A Child’s Meningitis And A Mother’s Dilemma Pt II


Sebastian had contracted meningitis but when we got to the children’s hospital, the efficient, competent but caring staff made me feel safer.

I had hope the situation would resolve positively even if it took some time. I resolved whatever I had to do, I would do.

Most children who catch meningitis are babies or older children.

Sebastian, at three, was a unusual case and scrutinized intensely by the students of this university hospital.

A constant stream of doctors from juniors to the heads of departments came by in their fancy dress to investigate this medical curiosity who could articulate his serious symptoms while incongruously staring at the Wiggles singing “Fruit Salad” on the TV screen above his head.

We answered the same questions over and over in a way that made us feel the center of attention.

If, for all the wrong, undesirable reasons.

From the moment of diagnosis, Sebastian had been tied to his bed by an IV pole weighed down by antibiotics.

The medicine was essential to control the infection, seizures and brain swelling being the immediate concerns. Before one bag had emptied into his arm, it was necessary to rig up another.

But the process of getting the needle into his small body was excruciating.

He was a little guy, his veins were tiny and rarely were pediatric IV teams available at just the time we needed them.

Repeatedly it was necessary to find a new insertion site. By nurses who were only slightly more experienced than I was.

And that was torture.

Two nurses would come in, one to hold his arm, the other to insert the needle and Sebastian very quickly sussed the preliminaries of laying out the apparatus were followed by pain.

He would start to panic.

He would shout ‘I want to go home, NOW!’ at the top of his voice as he started to kick and flail.

I was given the choice of leaving the room, standing back and watching, or help restrain him by holding him down to make the process go quicker.

I chose to hold him down.

I cringe at the memory as I write that. I still don’t know if I did the right thing.

I would wrestle to keep him still while they found, and then aimed for, a vein.

I would beg him to stop screaming as I leaned over and used the weight of my body to prevent him from moving while I pressed my face into the bed sobbing as we endeavored to give him the medication that could save his life.

In total, he was stuck with a needle eighteen times over the three days he was in hospital.

It was a miserable, depressing, exhausting experience.

He was a child too old to be unaware of my role and yet not old enough to understand why I was playing it.

But sometimes there is no good answer.

You have to play the best of the hand you’ve been dealt.

I felt sure Sebastian would hold it against me at some primal level for the rest of his life.

And I felt an absolute bitch of a mother.

At the end of one day, I sat in the window seat some feet from where he lay on bed arrest. He looked over and told me in his three-year-old language that he wanted to be with me.

A nurse helped bring him and his IV pole over so he could sit on my lap. He wanted me to read him a Dora The Explorer book.

Six times.

On the seventh, he told me to stop. Made me put the book down and wiggled around so that we were chest to chest. He put his head on my shoulder. Took a deep sigh.

And went. To. Sleep.

I was forgiven.

For all the pain I had caused. The fear I had incited. The betrayal I had inflicted.

We sat there like that for hours, the room getting darker and darker. I was loathe to put him down.

I never felt more necessary. More pivotal. More secure. More sure of myself and my place in the world.

I relaxed completely.

I drank it all in. I knew I was experiencing something profound.

Those few days in the hospital were among the most difficult of my life.

But they also contained moments of such intense closeness and healing it seemed the whole experience was almost worth it.

Sebastian has no conscious memory of this time.

And I like to think that along with the illness it has been wiped completely from his being.

But if that’s not true, and he does remember at some deep level the pain, the ‘torture’ and fear, I hope he also has some memory of the forgiveness and the trust he placed in me.

And I hope, ultimately, I delivered.

Read Part I here.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Natalie December 2, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Amazing story! Shared on Facebook. I can’t imagine what you went through. Not even one small portion of it since I don’t have kids. But I kept thinking about your other alternatives — standing back to watch or leaving the room — and how that would’ve been much more guilt-producing in my opinion. At least when you held him you could talk to him and soothe him and not let him think you had abandoned him to these unknown people to accost him. Just touching him, especially at that age, was probably more comforting to him than anything else, even if he couldn’t understand it. His hugging you probably was his way of acknowledging that you helped save him. I hope you’ve forgiven yourself and even maybe congratulated yourself on making (what I feel, at least) was the most loving choice in a horrible situation.


Alison Golden December 2, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Thank you, Natalie. Although you don’t have children, you understand perfectly 🙂


Galit Breen
December 3, 2010 at 12:02 pm

oh allison, this was a gorgeous, scary read. thank you for sharing it. i can only imagine how painful it was to read! i’m all sorts of goose-bumpy and teary-eyed from the post-dora-falling asleep on you. you’re an amazing mama and he’s lucky to have you!


Alison Golden December 3, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Thanks, Galit! I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂


Mary E. Ulrich
December 3, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Alison, of course you “delivered”. And you are “delivering” again as you talk about the memory. Sebastian knew he was loved and he knew you were there to protect him. All the rest was just “stuff” that needed to get done.

What a horrible situation. I’m thinking today they would have one of those tubes in his vein that can be reused and hopefully parents aren’t in that situation.

It’s hard to know why they didn’t have the tiny needles for a 3 year old. I had a friend who had a similar situation with her daughter. After the 4th nurse tried to find her tiny vein–my friend yelled at the doctor, “Where did you get your training–Auschwich?” After that they got more of the tiny needles.

Mothers just have to do what they have to do. Good for you for sticking by your son and advocating for him.

Someday Sebestain will be a parent and will probably have to hold his child down for some sort of medical something or other. Parents have tough jobs.
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Alison Golden December 3, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Ha! Mary, that was a good comment by your friend. I *totally* understand why she said that. In the end when I saw one particularly inept nurse come through the door, who kept missing the vein but wouldn’t stand aside and let someone else have a go, I barred her way to the bed. I was soooo glad when her shift was over.


Gary Jordon December 4, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Allison I don’t get something. If that was a children’s Hospital why on earth did they not have pediatric equipment? Another thing why were they so inept??

Now I can see the marvel of something like that. I can see why so many doctors and heads of departments were eager to learn. That’s cool.

My mom told me years ago that when I was a baby I had an a rare abnormal heart condition. She informs me that they even had me in the lecture halls as a case specimen.

I can’t imagine what Sebastian must have felt for I was always a trooper at medical stuff. I never cried and carried on for the numerous blood tests and shots. When I was a little older I never understood the primal fear of the other children when I was waiting to get blood drawn. I just watched them in total fascination.

All the same my heart goes out to both of you what an ordeal and I’m happy he has forgiven you.

May both you and Sebastian Have a very peaceful day.


December 7, 2010 at 1:15 pm

When my son was 13 months he contracted the Rotavirus and ended up becoming dehydrated. Consequently he had to hospitalized and given an IV.

Since he was so little they had to strap his leg to a board so that he wouldn’t take out the IV. It was really hard to see, so I can only imagine what you went through.
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Alison Golden December 8, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Thank you, Jack. I hope your son is fine now.


Patsy June 21, 2011 at 5:11 am

My grandson had meningitis when he was 7 months old. His twin sister didn’t get it. They managed the IV in his hand, but had it all strapped inside a glove like thing. He enjoyed ‘playing’ with the oximeter


Alison Golden July 7, 2011 at 3:08 pm

He was lucky Patsy. I hope he came through unscathed.


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