Okay. Writing about this.
Harrowing. Harrow: To draw a plough or rake over land. I have been harrowed, this week.
Isaac’s sickness took the wind out of me in a way that nothing has in a long while. For a few days there, I could just barely hold on to peace and I didn’t have my writer self with me. I was so afraid that I couldn’t even be an observer to my fear—I could only live in it and hold onto Isaac and pray the shortest, most desperate prayers. He’s better now, so much better that I feel as light as air, as though joy will send me over the mountains.
This is how it went.
Last week he had a fever for a couple days— we kept it down with tylenol and waited, but the fever continued. On Saturday I came into Chiang Mai to attend a book group meeting that I’ve gone to a couple of times. As I was getting ready to leave home, I asked Chinua if he thought I should still go, since Isaac still wasn’t getting better.
“If anything,” he said, “It will be good for you to be in Chiang Mai with him so sick.” He meant that we can’t really trust our little country hospital with sickness. Stitches, sure. But sickness, no.
I got on the bus, I went to the book group, and then I went to stay at my friend’s house for the night. That’s when things got weird. Isaac was still feverish and he started to cry in pain. His stomach was really hurting him. I remembered I had eaten a spicy curry the night before. “Stupid me,” I thought. “Will I never learn?”
We didn’t sleep much during the actual night. I walked him and held him and tried to make him feel better. In the morning, I waited for the spicy curry milk symptoms to wear off, but they didn’t. And so we came to the hospital.
Isaac had an x-ray, since my first question was whether he had a foreign object in his belly. No foreign object, but there seemed to be a blockage. He had an ultrasound, and then he had a CT scan. All of them felt so strange to do with a nearly eight-month-old, especially since he had to be sedated for the ultrasound and CT scan. He went into that big round machine, this little tiny baby with his arms up by his head. The tests were a blur of exhaustion for me, since I hadn’t slept much the night before. I was worried. I walked him and held him in that clinic for six hours, waiting between tests. Finally, they decided to admit him. The scans showed a lot of swelling and turbidity in his intestines, and the worry was that it was a kink, which would require surgery.
We were admitted and Isaac was put on an IV drip with antibiotics and fluids because he was dehydrated and it was clear from his blood tests that he had an infection. We found out that night that there was no kink in his intestine, and I tried to finally settle down for sleep at around midnight. That night I was up every hour with as the nurses took his temperature, did blood and urine tests, and tried to get him to take medicine. (He has become very skilled at gritting his little gums, and then refusing to swallow when the medicine is in his mouth, which doesn’t help him at all. If he doesn’t like the taste, he should swallow it! But he doesn’t know this, so his little act of defiance is to hold it in his mouth. The darling.)
The next day was very, very difficult. He had been fatigued and feverish the day before, but I thought that he would respond to the antibiotics more quickly than he did. All day he was weak and unlike himself completely, not really connecting or making eye contact, and sleeping all day. When he woke up, he only moaned and whined. His stomach was swelling and his face was swelling too, later in the day, and that night I tried to ask if I could speak to the doctor about the swelling, but he was busy and I didn’t understand what the nurses were telling me. I started crying. I called one of my friends in Pai to translate for me, and then called another one to translate more. I was so scared that I was shaking. All day, waves of fear had been washing over me, and it felt like they were electrifying my body. I was shaking with adrenaline and the need to protect my baby and I didn’t know how to do it. What the nurses were telling me was that the doctor was in the clinic so he couldn’t come, but if I was so scared I could come to see him in the clinic, one floor down. So we did another blood test, and then we went down to the clinic, me following the nurses who held my baby and pushed his IV trolley. I cried the whole way, I couldn’t help it, and under everything else I realized that once again, I was “that girl,” the one losing it in a public place, in a hospital, the foreigner who doesn’t understand what is going on. The girl with the swollen eyes, pacing back and forth.
The doctor explained that the swelling happens sometimes when IV fluids are high, and that they had given him quite a lot because of his dehydration.
“But he’s going to be okay?” I asked. That’s all I really wanted to know, you know.
“I’m concerned about the swelling that is still in his abdomen,” he said.
“But he’s going to be okay?”
I think all doctors should realize that parents have an instinct that makes us visualize danger to our children as a very real and sudden thing that can pluck them out of this world without warning. When Kai was born, the world shifted, and suddenly a sidewalk was dangerous. Taking the underground train in San Francisco was torturous, with all the possibilities of death and injury. The doctor was telling me that the infection was strong, and it was going to take a long time to deal with it, or at least that’s what he thought he was telling me. What I was hearing was, “He’s in grave danger.” And perhaps he would have been in grave danger if he wasn't in the hospital. It was such a severe infection that it basically shut his digestive system down, so he couldn't eat and he grew dehydrated very quickly. But now he was being treated, and he was going to be fine. That's what I wanted to know.
In the end I was reassured enough to sleep as much as I could between visits from nurses. The next day he was feeling better, and in all the days since, he’s improved, until today he’s even trying to pull himself to standing again and playing peek-a-boo with the nurses. He was allowed to breastfeed this morning, and the proteins in the milk have been able to bind with the water, so he is peeing all that edema away.
I am overwhelmed with thankfulness, and very aware of my difficulty trusting God. It’s come to the forefront of my life lately, a deeper awareness of my lack in this area. God brings things like this out from time to time, letting you know that you need to dig a little deeper, work a little more fully on bringing everything into his light. Because I don’t really control the universe, you know, but sometimes I’m tricked into thinking I do because I can control small things around me. But then something happens that is completely out of my control and I become convinced that the ship’s about to crash and sink. The truth is that nothing has changed. I am no more or less in control, really, and God is still there, quietly working. I’m working on acceptance and trust. I started working on it in the hospital, too, not fighting in my mind so much, accepting that we need to be here right now. (Until last night when I had a little relapse over the issue of whether or not I could start nursing, a subject on which I had had conflicting directions. More crying. More being “that girl,” and stressing non-confrontational Thai nurses out. I’m sorry!)
There have been beautiful things and funny things, and I will write about those too, but this post is already long and I’ll go now. Thank you so much for your prayers and support- it looks like we’ll be here for a couple more days, and then we’ll have wings on our feet as we go home.