I am ready to talk about it. The edge. It’s easier on your way back. This week, the same week that saw our country reflect on the atrocities at Sharpeville in 1960, I thought we were going to lose her.
It started innocently enough. On Monday it seemed she woke up with the blues on the crabby side of the bed. She was extra clingy and irritable. Refused her water and cheese. Odd. I put it all down to teething.
Later that morning, nana called to say I should come home because baby was not well. I was stuck out of town on an assignment, so I arranged for her to be seen by the doctor.
He diagnosed a throat infection and put her on a course of antibiotic, warning us to expect fever while prescribing something for this eventuality.
Tuesday she woke up with a high fever. She was listless. We gave her the meds, sponged her down, and she eventually settled. Later, I put her in her cot, while I got ready for work. I found her crying exactly where I left her. Odd. So I decided to stay home with her and give her some TLC.
We monitored her temp, and it improved after a sponge bath. She managed her meals and even perked up enough to play a bit. She seemed to be getting better.
She slept right through the night. Good sign, I thought, we are over the worst! Woke up with a fever. But this time she was more listless. We gave her the meds and something for pain. Her porridge made her gag, but she managed some cold custard. She didn’t want to play, she slept on my chest for two hours. She was burning hot when she woke up.
The paed told us to prepare for admission and we took her straight to hospital. She had no energy. She was barely able to hold her doll, kai, her head lolling to one side in the carseat. But she managed to sing along to her favourite nursery rhyme cd.
The paed mentioned that there are three strains of viruses filling up the childrens wards. She mentioned meningitis. It did not register. I focussed in on the one that sounded like the flu (that’s what she has! We will be home by Friday!). Doc sent us away to draw the blood etc. They called us back. In the isolation room. I saw the bandage on my baby’s back. She was only wearing a nappy: the bandage staring ominously at me.
My knees went weak. Doctor said she noticed some stiffness in the neck and decided to do a lumbar puncture as a precaution. I started crying. Because I knew. I knew what I didn’t want to know.
Doc said they’re just playing it safe, that she has been immunized against the bacterial strain but they were treating her with antibiotics for the worst case scenario.
I knew. I knew what I didn’t want to know. It was a long wait for the results. Around 10, baby was sound asleep with her iv line and machine, measuring the rate the hydration fluid passed into her little body.
The nurse called me to the phone. The results were back. Doc gave me the good news first: she was dehydrated. And then she said it. Meningitis. And then a ringing in my ears. I now knew.
“What’s the prognosis?” I asked, tonelessly. “I can’t say until we know what type it is. If its viral, we got it licked. But with bacterial meningitis…its more aggressive…effects”
I thanked the doctor. Hung up the phone. Walked into an adjoining room in the isolation ward and wished I didn’t know. The ringing was replaced by a voice, speaking the unthinkable. Why? How? Why her? The image of her listless body lying on the bed in the icy cold room. With the bandage. That bandage that held the knowledge of what I did not want to know.
I did not sleep. Listening to her breathing. It was barely audible. Nurses checking. Temperature. High. Dangerous. Meds. Colder room. What would I do. If she…the brink.
The next day, sleep deprived but running off adrenalin, I waited for the doctor to tell me whether it was viral or bacterial. Her body shuddered as she lay on my chest. She winced in pain if I changed her position. She was weak with fever. But I did not put her down. She wanted me. But it seemed she didn’t know what I knew, mummy was impotent.
She ate the jelly I had made for her the day before. She was ravenous. It was a good sign. And I kept her updated about where she was and why. Then the doctor called. It’s a viral picture. Good news. But, they still have to rule out all the bacteria (how many of these buggers are there 😱).
And then the clincher: baby had picked up all three viruses, including a flu bug and an upper respiratory tract infection. They piggy back on each other. Some kids get only one virus and are discharged within 48 hours. Mine had three. 3. III.
Watch out for coughing or a wheezy chest, I was told. In the meantime, sit tight. I told baby that there were three naughty bugs in her body. She hates flies and is quick to spot them and shoo them away with her hand, shouting “go ‘way, fly!”. So I told her that her amazing body was telling the naughty bugs to go away. But they don’t want to listen. So her body put on the oven “Hot!” to burn the bugs away.
I told her stories in that darkened room. I don’t know if she heard me. She seemed to drift in and out of consciousness. Her body shuddering and then going limp. Delirious. Weak. Hot.
I told her about her amazing body and how it was doing all the hard work to make the naught bugs go away. I empathised. I sympathised, drawing on my own experience with illness. I had no reference point.
And then I ran out of words. Words of comfort. Songs. Prayers. Talking to myself. Silence. And there was the beep of the machine. The darkness. The cold. The impotence. And so I cried. My body shuddered with the sobs. She lifted her head and mumbled “mummy. Mummy. Mummy.” And I cried some more.
Then I laid her down in her cot. Closed the door and told the nurse I needed a break. I was slipping. On the edge. So I got angry and resentful. I blamed my husband for going to work and leaving me all alone. I blamed my parents. My sister. Nana. They didn’t seem to get the gravity of the situation. Breezing in at visiting hours.
The first thing they asked: “Where is she?”. And I burst into tears. Couldn’t they see? I saw. I saw her short life flash before my eyes. I relived her birth. And I realised, I was not strong. I couldn’t. She needed someone capable. Like my mommy. I needed my mummy. I burst into tears. And I just started gushing: I haven’t slept. I was stuck in that room all day. I was hungry. I was scared.
When they had calmed me down, my mom and nana went to check on baby. Alone in the isolation room. I had promised never to leave her (I broke that promise twice. The cock crowed). I had failed her.
I begged to have the hurt transferred on to me. How dare I throw a tantrum, with my good health and family support! My family was resolute: I was going home to sleep. Hubby stayed with baby. I slept the sleep of the dead. I woke up, ready to go back.
Next morning. Message from hubby: they had had a bad night. there is a wheezing on the chest. Doc would be in to see her that morning. I rushed to get back to the hospital. Daddy waited for doctor before going home to shower. But we were unable to reach him all day. He passed out due to sheer exhaustion.
My mum took the day off. She spent the day with me and baby. I felt better having my mummy near. Her wise hands brought comfort to both mommy and baby. She explained what was happening inside baby’s body. She pulled me from the brink.
Suddenly I realised what a miracle this little person is. Her amazing body. Her above average lung capacity (she can hold her breath for 15 seconds under water). Her swim instructor said she is destined to be an athlete. What stamina.
And she did it. Her body kicked some triad viral a$$ 🤬 “Go ‘way!” That feistiness! And slowly she started coming back. Rudely pushing away the spoon with a “No!” Throwing tantrums in the middle of radiology. Playing her favourite game: “Hello toe!” (She loves toes). Or just making funny faces, imitating her cousin!
She is coming home. 🤗