lessons in gratitude from a 4-year-old

In spite of everything, Jonah still believes in people.

Last night, just before going to sleep next to me in his (our) hospital bed, and just after his 8:00pm IV antibiotics infusion, he said, “Mama, today was a lovely day.”

He went on to explain how much wonderful play time he had with Daddy and Mommy. And how we read books.

He didn’t enumerate, but I’m sure the steady supply of sweet treats hasn’t hurt. Graham crackers, vanilla yogurt, electric-orange popsicles, canned peaches, ice cream.

I should back up…

2:20 a.m., Saturday morning, in Children’s Hospital Urgent Care. At that point, we’d been in the building since 8:30 p.m. Though the majority of that six hours was spent in the waiting room.

Jonah had just fallen asleep, twenty minutes earlier, at 2:00 a.m.

My child is not a child who lays down and falls asleep on my lap in such situations. He’s all about the marathon of TV on the big screen, the hunt for books on the book carts, examinations of the art installations in the hallways (does every hospital have a massive hand-made doll house in the lobby, or just the ones I end up in?) deconstructing the meaning behind the sea-themed illustrations embedded into the floor tiles. He is not, however, above complaining.

“When are we going to go INSIDE?” he whines. “I’m so EXCITED.”

You may recall that my son is a fan of hospitals.

Rewind to Thursday’s post. The part where the doctor said she was giving Jonah a vaccine so that he wouldn’t get an infection that could land him in the hospital. I guess if he had Tetanus, this would be more ironic. But the thinking, by 2:00 a.m. was that he had contracted a bacterial infection from the point of insertion of the needle. Staph or strep. He was going to need to be admitted for IV antibiotics.

Rewind to Friday at 7:30 p.m. when we discovered what looked like a very strange sunburn on a very swollen left arm. I fought with the advice nurse, and the doctor on call whom I’d called after to double-ask. Really? We have to take him to the emergency room? This is not a normal adverse reaction to a vaccine? Really. Because the internet says…

Yeah, no. You have to go.

(I called again at 11:30 p.m., three hours into our wait, when trauma after trauma arrived, moving us down the list and the triage nurse had informed us at that point that there were six families ahead of us and we could expect to wait for hours more. Me-to-the-on-call-doctor, on my cell phone, just outside the door of the building, in tears: “If this is such an emergency, and we’re not going to be seen until morning, couldn’t we go home and come back in the morning? Is there another emergency room in another county we could drive to?” …when we finally did get to see the first E.R. nurse, around 1:30, she looked at Jonah’s arm and told me she was glad we’d stayed.)

Back to 2:20. Two nurses, one big, one small. The big one gets in position over Jonah’s body, leaning on his abdomen and pinning his arms. The small one has the needle to insert the cannula, his shunt for the duration. I’m positioned at his head and expected to calm and reassure him.

Yeah, right.

They tell me to wake him up. Which is ridiculously impossible because he’s a heavy sleeper who hadn’t slept for half the night.

The needle wakes him.

Screaming. FURIOUS.


Of course the first one on his hand didn’t work and she had to go in again, into the crook of his arm. Lovely.

I leaned over him, kissing his clammy, writhing forehead, agreeing with him about how much this sucked. I’ve never seen his face so red with rage.

I had to wonder. If they’d let him get organized, for just a minute, would it have been easier or better somehow?

With IV antibiotics, there’s not a lot to do. There is a lot of waiting. I passed the first 24-hours in an adrenaline-induced haze. Frenzy of posts of Facebook, texts to family and friends, posts of photos of elaborate play-scenes being enacted around our half-room by Scott and Jonah (after I’d taken a turn going home for a shower and supplies—my to-get list was: “pajamas, pull-ups, Star Wars figures.”

A moment of gratitude for smart phones and social media. Being able to distract myself with documenting my experience in such an immediate way, and the flood of support I received from family and friends was so very very comforting.

It’s not uncommon for me in these situations (I’ve come to recognize) to be both fiercely present and somewhat dissociated. This being our fourth E.R. visit for Jonah, and my sixth hospital crisis overall, counting two of Scott’s, I’m getting better at noticing my habits, such as the however-justified digital distracting, and turning the mental ship around.

Scott paid the lion’s share of attention to our child yesterday, but I was there for my share as well. I picked out a kick-butt stack of books from the playroom during the scant two hours it was open this weekend. I watched TV with him. Cuddled him. And I slept in his bed with him, two nights running.

Slept is an inexact word. The first night, we didn’t get into his room and thus his bed until 4:00 a.m. He was over the rage and still rolling with the excitement. The TV in his room was so much better than the TV in the E.R. Dangling from its long, articulated arm making it so easy to position right in front of your face. So much SPROUT. (A moment of huge gratitude for the very gentle, entertaining, reasonably aesthetically pleasing, 4-year-old-friendly programming on that channel.)

TV and adrenaline. I think he slept from 5-7. I may have drifted during that time.

He’s right, though. For all of it, it really was a lovely day. The nurses and interns were all super sweet. Jonah got tons of playtime with both of us. I wish we were spending $5000 on a vacation in a foreign land rather than on deductibles and co-pays, but despite the lack of beaches and fruit beverages with paper umbrellas, there is something oddly sweet about how time stops, we all bunk-in together, and our only jobs are to rest and figure out what we want to eat at each meal, and get well.

I stayed here with Jonah again last night even though Scott would have let me be the one to go home. I just couldn’t do it. Can’t. Leave. My. Child. Options are to share the tiny bed, or sleep on a foam pad and scratchy sheet, on the window seat. Mmmmm, hospital bedding.

Jonah didn’t want me to sleep on the window seat. And really, I didn’t want to either.

Blessedly, the boy has been ASLEEP for 12 hours now, and counting. (Woo hoo!!!) He slept through is 4 a.m. IV (I didn’t). He slept through the herd of robot-beeping elephants—a.k.a. our new roommate and associated equipment—who’d arrived with nurses all-a-clamor and turning on bright overhead lights, at 6:30 a.m. (I didn’t).

Maybe, today, I’ll go home for a nap. But if I do, somebody else should drive me because I am NOT firing on all cylinders at this point.

It’s possible, today, that we’ll all go home (kein ayin hora). If his swelling has gone down enough to show that the treatment is working. And he shows he can tolerate the flavor of the oral antibiotic syrup. Or we could be here longer.

Sometimes his arm looks like it’s getting better, other times, it doesn’t. I wonder if they’ll measure it again at some point.

For now, I’m actually looking forward to him waking up (he’s been asleep for over 12 hours and still ticking). I could go for a little more Angelina Ballerina.

4 comments for “lessons in gratitude from a 4-year-old

  1. April 1, 2012 at 10:31 am

    That is so scary. I pray he is responding well to the medication and that you will be able to go home soon.

  2. April 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Yikes! Hope those antibiotics work their magic soon. I know what you mean about time stopping (I just did an overnight tour with my boy a few weeks ago.)

  3. April 6, 2012 at 5:04 am

    Wow!! Scary stuff!! Glad you are getting the treatment he needs. Hope you get to go home soon.

  4. Eve
    April 14, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    I hope he’s back to playing with his dinosaurs!

    Over the past three weeks, I’ve read your blog from beginning to now, and I can’t even begin to tell you how inspiring and refreshing it’s been. Thank you for that.

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