Monday, August 25, 2014

First Day

I pulled out of my driveway this morning at the same time a school bus turned down the side street next to our house. All along the sidewalks of our small town, parents walked alongside their children, whose little shoulders hunched forward under the weight of their backpacks filled with new school supplies dutifully purchased off a long list published on the schools’ websites. A few intrepid parents rode bicycles along with their kids, who could often barely keep their front wheels straight, still so unpracticed they are at the art of bicycle-riding. A handful of older kids walked or rode alone, proud to be big enough to go solo.

I can almost see her. An outfit she picked out herself. Pigtails. Or maybe she changed her mind at the last minute and decided on braids. Her own heavy backpack, maybe with her favorite character on it, filled with a change of clothes, pencils, glue sticks, tissues—simple supplies for kindergarten. A lunchbox (although who knows what I would have packed in it). A gangly and knobby-kneed girl, with not the slightest hint of the chubby cheeks that graced her sweet face when last I saw her. Those bright and wise eyes shining right out of her face. A photo of her grinning and holding a hand-drawn sign saying, “First Day of Kindergarten!” with her name and the date. Another of her with arms around the buddies she’d surely have made here in the place her parents call home, all ready to file into school together. Another of her sitting down at her new desk, still grinning like crazy, because She. Is. Ready. She has been waiting for this all summer long.

She’s right there, almost like a floater in my field of vision—I can see her until I try to actually look at her, and then she floats away.

These milestones, like so many others in life, seem so far away for so long, and then, suddenly, they are upon us. And yet they are so unlike other milestones. So many friends are bidding a bittersweet farewell to a chapter in their children’s lives that we never got to finish. And these markers of a life unfinished, of hopes unrealized, of destinies unfulfilled, yawn endlessly in front of me—so many more to anticipate, so many more to endure, so many more to reflect upon, to wonder about, to imagine, and then to chase right out of sight because I looked too hard.

I’ll never stop wishing that one of these days, one of these moments when I try to really see her, she’ll actually be there.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

If Only

Ada turned a year old last Thursday (soon I will hopefully find the words I want to say to her in her birthday letter—it is one of the hardest yet). I took her to the pediatrician today for her one-year well visit. I knew some shots would be involved.

I was prepared for the shots.

I was prepared for Ada’s reaction to the shots.

I wasn’t prepared for my reaction to the shots.

The nurse gave me the information sheets about each vaccine—Ada got the hep A, chickenpox, and pneumococcal vaccines today. Surely I’ve seen these information sheets before, but somehow I’d never really seen them.

The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) is the vaccine that prevents invasive pneumococcal disease. That is, it prevents what killed Hudson—a bacterial meningitis caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. Strep pnuemo is one of the most common bacteria in the world—it colonizes in the noses and throats of most people all the time, and it usually causes no worse than a cold or a sinus infection.

Some of the information on the sheet I already knew. I already knew that strep pneumo meningitis is fatal in only about 10% of cases. I already knew that there are 93 strains of strep pneumo. I already knew that the prior vaccine, Prevnar (the vaccine that Hudson received) covered only 7 of these strains, whereas the new one, released just after Hudson got her last Prevnar vaccine, covered 13. In both cases, the vaccine covers the strains that cause the most severe infections.

But I learned some new things about strep pneumo today.

Pneumococcal meningitis affects fewer than 1 person in 100,000 each year. I knew it was rare, but I didn’t know it was that rare.

Before the pneumococcal vaccine was available, pneumococcal meningitis caused about 200 deaths per year in children under 5. I knew that death from pneumococcal meningitis is rare, but I didn’t know it is that rare. If it was that rare before vaccines were available, imagine how rare it is now.

Some strains of strep pneumo are resistant to antibiotics. I didn’t know that. That’s why vaccination is so important, apparently. But the vaccine only covers 13 strains.

It has been four years, three months, and eight days since pneumococcal meningitis took Hudson from me. Although I have accepted that she is dead, that she is gone, that she is not coming back, that there will be no “First Day of Kindergarten” photo to share on Monday, I cannot help, yet again, but wonder if only.

If only the strep pneumo bacteria had stopped at giving Hudson a sinus infection.

If only the pneumococcal vaccine Hudson received could have prevented that terrible bacteria from invading her bloodstream, and later, her cerebrospinal fluid.

If only the antibiotics that were flowing into her bloodstream a mere 40 hours after she first woke up with a mild fever could have beaten that terrible bacteria back.

If only Hudson could have been in the 99,999 instead of being the one.

If only Hudson could have been in the 90% who lived instead of the 10% who died.

If only Hudson had lived.

If only Hudson were here.

If only.

If only.