I remember being so sick multiple times as a child, always with the same ailment. Streptococcal pharyngitis, or strep throat, was the bane of my existence at those times. I would get it every three to six months from around age four until I was about ten, if my memory serves me right. I wonder now if they should have removed my tonsils, or if that would have made any difference at all. I remember laying on our couch, motionless except for the moments my mother made me drink something or get up to use the bathroom. I think she used these moments as an assessment tool to see if it was time to go to the ER. Luckily, we never had to go. I remember her best friend coming over and trying to comfort me, but it was just too painful to even tell her thank you. I remember laying in the back seat of our Ford Escort, dressed in layers and covered up, my head on a pillow, as my mom drove my oldest brother four hours away from our home back to college after Christmas break. I slept quite a bit on that trip, seeing Chicago only in an inverted view through the small window at my head as I lay there miserable, picturing my little antibodies fighting the strep. I had seen the cartoon depiction of the first time someone was treated for rabies or some such nonsense, and it showed white blood cells as white knights riding to fight the rabies virus. It stuck in my mind.
My poor mother couldn’t do anything to help me other than take me to the doctor and wait for the antibiotics to kick in. She was, still is, a very squeamish lady. Each illness I’m sure tested her and pushed her limits. Trips to the doctor were comical, now that I look back. At the time, each trip to see the doctor was a battle of wills. I had already had my throat swabbed so many times by the time I was five, that by age six I wasn’t having it. It was so painful, and I did not enjoy being gagged. The nurses would always try to do it as quick as possible, but the quick method was actually much more painful for me. I remember arguing with the nurse around age six or seven, telling her to give me the swab and a mirror and I would do it myself. My mom wasn’t even in the room by this point because as soon as they said strep test she looked like she was going to faint. The nurse finally compromised with me by letting me hold on to her hand as she did it. My mother rejoined me and we waited while they checked the swab, tears silently streaming down my face because I was again sick and I was so incredibly miserable. I never made noise when I cried. It used to bother my mother so much because she wouldn’t be able to tell I was crying unless she was looking at me. It’s not like I would tell her I was crying. What was the point? I was miserable and she couldn’t fix it. The test that day came back positive for strep, as it always did when I felt that way. Off to the pharmacy we would go. I learned to swallow pills at a fairly young age because I could not stand liquid medication. It wasn’t about taste for me; it was the texture. I generally gagged and threw up all the antibiotic on the first try. Another trial for my mother. I don’t remember her getting angry with me over this except for once, but that was probably because I was pushing the issue. I just wasn’t going to take it until I was good and ready. I didn’t usually draw lines in the sand with my mom. I loved her, and she was so good to me so I hated to disappoint her. When I was sick, though, all bets were off.
I remember when I was about nine years old, and we changed doctors for some reason. My mother took me to a doctor with a name I couldn’t even pronounce for a well visit. The well visit went just fine, except that I could not understand the man at all. He would speak to me, asking me a question, and I would look to my mother to translate before answering. He was obviously frustrated with me by the end of the appointment, but I had never once met anyone with an accent that couldn’t be classified as a Southern drawl. The next time we went, I was sick. I informed my mother I had strep again so she had made the appointment and we went. While we were there, the doctor said a lot of things I didn’t understand followed by two words that couldn’t have been more clear–strep test. I stopped him mid-stride toward the door by saying his name (with poor pronunciation, I’m sure). He turned and smiled at me, seemingly pleased that I was taking the direct approach in this visit. I very calmly informed him that I would not be allowing a strep test to be performed and that he should take my word for it that I had strep. He looked stunned. I feel bad for him looking back now. I’m not sure what I would have done in his shoes, but he stuttered for a moment before calmly bowing his head toward me in acknowledgement and leaving the room. His nurse returned a moment later with a prescription for antibiotics. I couldn’t believe my mother wasn’t angry with me for being so rude, but she seemed almost amused by me. Looking back, I’m sure she was trying her best not to laugh. She wasn’t any more eager to see them do a strep test than I was to receive a strep test.
All of these thoughts and memories are running through my mind tonight as I sit watch over my Eva. She is so very sick. She has a fever that has to be tackled with both acetaminophen and ibuprofen. She started feeling poorly last night just before bed. She declared that her throat hurt. There was no sign of a fever or runny nose, but her throat hurt enough that she asked for some medicine. Around six this morning, she woke me up by laying her head on my side. She didn’t even need to speak because I could feel the heat radiating off of her in waves. I told her to meet me in the kitchen, and off she went as I played turtle-on-its-back trying to get out of bed to follow her. In case you aren’t familiar with this game, it is a pastime enjoyed by pregnant women everywhere around the six month mark until the end of pregnancy. Eva paused on the way to the kitchen, finding her dinosaurs had made a mess (you can read about that here in case you are thoroughly confused). She giggled slightly and then made sure I saw them, too. We then continued to the kitchen where I took her temperature, which was at a horrible 103 degrees Fahrenheit, and promptly administered ibuprofen. She returned to snuggle with me in my room, which was fine by me because I wanted to keep an eye on her until her temperature started to come down. Then when her fever had only slightly reduced to 102.6 by 7:30 am, I gave her some acetaminophen as well.
