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.
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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