Sunday, September 24, 2006

Fevers, And a Manifesto, Of Sorts

So today is Tucker's third day of having a low-grade fever. Myk & I are going about our daily routines, and yesterday he even drove Lily out to a family birthday party in Long Beach, but we're worried over him and watching closely for any other symptoms. There aren't really any others, besides a sluggish, sketchy appetite and the need to cling and whine a little more than usual. Of course, as small children always seem to do, he came down with the fever on a Friday, right at the start of the weekend, when I can't easily call the doctor.

Four months ago, we probably would've just gotten him dressed, despite the fever, and we'd all have gone to that birthday party, and we'd all likely would've had a good time and that would have been that. But now, we're a little more cautious, a little more prone to worry, and so Tucker and I hung out here and puttered and played in the backyard after his nap. And he was fine -- fine as far as being whiny with a fever of 99.5 goes, at least.

Tuesday, the 26th, will mark 3 months since Tucker came home from the hospital. This is his first fever since then, although he's had a couple of colds, and really we've been pretty lucky, as it's damn rare for either of the kids to go for three months without a fever. They're not sickly kids by a long shot, just little kids who tend to get all the sniffles and colds and weird 24-hour bugs that children are prone to, especially since Lily goes to preschool and brings all of that crap right back into the house. And I admit to being one of those parents on the pretty laid-back end of the worry spectrum, who only tends to call the doctor when a fever hovers above 103 for a couple days, or if puking persists for more than a day and turns the kids into little pale, zombie-like versions of themselves. Usually, I just hang back, watch, and wait, and eventually, they get better without a call or visit to the doctor's.

But back in June, Tucker again had a low-grade fever, was a little peevish and off, and also had a cough that only seemed to bother him in his crib at night. It wasn't a scary, chest-rattling, tuberculor sort of cough -- just a little cough. Again, it seemed to hit over the weekend, but I have pictures of him from that weekend, looking healthy and laughing and being his usual monkey-self. (See Above.) But by late Monday morning, he'd thrown up and was inconsolable, and by that afternoon he was ordered to get a chest x-ray because his breathing was labored and by the next afternoon, a Tuesday, he was being admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit at Children's Hospital of Orange County. After numerous chest xrays and 2 CAT scans, and a few hours when the the doctors thought maybe it was his appendix, we were told that he had a pleural effusion -- fluid gathered in his chest cavity, next to his right lung. This automatically also meant a diagnosis of pneumonia. And then a big, blond, handsome doctor who looked more like a linebacker came in and did an in-room procedure that inserted a tube into Tucker's chest to drain out that fluid. And then, eventually, results from the cultures of those fluids came in, and we learned that Tucker had not just the typical, viral kind of pneumonia, but the bacterial kind -- staph pneumonia. Then they put him in isolation, until they could grow out the cultures a little bit more, to make sure he didn't have the resistant form of staph. (Resistant to antibiotics, that is.) Thankfully, he "only" had the regular kind of staph. Even so, bacterial staph pneumonia is rare, and potentially deadly, as it often was to young children before the right drugs were found.

To make a long and depressing and scary story short(er), we were there at CHOC for just a day short of two weeks. Tucker ended up requiring a 2-hour surgical procedure to clear the infected gunk out of his chest cavity, and to insert a central IV line for his meds. Did you know that after about 48 hours, a regular IV line will deteriorate and fail, and they have to choose a new location and re-insert the IV? Do you know how hard it is to find a viable vein on a sick 18-month-old, whose veins are even harder to find because he's screaming at the sight of more nurses, with more needles? I certainly didn't know, or care to think about, any of those things, 4 months ago. Anyway. After a lot of strong antibiotics, and morphine for his post-surgery pain, and enough chest x-rays to make the child glow in the dark, Tucker came back home with us. A little paler, a little thinner, but a healthy little boy again, thanks to the wonderful doctors and nurses at CHOC. Watch him, they advised. Oh, we do.

All of which brings me to my manifesto, of sorts, of why I'm on the internet, with this blog, taking time away from my family and books and housecleaning to create this cozy little spot of unapologetic domesticity. (Okay, so maybe I wouldn't otherwise really be cleaning house.) Because, three months after the most terrifying stretch of days I've ever lived through, I find that I've have changed, and my interests and priorities have shifted, just ever so slightly. That sounds deadly dull and serious, but really, the truth is that all those things I loved and valued before -- my home, the look of its interiors, good novels, baking, nesting, curling up on the couch with an old movie -- well, now I value and hold even more dear. I feel that I'm not so much nesting these days, as burrowing.

Since I'm a writer, it would be easy to tidily wrap up this little essay with a metaphor about fevers: how Tucker's illness burned away some of the extraneous stuff in my head, and left me with a clear distillate of Important Things. Or even how I'm suddenly in a fever to create this space and explore some new territories and interests that beckon. But -- yuck. Not only is that too simple and pat, it's also pretty self-obsessed, don't you think? After all, though I lived through their effects, the fever and sickness didn't happen to me. I won't co-opt their language and imagery to dovetail with some half-baked thesis.

It's just this: for two weeks, my child was seriously ill. Now he is better, and I am thankful. So thankful, in fact, that I'd like to live my daily life paying some small tribute to that, by giving attention to the details and background roar and blur that comprise our blessed and happy and noisy home.

And tomorrow, if the fever persists, we're going to the doctor's.



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