Turns out, the universe was listening last week when I suggested it’s impossible always to protect your child. Especially when he is 26 and presumably the captain of his own ship—and he lives in Tennessee and you live way up in Vermont. Five o’clock a.m. on Wednesday came the messages, one after another, lighting up my phone: Mom, I’ve been vomiting for hours. I have diarrhea. I think I need to go to the ER.
A little history: my kid learned to fake illnesses early as a way to get out of unpleasantness, mainly going to school. When you behave that way habitually, of course, people naturally stop taking you seriously—even your parents, or maybe especially your parents.
The ER is expensive. I’m thinking, wait it out: go see your doctor when the office opens, just a few hours from now. And by the way, is your dad aware of what’s going on? It’s what I texted back to him.
A few short hours later he was in the back of an ambulance his doctor ordered, on the way to the emergency room at the University of Tennessee Hospital, the same hospital where he was born. His dad had driven him to his doctor’s appointment, unaware his condition had deteriorated so rapidly that his organs were shutting down; he didn’t know the ambulance waiting outside in the doctor’s parking lot was for our kid, who quipped to his dad as they rolled him outside on the gurney, Told ya.
I felt bad, but at the time thought he was simply dehydrated and calling the ambulance was a precautionary measure, that he’d get saline in the ER, maybe some other meds, and be sent on his way in due course. Many hours later, he was admitted for sepsis and acute renal failure. We damn near lost him, in the very place he came into this world.
The source of the sickness was a food-borne pathogen, as yet unidentified, but probably introduced to my kid’s gut after he ate tainted meatball soup he ordered at a popular suburban restaurant. He’d ordered the soup for lunch on Tuesday, and about twelve hours later, just after midnight, started feeling bad. Yep, Chef David suggested, that’s about perfect timing for food poisoning.
The hospital kept him ‘til late in the day Friday; after a dozen or so bags of IV solution and strong intravenous antibiotics, the doctor sent him home with a handful of prescriptions and a list of instructions. Two days later and he’s eating solid food and looking so much better; he caught a head cold along the way, and it will be a while longer until he is completely better. But he is alive, and I am so grateful.
This weekend I took a giant step back, slept in, ignored some of things I routinely do on weekends. Yesterday I completely forgot about this new writing project I’ve undertaken, skipped it altogether. Today I slept in again, skipped church, and when the temperature climbed into the 50s, put Scout in the car and drove out to the country for a long run. As I explained to somebody yesterday, last week was a grind: I powered through my assignments at work (actually happy to have them to distract me some from what was going on down in Knoxville while I waited for news), didn’t sleep until Friday night, and then on Saturday was completely exhausted as the seriousness of the situation, what might have been the outcome, fully dawned on me.
I’m grateful to my ex for doing the heavy lifting, wish I could have been there to hold my boy’s hand when he was terrified in the hospital. I still couldn’t protect him, though. Funny thing about him: he’s always been risk averse—wasn’t the kid who climbed trees or popped wheelies on his bicycle or tried to see how long he could hold his breath under water—but the instant he started driving, was drawn like a magnet to fast cars and speed behind the wheel. As I mentioned to a friend yesterday, I always assumed if something killed my kid prematurely, it would be car related (even though he’s an expert, has even had professional training)—it’s the speed that has always worried me, even in scenarios where it’s sanctioned. In the last few years, he has mellowed some, slowed down, grown up. Ironic then that something you need a microscope to see is the thing that in fact just about killed him.
Meanwhile at home, Chef David stepped up to the plate all week long to take care of business, knowing I was wringing my hands and waiting for important calls and texts and updates. He has prepared beautiful dinners, fed Scout, and offered me the space I needed to deal with the situation as it unfolded. I’m so lucky to have this generous, reassuring, and loving spirit in my life.
Tonight, there is so much to be grateful for. Hold your children close to your heart; hug them tight if you can.