Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Flu by J. P. McEvoy

The Flu

When your back is broke and your eyes are blurred.
And your shin-bones knock and your tongue is furred,
And your tonsils squeak and your hair gets dry,
And you're doggone sure that you're going to die,
But you're skeered you won't and afraid you will,
Just drag to bed and have your chill;
And pray the Lord to see you through
For you've got the Flu, boy,
You've got the Flu.

When your toes curl up and your belt goes flat,
And you're twice as mean as a Thomas cat,
And life is a long and dismal curse,
And your food all tastes like a hard-boiled hearse,
When your lattice aches and your head's abuzz
And nothing is as it ever was,
Here are my sad regrets to you,
You've got the Flu, boy,
You've got the Flu.

What is it like, this Spanish Flu?
Ask me, brother, for I've been through,
It is by Misery out of Despair,
It pulls your teeth and curls your hair,
It thins your blood and brays your bones
And fills your craw with moans and groans,
And sometimes, maybe, you get well —
Some call it Flu — I call it hell!
--J. P. McEvoy

On Tuesday of last week, Peter came home from work with the flu. He was pretty miserable, but tried to avoid breathing on us etc while he lay in bed feeling like he wanted to die. It was all for naught. Friday morning I started coughing and noticed that my skin was super-sensitive. By noon, I realized I was pretty seriously ill, and it would be a BAD idea all around to go to Grandma & Grandpa's house -- not only would I be tired, achy and miserable, but the LAST thing they need is a bad case of the flu in their house. So I turned the car around and stopped at the Walgreens on the way home to get some stuff to treat the symptoms I knew were coming. The pharmacist said he couldn't recommend giving anything to the baby if she got it unless she was seen by a doctor first.

I went home and took a nap, and when I woke up, the baby seemed very hot. I had been alternating sweating and chills, so I got out the thermometer to make sure my hands weren't lying to me. She had a fever of 101.4. I called the doctor, but they had already gone home (why do we always get sick on weekends?). I called the nurse advice line, and after they hung up on me once, I finally got to talk with somebody who said that they also couldn't advise giving her anything until she'd been seen by a doctor and that I should go to the emergency room. Luckily, Peter had been feeling so lousy at work that he came home early, and was there to help get everything ready and drive us over.

We waited a little over an hour to be seen. Elizabeth had been crying at home, but was happier once we went outside where it was cooler. She did keep making sounds like a tired groan/whine which I thought expressed exactly how I was feeling, and made me even more sure she had the same thing I did. When we finally got into a bed at about 7:30 or 8, the doctor said that even though Peter and I were both obviously sick, and a reasonable person would assume that the baby had the same thing, and that if the baby was 8 weeks old or more, they'd just tell us to give her Tylenol and only worry if the fever didn't come down, it wasn't going to be that easy for Elizabeth this time. Because she's only 6 weeks old, they can't afford to miss anything, so they have to test for EVERYTHING.

First, they put in an IV for broad-spectrum antibiotics and fluids. This took two or three nurses at least 20 minutes. They tied a rubber tube around her arm to cut off the blood, and then looked for a vein to poke while her arm turned purple. They couldn't find anything on the first arm, so they tried the other. This time, they actually poked her hand with the needle three or four times before giving up and going back to the first. A couple more needle pokes, and they had the IV in, but they couldn't get any blood for their tests. They taped her arm and the IV to a piece of stiff foam so she wouldn't pull it out by wiggling or bending her writs. The whole time, I'm standing over the bed, trying to hold my screaming baby still, crying and feeling like a horrible mother for putting her through this, and hoping I don't faint because I'm so sick myself.

They left us alone for a while, and I held Elizabeth, and comforted her and myself. I don't remember the order of the rest of the tests, but they also did an X ray (which they made us leave the room for), drew blood by poking her yet again, tried and failed to put in a catheter to get some urine, and finally, when THEY couldn't take the crying anymore, taped a bag to her bottom in the hopes that when they poked her yet again, she might empty her bladder herself.

The worst part was when the doctor did a spinal tap to check for meningitis. He said that if it was up to him, he'd make the obvious diagnosis and let us go home, but the on-call Ped's doctor that he consulted said that he had to check the spinal fluid on a baby this little with a fever that high. He told us that we could refuse the procedure if we wanted, but that it was a trade off between a little pain now, and the chance of permanent brain damage. Of course we said yes, but I don't know if I'll ever forget the way she screamed. She went from crying to yelling to screaming, and then to something beyond screaming -- a kind of high pitched breathy-screech noise that I don't have words to describe. It was just awful.

Sometime before that, Peter had reached his breaking point. Neither of us had eaten much that day, and we missed dinner entirely. I had my emergency supplies in my bag, but they amounted to a juice box, some applesauce and a piece of fruit leather -- enough to tide me over for an hour or so, but not enough to sustain two of us for 4 or 5 hours, which was about how long it had been since we left home. They told us that they'd be admitting her for at least a day for observation, so the ordeal wouldn't be ending anytime soon either. Peter's blood sugar was dropping, and though a nurse promised to bring some OJ and crackers, she never did. I knew that if I sent him home for the night, not only would he be happier, but he'd be much more helpful to me the next day with a couple of good meals and a real night's sleep.

