Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sick Baby

My baby was sick.  Really sick.  This child, who grabs my hand as soon as he hears music to pull me towards our living room “dance floor,” could barely stand.  The same little guy who regularly makes a game of grabbing my nose and slapping my face, could barely manage lifting his arm and, anyway, was in no mood to play. My normally active, giggly, tough and stubborn toddler was listless and drained.  And he was like this for a full five days, in which his feet hadn’t once touched the ground. It wasn't normal.  

I breast feed him continually in the cab ride to the hospital in Nairobi.  For days, he existed in three states: sleeping, arching his back crying or nursing.  Nothing else. From the hours of nursing, my nipples had become tender and painfully sore, as if I was caring for a newborn not a 19-month old near-child.  But I didn’t really care.  I focused on his little face and the relief from grimacing and squinting his eyes in pain that washed over his face when he began to nurse.  That helped me hold it together.

The cab driver, a man who we’ve known for years, looked back at Emmet with an expression that was clearly worried.  When someone is sick here in Kenya, the pat response is, “Pole, atapona” (Sorry, he’ll get better.)  It’s meant as a comfort.  But tellingly, our driver didn’t offer those words.  He just kept looking back at us with that same concerned expression.  Emmet’s fever rises.  I somehow hold it together.

In the waiting room, there are other children.  Some are sleeping, others waiting patiently watching the television. A boy of about 3 has an arm in a sling as he plays on the hospital scale.  But no one 
seems as sick as Emmet who is inconsolable until he collapses asleep as soon as I nurse him.  I see those same worried faces on the other mothers when they look at him.  I hold Emmet constantly and nurse him continuously.  One breast is nearly always partially exposed, making me even more of an oddity.  Still, I manage to hold it together.

The doctor orders some blood test and soon I find myself holding him down (both for the tests and eventually the 6 attempts to get an IV in his weak veins), as he looks up at me confused, imploring, perhaps a bit betrayed, begging with his small watery eyes for the only person in the room he knows and loves to stop the pain.  Instead I hold him down tighter and let them hurt him again, locking my gaze on his and saying in the most reassuring voice I can muster “it’s almost over baby. It’s almost over. Mommy’s here.”  I’m strong for him.  I hold it together.

Finally, after several hours at the hospital, the results are in and the doctor tells us we need to admit him. She throws around adjectives like “extremely” and “abnormally” when describing his blood work and the dreaded “I don’t like the look of…”  and more test are ordered.   I’m alone. Colin is giving a speech at a memorial service.  I have to hold it together.

We somehow switch to logistics and payment.  After multiple calls to our insurance company I find myself in yet another line to talk registration and payment, all while caring for a very sick baby, and filling out those dreaded forms, which seem make a mockery of urgency with which I desperately want someone to fix my baby.  I hold it together.  

I finally approach the cashier. I’m standing, still nursing Emmet, holding his upper body with my left arm and supporting his legs with a raised knee, so I can manage a pen.  I can barely hear the man behind the glass tell me they don’t accept my insurance, a problem I assumed was fixed with repeated phone calls.  Now I’m agitated, probably yelling. If the crowded room of people weren’t already staring at the lone white woman with an exposed breast and crying baby, they are now.  I’m balancing everything – the body of my baby, my belongings, my emotions, my sympathy for my child with my need to be fierce in defending him.  I’m barely holding it together.

At just this moment, I feel a hand gently touch my back. “Are you alone dear?” asks a stranger in a warm voice. 

And I do NOT hold it together.  It all falls apart.  That small gesture of sympathy releases a torrent of emotion.  I nod to her as the tears stream down my face and my chest convulses.  Everyone is looking and I’m still trying to hold myself together but losing the battle.  She grabs my purse and leads me to a chair.  “It’s alright. I know it’s hard. I’m a mother too.” She says kindly.  Her words are like that hug that lets you finally sob.  And I do.

I wrote this in my head waiting for Emmet to be admitted. It was really scary not knowing any answers, and being alone and frustrated my mind wandered to horrible places.  I probably did some bargaining with the universe.  It all seems rather silly now, just days later with a healthy child who rebounded quickly after a 2 day hospital stay from what we now know was a particularly nasty viral infection.  I’m grateful beyond words to have a healthy child back and will not forget that a stranger let me lean on her when I was feeling so alone.  

Just days after our ordeal.  Ready to play ball again!


  1. I am so sorry to hear what you went through Kim! :'( I have totally been there... in that exact sequence. At Aga Khan. Mariela was teething... with symptoms very similar to cholera. I have never been so scared in my life. I rushed her to hospital at 3am. I am so glad to see that Emmet is back on his feet and has his health back. xoxo Hugs to you and yours

  2. Bless that loving anonymous woman. I am so relieved you had someone there to give the physical, literal help that all of us wish we had been there to offer.

  3. Kim, I am thinking of you. I am glad to know your strength saved you and Emmet, and so glad he is better. Much love to all of you. xo Katy

  4. Tears to my eyes, Kim.

  5. Oh, I am so glad he got better. And I also hope that you'll never have to go throuth this again!

  6. Kim, I remember calling my girlfriend Susan when we were anticipating Grandma Carrie's heart surgery, and they were not promising us anything. I told Susan it did not look good. I was at a Corner Bakery. After I got off the phone, the woman next to me said, "I don't mean to eavesdrop, but I heard that your mother is not well. I will be sure to pray for her." I told her it was the kindest thing anyone had ever done for me. Wish I could have been there to hold the baby, or at least your purse.

  7. Wow! That must have been harrowing! So glad all's well. Love to you. xoxo Abby

  8. So sorry to hear Emmet was so sick and so happy that he has recovered. I could really relate to trying to keep it together in the hospital.