A few years ago, my son Sebastian caught meningitis.
It was a scary afternoon.
He’d complained of his back hurting which is a strange thing for a three year old to complain of; he also was acting uncharacteristically clingy.
He wanted to sit on my lap, only mine, and the only time he showed any kind of fight or energy was when his position there was threatened.
I was concerned but not unduly so.
At this age, fevers and pains were occurring frequently.
But I must have been more than usually attentive because when I took him out in the car, he turned his head away from the light. I knew immediately this was a sign of meningitis because I’d just looked it up in a book.
I took him to the hospital round the corner from our house instead of the famous children’s hospital twenty minutes away because I knew we needed care asap.
Initially we were told to wait in the waiting room but as I walked away, I saw a doctor move over and whisper in the receptionist’s ear.
Immediately we sat down we were on the move again, to a room that had it’s own closed circuit air-conditioning system. Meningitis is highly infectious and rooms like this are used for patients with such diseases to prevent them being spread around a hospital.
This was not looking good.
I learned that afternoon the hospital we were at didn’t have a pediatric department. Who knew? But if I hadn’t been told that, it would have been evident from the bedside manner of the attending ER doctor. ‘The last child that presented like this. Died.’
The experience was all the more anxiety-producing and poignant because my friend’s son had died just three weeks before. With the doctor’s words, the thought that I might be joining my friend in some kind of desperate mother’s club became all the more real.
I wondered if I too would be shortly planning my son’s funeral. Or that I would be leaving the hospital without him for ever, like she had.
I remember looking at his beautiful sleeping face, flushed with fever, and trying so hard to imprint it on my memory as I wondered if it would become one of my last memories of him.
A lumbar puncture confirmed the diagnosis.
No-one was allowed in or out of the room including our other son. It was me and limited medical staff only.
An ambulance arrived to transfer him to the children’s hospital I had decided against earlier. Two paramedics and two pediatric ICU nurses came for him.
The level of attention was such that I had to travel in a car behind.
In my anxiety and confusion I turned the wrong way out of the hospital parking lot and lost sight of the ambulance. I risked losing my license for ever as I raced to catch up with it.
I expect that nothing in my life will surpass the surreality of chasing the ambulance that contained my child.