At some point (but only after I reminded them), they gave Elizabeth some Tylenol and her fever came down, and as long as they weren't poking her, she was content to nurse a little and then sleep. I wasn't so lucky. Because I wasn't the patient, nobody would even look at me or my symptoms. One nurse did take pity on me after a few hours and smuggled me a couple of Tylenol, but they weren't enough to even take the edge off by that point.

We just had the exam bed -- covered with a strip of paper -- to lay on. They sat it up for me to nurse her, but since there was no foot bar at the end, I had to struggle to keep myself from gradually sliding off. There was a tiny pillow -- covered in plastic -- that kept sliding down to make my back uncomfortable rather than supporting my head and neck. There was nowhere to put the baby except holding her up on my chest -- which made it even harder to breathe without coughing. I didn't want to cough because besides being incredibly painful body racking spasms, they disturb the baby. It's weird -- she can sleep through all sorts of noises without batting an eye -- but whenever someone coughs near her she startles and wakes up.

So at midnight, there I was, alone in the ER with my baby, struggling to stay on the bed, struggling to hold Elizabeth, struggling to stay awake so I wouldn't drop her on the floor, struggling to get any rest so I could keep going as long as they needed me to, aching everywhere, especially in my head, weak from hunger and fatigue, with my nerves frazzled from the stress, the baby's crying, and the constant alarms from the other ER beds. I was also feverish -- alternating between shivering with chills, and being literally dripping wet with sweat.

They finally took up up to the Ped's ward at about 12:30. Since I'm a nursing mother, and Elizabeth was admitted to the hospital, they had some food for me. I wolfed down a dry bologna sandwich, a banana, and some vegetable soup. There was a cot with a real mattress, sheets and blanket on it for me to sleep on, and a separate crib for the baby. I can't say I was comfortable that night -- I had the chills so bad that even a second blanket didn't keep me warm, and I was in a very odd semi-waking paranoid dream state for most of the night when I wasn't getting up to use the bathroom -- but it was a thousand times better than it could have been if we stayed in the ER.

The Ped's nurses had only one baby-distressing trick up their sleeves (though they did it three times over the course of the next day). It was called deep suction. Essentially they have a little tube that sucks all the snot out of baby's nose since she can't blow it herself. It sounds fine in theory, until they shove the tube DEEP into her nose, then keep pushing further till it goes down her throat and into her lungs. Elizabeth was not impressed with deep suction.

Peter came back from home, and the two of us sat there being miserable together as we waited for the test results. Every time the baby moved, one of the vital signs sensors would come loose, and the alarms would go off which wore on our illness-sharpened nerves like sandpaper. I got a plugged milk duct (which, by the way, is about twice as painful when you're super-sensitive and everything hurts already). Pumping did no good (it's also twice as painful when you're sick), but we eventually cleared it once Elizabeth woke up and deigned to suck a little. She didn't feel like drinking it all, so once the plug was out, she left me with milk literally spraying out all over everything.

When the Ped's doctor came in that afternoon and read the test results, she told us that it wasn't meningitis or pneumonia, but Influenza type A which may or may not have been covered by this year's flu shot if we had gotten one (which we hadn't). Elizabeth's fever had been gone for several hours without additional medicine, so the doctor said that she'd be happy to keep us at the hospital for a day or two if we thought we'd like that, but looking at us, she thought we'd rather go home and be miserable in our own beds. We jumped at the chance to get out of there, and so ended Elizabeth's worst day ever. I think that if you stacked up all the crying she's done in her whole life, and compare it to the amount and intensity of crying she did that day, it would be a pretty even balance.

Since we came home, Elizabeth seems to be doing pretty well. She wants to be held all the time, and doesn't eat very much at a time so she keeps waking up and crying for food. She makes all her hungry noises and faces, but then fights me and won't latch on, and/or only sucks for a minute before drifting off into a light doze again, waking up to cry if I put her down. This would be trying at the best of times, but when I feel so lousy I don't have the energy to take care of myself let alone a fussy baby, it's simply too much. After much soul wracking (am I a horrible mother for wishing my baby would go away and leave me alone?) I finally called somebody from church and had them take her for a couple of hours while I slept. (of course she slept the whole time for THEM).

I'm feeling a little better today, (which is why I finally have the energy to write this), but Peter's been sick for a week, and so it looks like we've got quite a slog ahead of us before we're through.


  1. Oh dear, that sounds positively MISERABLE. I am so sorry you went through that, and that you are still feeling sick. We will pray that you get better quickly.

  2. Urgh. So, so awful. I can't imagine. I hope everything is back to normal soon!

  3. You're not a horrible mom for wanting her to go away, so you can relax. Every mom goes through tough days and just wishes her kids would leave her alone. After that emotional day, you're entitled to rest.

    Next time she's sick, give a little baby tylenol first and give her a bath. When Peter gets home, make him give her a blessing..you too. Rest and love is the best medicine.