from normal to 104.5. The nurses confirm my hand test with their expensive thermometer. They pack ice under his armpits and I keep a cool cloth on his forehead. It is a very long night. But by noon he is still feverish but at last coherent and wants to know if he is going to die. We say “NO! You’re doing great! It’s just the crazy, super expensive stomach flu!” After talking tearfully to each of his siblings on the phone, he ends the conversation with Duncan and then tricks him and asks if he can talk to Mitchel. He smiles at me and I hear nothing on the other end of the phone until Mitchel says “Yeah I know I’m Mitchel. I was tricking you.” We are out of the scary woods.
When we finally are allowed to escape the hospital we stop at the store to pick up a thermometer. Mitchel loudly chats, and hums and makes burping and farting noises the whole way there. Neither Grant nor I shush him once. We’ll leave that to the siblings. We both figure it will be about twenty minutes after we are home before they all stop enjoying his obnoxious better self.
In the store, I do not buy the expensive $39.99 forehead swiper. Instead I spend $13.99 on a digital thermometer. So that if there is a next time, I can back up my very confident hand with official but inexpensive data.
There is no mercury in digital thermometers. That’s damn good mothering if you ask me.
(This is actually MY temperature after I drank a bunch of coffee.)