I hate when Eva is so sick. She doesn’t get this sick very often, but when she does it just hurts my heart. My husband feels the same way. He was ready to stay home from work even though he knew I would be here with her. He even asked me if he needed to come home early. He worries about her, too, which makes me love him even more. Poor Eva laid on the couch all day, only moving when I made her for food or drink or bathroom, reminding me of the times that I felt the same way. She didn’t eat much, turning down my offer of ice cream even. She also said next year she would gladly get a flu shot if it meant she never felt this sick again. This is so huge for her because she takes after my mother–she is terribly squeamish and absolutely petrified of needles in any form. She squeals every time I check my blood sugar if she happens to be in the room. We have been able to keep her drinking and keep her peeing and keep all her medicine down to keep the fever controlled, so far (I am rapidly knocking on wood right now, as quietly as possible so I don’t wake her) with only one incident of vomiting. My fingers are crossed that this continues throughout the night.
Being the mom instead of the patient is quite different, for sure. But, being the mom to my little patient has sure made me so much more appreciative of my mom. She might have been squeamish, but she did the best she could for us. She loved us and it showed in everything she did. She was a stay at home mom, despite being a very capable and highly valued employee. I remember thinking with pride that my mom was good at her job, but she chose to stay with me instead. It wasn’t just me, it was my brothers, too, but we all know how self-centric the world seems at a young age. I’m so grateful to my dad for working so hard, so much to give me my mom all the time. It wasn’t easy for them, that is for sure. I remember several different periods of time in which we didn’t have a car except for the one my father used for work. I remember lean Christmases that probably made my mother cry, not that I would have ever seen it. I remember, too, that we never missed a meal. There might have been days or weeks or months that they worried about making a house payment or keeping the electric on, but I never would have known it by the way my mother acted. I wonder now how often my mother felt panic, not just about bills, but about all kinds of things, like when I was sick. She never let on, but I’m sure she panicked every once in a while when I was so so sick.
Earlier, after Eva had vomited, her fever seemed to take on a life of its own. It was obviously increasing. Her skin was mottled with angry red areas that looked closer to a sunburn than anything else. I knew I had to get some fluid in her quickly to get her fever down or else we would be on our way to the hospital. She hasn’t drank a lot today, so she didn’t have much to spare. All the liquid left that wasn’t accounted for had come back up when she threw up. So, with a lot of urging, I got her to drink quite a bit of water. She wasn’t the most willing patient ever, but she did it anyway. After five minutes, her temperature had not dropped. At the seven minute mark, it was still sitting around 103, but my mother’s touch knew it was higher than that. I knew we were approaching the 104 mark. I felt a bubble of panic start to well its way up as I continued to encourage her to drink, waiting for her temperature to start to decrease.
Just as I was about to call to my husband who was in the other room dealing with household chores I had ignored in favor of watching my patient closely, she began to itch. With the itching came an even more brilliant flush to her skin on her cheeks, neck, stomach and back. The panic then really and truly forced its way to the surface. I leaned over to touch her forehead as I opened my mouth to call to my husband. Before any sound filled my throat, though, I realized she actually felt cooler. Dare I say, she even felt a bit sweaty! I’m withholding my glee for now and replacing it with a wait and see attitude. Her little body appears to be adjusting its inflammatory response appropriately at the moment. All my prayers are up that it continues to do so.
My precious Eva is snoring away on the couch right now as I type this. Any variation in her breathing has me pausing to stare intently at her until her breathing returns to the natural rhythm of a sleeping child. I look at her, and I wonder about my mother who was my nurse for so many years. Did she know how miserable I was every time I had strep? I didn’t complain about it. I didn’t whine. At most, I would lay there silently crying when I thought no one was looking. Did she know? How did she manage to give me my space and allow me to deal with my illness in my own way? Did it bother her I didn’t reach out to her when I was sick? I guess I will have to ask her one of these days. How will I ever live up to the standard that she set for me as a mom? She had her flaws, for sure, as we all do. But she really did show us that she loved us in everything she did, even when she had to discipline us. I hope I can be as amazing. She carries on with her amazing-ness as a grandma even.
This evening, my mother stopped by with new markers and a coloring poster for Eva to work on as she convalesces. I had told my mother this morning about Eva’s illness, knowing she would be very sympathetic to “the girl”, as my parents call her. I used to be “the girl”, That had been my official title for most of my life. It is only fitting that this title was passed along to Eva shortly after she was born. Now, my parents call me mom. My mom also dropped off a card for me. I didn’t open it until she left, and I’m glad because it brought tears to my eyes. The card said that she is grateful that I share my life and my family with her and my father and that she can’t wait to meet my son once he is born and watch him grow. She said that looking at the woman and mother I have become makes her realize that all the dreams she had for me as a child are real and living in me right now. She said she was proud of me. Now, how do I tell her I am proud of her, too? She gave me every tool I needed to be a great mom. Anything I am is because of her. I hope now that someday Eva can say the same.
It’s time to check her temperature again. Fingers crossed she sleeps right through.