Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why We Appreciate Ordinary Days

I can't figure out where to start. I keep typing and deleting, trying to find the place to tell you about our scary hospital visit, which are filed in the annals of "worst days of my life." I cannot find an easy way in, so I'll just jump.

Hadley had been sick with a cold for a couple of weeks when Jason left town last Wednesday afternoon. He had meetings in Orlando until Saturday night. I hate when he leaves, but now that I'm not working full-time, it's much easier to be a single mommy for a few days.

Thursday night, Hadley was up four or five times, crying out in her sleep and rolling around in her crib. I broke the cardinal sleeping rule and tucked her in bed with me around 5:30 Friday morning. We both slept a few more hours.

When she woke up, she was weepy. She kept saying, "Mommy, mommy, hold you." Hadley is usually Captain Action in the mornings--barely stopping to eat breakfast--but Friday morning, she was clingy and lethargic and pale. She had a 102-degree fever. I took her to the doctor's office in the afternoon, and the doc said all of Hadley's symptoms were consistent with an ear infection, but her eyes weren't infected. Her diagnosis: another virus.

By Saturday morning, the right side of Hadley's face was puffy. I thought she had slept strangely, but when the puffiness wasn't better after her nap, I called the pediatrician. I remember thinking, "This is probably nothing. I'm sure she'll tell me it's nothing."

Instead, the doctor asked me a few questions and then said, "I don't want to scare you, but you need to get Hadley to the ER. What you're describing sounds consistent with a skin infection around her eye and in her cheek, and depending on the type of bacteria, it could spread very fast."

Still, I didn't panic. I thought, "Okay, well, it'll be good for someone to examine her."

As we drove to the hospital, I started to wish there was some way to let Hadley know what was coming--that it wouldn't be fun, but that it would be all right. We barely walked through the ER doors when Hadley began to cry. My mom and dad met us there, and I remember thinking, "Oh, this is probably overkill. Certainly we don't need three adults for one child." Silly me.

The next four hours were awful. The ER pediatrician was good, but the first nurse assigned to us was a gruff, miserable woman who didn't know a thing about children. She spent 45 minutes prepping to draw Hadley's blood--touching her arm, wrapping the board they used to keep Hadley's arm straight, putting needles and other medical supplies on the bed beside us--it was enough to freak out even a grown-up. Hadley was completely overwrought; all she could do was cry and scream, "Mommy! Mommy!"

Cue Mumsie and Granddaddy. When the nurse pulled Hadley out of my arms (after I asked her if she could please hurry up finding a vein, as she was really upsetting Hadley), they hopped up and found the doctor as I grabbed Hadley back from the nurse. Another nurse came in and gently dismissed Attila the Hun. But the damage was done. Hadley was a wreck, and I could actually feel my heart shattering into dozens of splinters.

The only thing that seemed to make Hadley feel better was hearing me sing, so I sang. She likes a song she calls "Chicken." It's actually "The Riddle Song" and dates back to the 15th century. Anyway, there's a line in it that says, "The story that I love you, it has no end," and I couldn't sing it. Every time I tried, I started to cry. And then Hadley would ask for the chicken song again, and I'd try once more.

The second nurse managed to draw Hadley's blood; we waited an hour for the results, which showed that she did, in fact, have an infection. The doc gave her IV antibiotics and released us with instructions to bring her back on Sunday so they could test her blood again to see if the antibiotics worked.

Just as we were ending our visit, Jason called to let me know that he had landed. "We're fine," I said. "But we're in the ER." I could hear him take a deep breath. Even though I told him to drive carefully, he was home in record time.

We had a fitful night; Hadley slept in our bed with me, waking up every three hours crying and saying her face hurt, or just pleading with me: "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy." I held her for hours that night, praying that the medicine would work, praying against the fear she would feel on Sunday when we schlepped her back to the hospital for more tests.

Jason and I decided to take her back to the ER after her nap on Sunday to give her a little time to play at home and relax. I'm glad we waited, even though I was so tense at the thought of subjecting her to more needles and scary strangers, I could barely breathe. I tried to nap while she napped, but all I could think about was holding her as she screamed while the nurses pricked her arm. Did she think I let them hurt her? Did she wonder why her mommy would let anyone hurt her? Would she trust me ever again?

She began crying before we even pulled up to the hospital. How do parents of chronically ill children manage without just falling over from broken hearts? I hope I never know. But even though I wanted to cry and grab Hadley and run home, I didn't. I scooped her up and marched into the ER.

