Well, it happened. I’ve been dreading it forever and it finally happened. Jackson spiked his first fever in the middle of the night last night, and it was just as bad as I’d imagined it would be, although in a different way.
Sleeping through the night never really took (more on that when I finally get to Jackson’s 6-month update, hopefully tomorrow), so I’ve been getting up again to nurse him a few times a night for the last few weeks. Last night when he woke up at about 4AM, I nursed him and when he was finished eating, I put him up over my shoulder to let him burp before putting him back down. All of a sudden, I realized that his neck felt very warm to me. I felt his forehead and it also felt hot, as did the one cheek that had been nestled against my skin. His other cheek felt cooler, so I almost just put him back down (he couldn’t really have a fever, could he?), but then I decided I should check his temperature just in case.
I unzipped his jammies, and as soon as I put my hand on his tummy, it was like I was transported back in time. His skin felt like it as on fire, and for an instant, it was like it was her on the changing table, like I was touching her tummy, so surprised at how hot she was, because she’d never really run a high fever before. It was like I was right back there with her, at 4AM, not knowing what to do. It occurred to me that it was probably just a mild reaction to his shots yesterday, but that was little comfort under the circumstances.
Somehow, I maintained my composure long enough to take his temperature (it was 101.8—not a piddling fever), take him into our room and tell Ed that he had a fever, read my Portable Pediatrician book (I couldn’t remember what temperature was considered problematic at this age), and go downstairs, then outside to the car in my bare feet, looking for his discharge instructions about side effects of the immunizations. I couldn’t find them anywhere, so I sat there and hemmed and hawed for about 5 minutes trying to decide what to do. Ultimately, I decided that if anyone is entitled to a middle-of-the-night phone call to the pediatrician, even an ultimately groundless one, it’s me. So I called. I expected to have to leave a message and wait for a call back, but the answering service connected me straight to the doctor. It was the same doctor who saw Hudson on that terrible, terrible morning last May, but not the same doctor Jackson usually sees now (there are two partners in the practice). She sounded pointedly annoyed, especially after I explained why I was calling. This surprised me—looking back on it now, I am trying to give her the benefit of the doubt and think that either 1) she didn’t realize it was ME and JACKSON (i.e., mother and brother of HUDSON, the child who died from meningitis last May after she herself sent us home to take more Tylenol) or 2) it was four in the morning and she wasn’t making any conscious effort to sound annoyed or otherwise—she was just barely awake. She told me to give him Tylenol and I asked if I should be worried otherwise. She asked if anything else was going on, and I said no, but of course in the back of my mind, I was thinking, “But nothing else was going on with Hudson, either!” She said if he kept running a fever, then he should be seen.
So I hung up, gave Jackson some Tylenol, settled into the bed with him, snuggled him close, and began to sob. I cried and cried and cried. I really hadn’t been afraid, because I did realize almost immediately that this fever could be easily explained. But what I hadn’t anticipated was the PTSD-like reaction I had. The hot tummy. The surprise. The confusion. The decision to make.
All I wanted in the entire world was to have that same decision point with her back. All over again, all I wanted was the chance to call the pediatrician instead of waiting it out until the office opened. Or the chance to go on to the ER where maybe they’d have been more familiar with signs of meningitis and would have caught it in time.
All I wanted in the entire world was another chance to rewrite the ending. Another chance to save her.
Why, oh, why couldn’t I save her?