It is 3:37 a.m. and I am holding my five-year-old in my lap in the dark of the living room. He is shirtless and shaking. His birdwing shoulder blades rub together when he signs “more” to my tuneless song. It is Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” in the off-key of half-sleep. But it makes him smile, which is all I need at the moment to keep me from dialing our pediatrician’s emergency line.
His bare feet tap my shins in steady rhythm. It would be sweet if I didn’t know it was from the tremors.
“Please, God, please don’t let this be the flu,” I think, while he coughs a phlegmy old-man cough.
Just last week, a 33-year-old man in my town died from the flu. If it can take down an adult, what would it do to my child, my incredibly susceptive boy with cerebral palsy who still puts everything he gets his hands on into his mouth?
I stop singing.
He stills on my chest, sucking on the corner of his blanket when my husband pads in from the kitchen with the Motrin. Together we sit him up like we are righting a chair. But luckily, he takes it all and some water. And then we move to our bedroom. I cannot bear to leave him in his own bed, even with the baby monitor.
There has been no vomiting or diarrhea, two things I’ve read most often present in cases of the flu in children. Notice, I say, “I’ve read,” because, of course, I got on Google when I first noticed his shakiness and increased startle reflex as I was putting him in his pajamas. I had already heard the news of the 33-year-old. He had a young son, and I wonder if the boy is okay.
It was on Facebook that things took a downward spiral, and I think about that now with his hot body next to mine. Comments from other moms whose kids have had it run through my head like ticker tape:
-Get him to the doctor now and get Tamiflu. It only works in the FIRST 24 HRS!
-Don’t give Tamiflu! It made my daughter immediately start vomiting and dehydrated her!
-My son had type-A and they sent us home with antibiotics and a breathing treatment. Get a nebulizer!
– All three of ours got their flu shot and still tested positive!
-Don’t let it get too far. You’re just waiting for pneumonia to set in.
-Don’t go to the doctor! They’ll just send you home and say treat the symptoms.
-All the walk-in clinics in our area are out of the flu test!
-If your child has trouble breathing go immediately to urgent care!
All that information flooded the system and paralyzed me. Now, at 4:40 a.m. — not even close to the pediatrician’s office hours — I have no idea what to do.
But I have been here before. We’ve ridden ambulances and been intubated and extubated and his spine has been tapped and we’ve had EKGs and EEGs and all the other Es and Gs, and it has been three years since his last seizure, but still I do not breathe or blink much when he has a fever. This is my sickness status quo.
But, as I think back over all those comments and what I’ve heard in the pickup line at school and on the news, I realize that everyone else has now reached my level of panic. The urgent FB posts (everything ending in exclamation points, because how can we not?) and the mini hand sanitizers in pockets and the wet wipes at the ready and the constant Googling are signs that the world is feeling what I always feel: low-grade panic at the sight of a potentially sick kid.
It is terrifying to watch your child go through something that you can only ameliorate, but not cure. The waiting game is torture. The guessing game is worse. This is not new to me. But as I check the clock for the fortieth time and test his temperature with a kiss to his forehead, I realize that for once I am not alone. I am one of the many worried parents waiting for their child to look at them with clear eyes again.