Saturday, October 12, 2013

Caring for a sick child. And congress.

Last night, Bryan woke up crying. It was a different sort of crying than the crying that comes with a bad dream, which, thankfully, isn’t all that common. This one came with a different tone. It was that tone that a parent hears and knows something for real not good is happening. And you out there with children or have been around young ones, you know there are different cries. Angry, sad, frustrated. There is the cry that comes after a loud noise. There is a loud bang, then a second or two later out comes the first long, loud cry then another pause as the injured child takes in a large breath, and then the second cry, even louder. I think there is a good reason for that first pause. The lurking guardian has just enough time after the loud bang to mentally run through all the possible scenarios, outcomes, and contingencies, conclude if there are enough large bandages in the medicine cabinet, before leaping to action. All these different types of cries remind me of the saying about Eskimos having 50 words for snow. Maybe we should have more than one word for cry. Rather we describe the cry by the type of tears that come from our eyes, as if there is some chemical difference: Tears of joy. Angry tears. Crocodile tears. Where does that one even come from? Crocodile tears. I’ll have to look it up later. And I need to confirm the Eskimo thing about snow before I say it again. I’m learning more that stuff I learned, as a child, isn’t right. Like Christopher Columbus being an awesome dude or that you can’t swim for an hour after eating.

But last night’s tears were not Crocodile. Bryan has had a fever since Thursday evening. I’ve come to not freak out over fevers like I used to.

John: Hi Doctor Feldman, thanks for taking my call.
Dr. Feldman: Of course, and you say Bryan’s temperature is, what, 99.9?
John: That’s right. When can we bring him in?
Dr. Feldman: Any other symptoms? Coughing, Achiness?
John: No just the fever.
Dr. Feldman: I see. Well, I can tell you are concerned, but you know, kids just get these viruses from time to time and there is not much we can do but make them as comfortable as we can. If he gets hungry let him eat what he wants. Push the fluids if possible. If the fever gets a little higher, maybe give him some Ibuprofen before bed to help him sleep. You know, we don’t even really count it as a “fever” unless it gets over 100.4 and fevers between 101 and 104 are normal for so called “cold” viruses. He’ll be fine. But do call us if other symptoms, like a cough, or achiness, develop.
John: Oh.

Though his fever started low, yesterday it graduated crept up to 104.6 by late evening. So now I had crossed that threshold to "high fever" but thankfully with no other symptoms. And I’ve also come to learn that in this case to give the Ibuprofen and if the fever comes down soon-ish with that treatment, not to panic.

Right. Don't panic.

As soon as I saw the reading on the ear thermometer my mind’s eye conjured up an old scene from Little House on the Prairie: Ma’s got a fever and Pa has rushed over in the rain to Doc’s house. He stands there with rain dripping off his hat pleading, "isn't there something, Doc, you can do?"

"I'm afraid not Charles. Not this time."

This episode is not going to end well, I can tell.

So I took a deep breath and convinced myself that Bryan did not have meningitis, or tetanus like Ma did, but just some normal but nasty virus. He is, after all, an otherwise healthy 8-year-old running around 5 days per week in that petri dish we call elementary school. I gave him the Ibuprofen and an hour later his temp was down to 102.6. I moved him from the couch in front of the TV to his bed. And we all went to sleep.

Oh and before I go on, those instant read ear thermometers are worth their weight in gold. They are not the cheapest, but they are fast and convenient. Get one from your local drug store or pharmacy.

But back to last night . . .

Here is something to know, before Amy died, she was the primary caretaker. No surprise there. She was the one who had some innate sense about the children and would take notice the moment just before one of the kids started to cry. I could never quite understand how it worked. There were plenty of nights I wouldn’t even be aware of trouble until the next morning unless I received a gentle elbow or knee letting me know it was my turn. Now I am the one with that ability. I still don't know how it works but last night I was getting up out of bed right as Bryan started to cry. I hustled to his room and on the short trip down the hall had some sense what might be going on. I sat down on the edge of Bryan’s bed and put my hand to his forehead. He was cool and soaking wet. I reached under his blanket and he was soaking wet, head to toe. His fever had broken. I covered his eyes and turned on the bedside lamp. Slowly he woke up from his fever dream. I replaced his damp pillow with a fresh one and swapped comforters with a spare. It probably would have been best to completely change his bed but he was too rung-out and I didn’t want him to get up.  He slowly stopped crying, I turned off the light, rubbed his back and he fell back to sleep.

And during this most tender father-son moment the thought running through my head was: Thank god the federal government is closed. 

Every year, you see, out church has an annual weekend retreat to Catoctin Mountain Park. Catoctin is perfectly gorgeous in the Autumn. We stay in cabins in the woods and gather in a main hall for meals and games. We play sports and hike and just have a lot of fun together. I like to volunteer to coordinate the Saturday morning breakfast, usually for about 120-140 people. Catoctin Mountain Park is right next to Camp David and is federal land and therefore: Closed. This week the church has scrambled and Plan B is a big outdoor gathering, grill out, games, sports, etc., at our minister’s home. And through whatever Unitarian Universalist miracle we can conjure, it will become Catoctin. At least for one day.

But that isn’t what I was thinking about. I was thinking about what I would have done had the feds been open. I had all this food to purchase, bring up to Catoctin, and then prep for breakfast plus all the normal packing. But it would have been with a sick child. Lori probably would have drawn the short straw and stayed with Bryan. Bryan probably would have been upset to not go. There would have been complex logistics issues since I would have to drive the minivan up with all the gear and food and left the VW behind, which is a manual transmission. Lori doesn’t drive a manual. She’d be essentially without a car. Catoctin isn’t too far away, maybe 90 minutes, but I imagined possibly two trips back and forth. I’m sure we would have worked it out and others in our church would have helped. They always do.

But thanks to the intransigence on Capitol Hill I had one less thing to worry about. As I tried to go back to sleep it occurred to me that, like Bryan’s fever, this too shall pass. Congress has us crying in our sleep and each night we wake up soaking wet hallucinating colors and shapes that attack us. We just seem unable to quit the bug that has infected us. But hopefully, soon, we will get up one morning, like Bryan did today, feeling much better. We won't completely out of the woods. Bryan, for example, still has a 99.6 fever but his appetite has returned. I don’t know if the Congressional physician has taken Congress’s temperature yet. And for that, by the way, I’d recommend rectal, rather than ear. But tt feels we are past due for a little care for those sad, sick politicians. Maybe they should rest, load up on fluids, and take some Ibuprofen. This fever too shall break. I hope soon.

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