A few months ago, which seems like a few years ago, I was trying my damndest to get Sophie well from some virus that desperately clung to her like one of those creepy boyfriends we’ve all had. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Steve.) She’d been sick with something or other pretty much all winter, which I was trying not to take personally, even though in Boulder, that’s almost impossible. When learning that a family has fallen prey to cold and flu season, it’s not just customary—it’s mandatory—to ask the mother if she’s fed her family anything but organic vegetables, or to blame gluten, sugar, artificial colors, or hand sanitizer. And if the mother had committed to breastfeeding longer, her children wouldn't get sick in the first place. Yes, mea culpa on making sensitive, deeply personal decisions, like weaning Sophie a month, a day, a year longer than someone else thinks I should have. (Like sometime before she started shaving her legs and bringing home calculus homework, for example.)
And while Sophie was entering the third or fourth day of viral symptoms, I slogged inside our nearest drugstore with my clammy, whining toddler draped over my shoulder for an over-the-counter medication we use when things go south. The woman at the counter looked at me as if I had just asked for cyanide. “We don’t carry it,” she eyed me, “people overdose their kids with it.” I’d been fetching juice, laundering the vomit out of everything we own, and watching Blue’s Clues for 48 hours straight, and it took herculean restraint not to overdose that woman’s face with my fist.
This illness, at first, wasn’t anything that I hadn’t endured before, and I had to be grateful that we’d moved away from Vail, where I didn’t know anyone who could help me while Alex was away, and where the physicians were more like EMTs in really expensive shoes. It was during that winter we spent in Vail that I invented a system of helping nurses and doctors triage their pediatric patients in the waiting room just by looking at the kind of shape their mothers were in. When Sophie was on the well side, I looked like a regular mom who could have used some highlights and a breath mint, but was otherwise holding it together OK. When she got really sick, and when her fever rose to 104.5 the minute her medication wore off, I looked a lot like Nick Nolte’s mug shot from 2002.
Living in a real place, where my parents can help me when things get really bad, and the doctors know how to do other things besides treat ski injuries, I felt a little better. Then on the night of February 5th, after we’d seen Sophie’s pediatrician, and were taking a new round of antibiotics, I looked at Sophie and didn't like how she was doing. I couldn't put my finger on it, but something told me things were bad, and were going to get worse. With my spidey sense tingling, I paged the on-call doctor, and got a phone triage nurse at Children’s Hospital. “What you’ve just described to me constitutes a 911 call. How does she look?”
“Like shit actually,” I said. I hung up, and packed us all into the car. I didn’t bother changing my clothes; despite the weather, I didn’t even put on a coat. I headed for the emergency room without passing go or collecting two hundred dollars.
Stay tuned for the continuation of Winter Time Warp: How a Virus Turned February Turned Into April, coming soon.