The second round of blood tests showed that Hadley's infection hadn't changed much. I remember when the ER doc walked into our little room and said, "I think it would be best to admit her, so we can administer a stronger antibiotic via IV." Admit her? I thought. Does she mean we have to stay here? Immediately, I ached for home--for our little house where we play and sing and take baths and give hugs and laugh. I really had to fight the impulse to take Hadley and run.

They moved us to a room in the children's wing. Hadley was clearly puzzled, but as long as Jason and I were there, she seemed willing to accept that she had to stay--or maybe she was too tired to care. Hadley and I snuggled into bed with an IV drip attached to her arm, and Jason slept on the other twin bed. Hadley slept. I think I was awake all night. The nurse came in every two or three hours to check the IV, take Hadley's temperature, or reload the antibiotics. I was so worried about making sure Hadley slept, I couldn't relax.

I watched her sleep. She laid there, and I cried, wondering what she must think, trusting her daddy and me to make the right decisions, even though we know nothing. Parenting is a crazy paradigm: All we have is some common sense and this knock-the-wind-out-of-us love for Hadley. I know a whole lot more about Shakespeare and French geography and English grammar and contemporary art than I do about being a mom. And yet none of those things matters a whit compared to how much Hadley matters to me.

Nobody teaches you what to do if your child comes down with cellulitis. Nobody tells you how to prepare her for the moment you drag her into the ER and strange people touch her in white-sterile rooms while her mama tries to sing her favorite chicken song. So I just watched her sleep and touched her forehead and tried to think about happy days.

In the morning, we saw Hadley's pediatrician, who said he was planning to call the infectious disease specialist at the children's hospital. He seemed to think it was possible we'd head home at the end of the day if Hadley's next round of blood work showed signs of improvement. I was hopeful.

Another round of blood tests, another round of holding my screaming, kicking, panicked child while strangers drew her blood. But then we pretty much hung out in the hospital room, Hadley eating popsicles and watching Elmo, me wandering around the ward in my pajama pants and unwashed hair. Not my finest hour, but who cared? Not me.

Hadley and I snuggled in for a nap around 12:30 (after our dear friends Lauren and Jenny came for a visit--bless them!), and by the time we woke up a couple of hours later, Jason had good news: The doc said her blood tests showed enough positive signs that we could go home at the end of the day.

Just then, I started breathing again.

Around 6:30 Monday night, as we pulled away from the hospital, Hadley said very quietly, "Thank you, doctors." I don't know if she was thanking them for curing her or for letting her go home, but I almost cried hearing her tiny voice acknowledge some measure of what we had been through.

We came home to a clean house, thanks to Mumsie and Granddaddy. We all had clean sheets; Hadley had a totally clean crib; her toys were cleaned, and Granddaddy even ironed a fresh tablecloth for our dining table. Hadley was thrilled and exhausted. Check that. We were ALL thrilled and exhausted.

A week ago, we were in a hospital room. Tonight, we have a healthy baby asleep in her crib. I've even finished almost all of the laundry. I couldn't see beyond the next hour a week ago, and tonight, we're looking forward to a week of zoo visits, book reading, music classes, and even some mundane stuff, like dish washing and dinner making and floor sweeping. And we'll do those things gladly, realizing that it's a blessing to have days that are not notable, except for the fact that we share them with Hadley.


  1. Oh Hilary, I'm so sorry this happened, but I'm so glad Hadley is OK. I can't believe she said, "Thank you, doctors." That just blows my mind. That is some little girl you have.

  2. Hilary, I know this blog was not easy for you to write, but you have let your readers know ( as I already knew ) what an amazing mommy you are! You were at Hadley's side and she knew "mommy" was there, holding her, comforting her, singing to her, loving her, and telling her everything was going to be okay. It is not easy being a mommy or a daddy, and there is no handbook to guide us. I believe we must draw from our inner strengths, and those strengths come to us every day, no matter what the situation may be. And the most difficult is when our child is ill. I prayed for Hadley to be well, and my prayers were answered. I asked God to guide her doctors and to do what would make Hadley better, but most of all, I thanked God that you were by her side, and that Jason was there when he got home, as that was the best medicine Hadley could have. Her mommy and daddy there, comforting her and loving her, not only then, but every day! I love you all! And I love the beautiful smile of our sweet Hadley with her butterfly headband :-)

  3. This was a great post Hilary. Definitely scary for all of us, but thank GOD our sweet Hadley is back to being her self again. We love you all and she is SO lucky to have you as her mama, and Jason as her daddy. Love you guys!