…or year… or life. Or maybe it just feels that way.
Sometimes when everything seems to be going wrong, and you think “at least it can’t get much worse” – that’s when life winds up and punches you. Right in the throat.
So there you are. Gasping. Stumbling. Grabbing at everything, anything you can touch. Mind spinning. Thinking… what the actual hell?
All the other people in the room seem to be breathing without any thought at all. Like it’s easy. Like they’re entitled to it.
Our reality took a turn for the laughably pathetic last week. While my daughter was in Children’s Hospital for the week, receiving a particularly nasty round of chemo, and in isolation (because of course she had a miserable cold on top of everything else), her Dad took a shift sleeping over, so that I could see my other kids and my Dad (who’d come to help out at the last minute). But mostly so I could sleep at home, in a bed – a special gift I’ve learned to cherish at this point in our journey.
I was buzzing around, tidying up, while my freshly-washed, pajama-clad boy stalled bedtime with a cookie treat. He’s easily distracted, and doesn’t always remember to chew, and on this night, he also had a miserable cough due to cold. You can see where I’m going with this? It wasn’t the first time. Probably won’t be the last.
Which was why I was pretty calm when I first noticed him choking and sputtering. “Here we go,” I thought, as he coughed up cookie pieces and mucous, then cried and vomited in my arms. I gave him both puffers. It didn’t help. He began itching at his throat and his feet, hives spreading faster and faster. That was new.
At this point I’d recruited my Dad to drive us to the ER; my daughter to fetch a new bucket and my purse. Still calm. Still old territory for us. He was still talking, as only my little chatterbox can manage while still coughing and puking.
I crouched by his seat all the way to the hospital, Mommy-auto-pilot fully engaged – first aid edition. I sent my Dad home, sure we were in for a long wait and the usual procedures. As I walked through the door I noticed he was working hard to breathe. Not good.
I interrupted the receptionist. “He’s having trouble breathing!” While he dry heaved in my arms, I juggled a bucket and purse and an increasingly heavy 4-year-old.
She used her calm, customer service voice on me, informing me that I would need to find his health care card while she finished helping the couple at the desk. The volunteer guarding the door chastised me for jumping the line. “These people were here first.”
Does no one hear my panic and repeated “He’s having trouble breathing!” – anyone?
He goes limp in my arms. I can’t wake him up. He’s still breathing, but it’s shallow.
The triage nurse calmly waves me over to another desk, pulling out the O2 sat monitor. “He’s having trouble breathing. He’s choking. He has hives…” I must have explained. I can’t remember it now.
She sprang into action after the clip took it’s reading. Waving us through. Bringing another nurse to our side.
Now there’s a bed. Now there are people everywhere. Hands and equipment and tubes everywhere. I’m surprised that they don’t push me out of the way. I’m stunned by how quiet my busy little boy is. Barely conscious.
“Is he normally this subdued?” they ask. I’m completely panicked by this question. There’s no way he’d lay quietly for any of this poking and prodding. Now he’s passed out entirely.
One of the nurses calls for someone to “bring the peds crash cart – right now!”
And that’s when the world stopped.
It must have sputtered back into existence at some point, a blur of tears and questions and steadily beeping machines. He starts fighting back, pushing the mask off his face and protesting over the IV in his hand. What a lovely sound that unhappy shriek is to my ears! I hold him as close to me as I can with all the tubes and wires and nurses in our way.
At some point they bring me a chair, which I ignore, climbing onto the very edge of the bed with him. I text my husband, “he’s okay” – not yet ready to explain how very close we came to not-okay. They’ve pumped him full of meds and oxygen, and are monitoring him closely.
The doctor comes to explain that they will be admitting him to hospital now. I ask if we can be transferred to Children’s Hospital, where his sister is already a patient. She looks at me like I must be joking. It’s only a few hours before April Fools Day, after all.
It did feel like a terribly cruel joke.
We got to ride in an ambulance. Though he could barely breathe, the boy thought this was pretty exciting. He was also thrilled when he recognized the ‘big hospital’ which has always been a lot of fun for him to visit. Not at all happy when he realized he would not be going home and that, yes, they were going to keep this needle in his right hand and the uncomfortable prongs taped into his nose.
For two days we had both littles and both parents on the same floor of the hospital. Thank God, repeatedly, that Grandpa was back at home to take care of the teen contingent.
It took them longer than expected to wean him off of oxygen, but once they did he bounced right back. His sister was discharged the day after he was.
We’ll be back again next week.
None of this is actually happening to me. Not really. But I’m gasping all the same.
So here’s us, where we don’t take our next breath for granted.