Friday, February 08, 2008

What it's like to worry.

There are some people that can simply take things as they come, with the full assurance that they will be able to handle anything unexpected that arises. These are the flexible and adaptable ones... the early adopters and the folks that always land on their feet even though they often dive in head first. Sometimes I envy them. But when I step back and take a deliberately objective view, I understand that I am very different. There have been a lot of things that have changed throughout my life, and I'm certainly not saying that I haven't been able to negotiate the changes. Still my strategy seems to rely on contingency planning. I often try to visualize the worst things that could happen, and then look for signs that they aren't going to manifest themselves. Ultimately I enjoy the perception that everything has been taken care of, and I can relax for awhile... maybe even give in to some "controlled spontaneity".

The reality is that all the ducks are never in a row. Something is always waiting on the periphery, ready to make a mess out of your carefully wrought plans. On rare occasions these are pleasant surprises, but too often they are serious new obstacles you haven't anticipated. Entropy is an inescapable part of life. Yesterday I felt like I knew exactly what I was going to be doing when I got off work. My plan was to stop and grab a mocha, spend some time with baby E., and then go to a drawing session. I was already taking my satisfaction on credit. Just the feeling of an ordered evening doing things I wanted to do- the very idea made me deeply content. So it was that I was blindsided by a phone call that I seriously considered not picking up. My cell phone screen registered an incoming from a local number that I didn't recognize. I told myself, "What the hell, I can handle this... whatever it is."

It was M. on the other side, calling from a pay phone at Saint Margaret's. She anxiously told me that she had taken E.'s temperature, and that he had registered a fever of 100.5 degrees. She had called the pediatrician and then embarked on a hasty trip to the emergency room. The good news was that his temperature was down, and that she would probably be home soon. I tried to shove my anxiety to the side, and sat down in front of the computer. Soon M. called again, and told me that she was taking E. to Children's Hospital in Oakland. His fever was back, and he had a reading of 99.5. She was going to need a bag packed with necessities in case he had to be kept overnight. For some reason I thought she was going to drive by and honk, and I was meant to run the stuff out to the car. I didn't even have my shoes on, and I got outside and realized that I was supposed to be driving. I ran back inside and grabbed my necessities and jumped behind the wheel for a stressful rush hour jaunt to Oakland.

What a mess. Traffic was ridiculous, but I finally got in spitting distance of Children's Hospital. I pulled over to the side and let M. out at the entrance. Then I went off in search of parking. The task was made more difficult by a Pitt game at the Peterson Center, which is located adjacent to the medical complex. I found a spot in the garage and tried to make my way through the labyrinth to the emergency room. I had to stop and ask for directions a few times. All the time I was trying not to obsess on the well being of our new born baby. I found M. and E., and was relieved to see that they were already being helped. We saw a succession of professionals in the space of a half hour, and learned that E. had no fever. Being new at all of this, we looked to the doctor for guidance. She suggested that we could check E. in for 48 hours so he could get a full work-up, including blood tests and spinal tap. Spinal Tap!? Holy shit.

Apparently they don't mess around when a baby is two months or younger. They need to determine if there is some kind of infection that the little body is trying to fight off. As invasive as it sounds, we were informed that spinal taps are routine in those circumstances. We were even told that most babies sleep through the procedure. The doctor was undecided about the course we should take. Since E. wasn't showing a high temperature, we might have nothing to worry about. But then again... some parents insist on keeping their babies in the hospital despite no external signs of sickness. This put us in a stressful position. We didn't want to put E. through two days of tests if it wasn't necessary. However, we'd obviously feel terribly guilty if something really was wrong and we didn't address it. We were actually relieved when the doctor made the choice for us-we should bring him home, and stop off on the way for a rectal thermometer.

It turns out that ear thermometers (which M. initially used to get the high reading that set this minor nightmare in motion) are notoriously unreliable, especially with children under two months of age. How were we supposed to know that? There are so many little things that you are never told while you are waiting for your first child to come. Everyone has advice or comments, but their words are usually filled with generalizations about how your life will irrevocably change. Ultimately there is no way to prepare for that first scare, when you believe that something serious is wrong with your baby. I'm happy that E. is well, but I'm a bit shaken from the experience. I guess I'm just in for many years of feeling vulnerable on behalf of this little package of human. That's one aspect of the journey we have chosen to embark upon.

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Anonymous jefg99 said...

Sorry to hear that there was even a potential problem (though there is always a potential problem, isn't there), but really happy to hear that E is fine. I was recalling that 99.5 or 100.5 isn't really that high, but then I remember that he's not two or three years old. You did well in having him looked at.

MK just told me that you can't get an accurate record from an ear thermometer until they are about age six. I didn't know that. Here's an the future, feel free to call MK; she seems to know alot about kids and medicine.

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


9:44 PM  
Blogger Dagrims said...

Very glad to hear that E's okay. Children are a never-ending series of alternating scares and joys.

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

um, your kid will pay for it later in therapy but rectal thermometers are the real deal with lttle kids

8:31 PM  
Anonymous DeeA2Z said...

Just learned about this today (03/03) and am relieved. You did a good job, and welcome to Fatherhood. Having spent numerous hours in ERs with both my sons, and in later years with a sick father and then with my husband it occurs to me that I'd rather be on the receiving end of the treatment (as I have) because I worry much less about myself than about my loved ones.

Being a parent is about so much more than birth; a trite comment to be sure, but one that doesn't resonate until the parent is suddenly forced to face the mortality of his child. Someday you will feel frustration and perhaps anger at some act E. has committed; that's when you want to remember the joy you felt when you realized he was going to be just fine.

3:04 PM  

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