This morning at work, I surfed over to the website for one of our news channels in the Triangle, just to see what was going on at home. I scrolled down the page glancing at headlines until my eyes stopped dead at this one: “Duke Medicine: When to take your child to the emergency department.” Before I could even stop myself, I clicked on the link, even as I was telling myself not to. Still looking for absolution. From a website. Idiot.
Under the section titled “Fever,” this is what it said:
While the vast majority of children who have a fever do not have a dangerous illness, fever may be a marker of a serious infection such as meningitis, pneumonia or urinary tract infection. Children with fever are often tired, much less active, and less interested in eating and drinking.
Giving your child weight-appropriate doses of acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin; do not use if your child is less than six months old) may make your child feel better and more interested in eating and drinking.
You should bring your child to the ED for evaluation if your child:
• Is three months old or younger and has a rectal temperature of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher
• Has a stiff neck
• Is dehydrated (mouth is dry, no wet diapers in 18 hours, eyes sunken, soft spot sunken)
• Has a condition which makes him more susceptible to infections (for example, receiving chemotherapy, sickle cell anemia, on daily oral steroids, or has a central line in place)
Call 911 immediately if your child has a fever and:
• Is difficult to arouse
• Has difficulty breathing
• Has a seizure
A few things jumped out at me. First, Hudson fit in none of the categories under “bring your child to the ED if…” So that was good. Second was the “children with fever are often tired, much less active, and less interested in eating or drinking.” OK, great. All good there. This is exactly how I interpreted Hudson’s signs and symptoms at 4AM. She was fighting off a nasty fever and so was very tired and obviously less active, given that it was also 4AM. Not once did I interpret her demeanor as lethargy or “excessive” sleepiness. She seemed the right amount of sleepy given the circumstances.
But then I went down to “Call 911 immediately if your child has a fever and is difficult to arouse.” Had she been difficult to arouse? Did I so badly misinterpret her slumping against me as I put her in the cool bath? Was that more than her just being really worn out? After all, she’d been just fine the night before, and even just a few hours ago, when she’d been chatty in our bed after a dose of Tylenol.
And yet. And yet. And before I knew it, it all came rushing back. My grand idea that a 4AM trip to the ER would have magically saved her life. Before I knew it, I was crying. Again. In my office. Again. Begging someone or something to let me go back and do it over.
And then I took a breath. Through my tears, I went back to my first post about this. I didn’t read the post again. Who needs to? Every single memory and emotion is burned into my mind forever. No, I went straight to the comments. And read them all. Read some of them twice. And nodded. Especially at the comments (and a separate Facebook message from a friend) that reminded me that Hudson’s pediatrician examined her fully at 8AM and did not send us to the ER, so how could I possibly have known that she needed to go to the ER at 4AM? Then I sat and thought about the fact that Hudson was NOT unresponsive, either at 4AM or at 8AM. In fact, when we left the doctor’s office at 8AM, she both waved and said, “Bye bye” when I prompted her to. She had NOT been difficult to arouse at 4AM—in fact, it was her crying in the bed that woke ME up, not the other way around.
I was talking out loud to myself in the office at this point, talking myself down from that most terrible of ledges.
And it worked. It actually worked. Rather than letting the grief take me over the ledge like it so often does, I was able to hang on and pull myself back up. Within about 10 minutes, I was OK again.
The only reason I was able to do that is because of the incredible people who continue to read and comment on this blog. As soon as my brain started heading down that road, it occurred to me to come read all those comments in hopes that I could pull myself back from the brink. And thanks to you, I did. I am grateful every day for every person who reads here, who bears witness to this awful grief, and who comments when inspired to do so. But I have never been more grateful for you than I was this morning in my office.