I know that I’ve been falling in love with my little girls. But damn. You just don’t realize how far you’ve fallen until the possibility of loss hits you in a palpable way.
We spent the weekend up at my parents’ house in Maine. On Saturday afternoon, when I picked Clio up after a nap to change her, I noticed a strange rash on her legs and feet: lots of little purple flecks that appeared to be broken blood vessels. She didn’t have a fever, and hadn’t been acting sick – in fact, she’d been a great mood all day, all smiles and squawking (her preferred form of conversations has changed quite suddenly from coos and gurgles to raptor-like shrieks) so I wasn’t particularly worried, but I called the pediatrician’s office, just to be safe. The girls had their 4-month visit scheduled for Monday anyway, so I expected the on-call doctor to say don’t worry; we’ll take a look at it when she comes in. But she didn’t. She said that though it’s usually accompanied by fever, broken blood vessels can be a sign of a serious bacterial infection. We should take her to the emergency room.
A. and my father and his sister, also visiting, stayed behind with Elsa, while my mother and I headed to the nearest hospital, twenty minutes away in Brunswick. She drove, and I sat in the back with Clio. Even though she had no fever, no signs of infection, no signs of anything except the strange rash on her legs, I couldn’t stand the thought of not being able to see her. What if she started burning up with fever? What if she stopped breathing? I was reminded of that harrowing memory described by the main character in Russell Banks’ The Sweet Hereafter
: his baby girl has been bitten by baby black widow spiders, and he has to drive her to the hospital, 40 miles away, trying to keep her calm so the poison won’t spread while at the same time preparing to jam a pen-knife into her windpipe in an attempt to save her if she stops breathing.
Not that this situation was anywhere near as dire. But Clio never seemed so dear or so innocent as she did during that ride. She just smiled at me. Looked out the window at the farmland and pine trees. Sucked on her hand. So beautiful and so alive. I was acutely aware of how fragile she was – how fragile we all are, how barely here. And I was utterly aware of how shattered I would be if I lost her. Shattered in a completely different, completely more primal way than I would be over someone who wasn’t my child. Shattered as in irreparably broken.
I was pretty calm throughout this whole episode. I cope fairly well in stressful situations – a quality which, I’ve often speculated, would probably make me a good paramedic or ER doc. (Next lifetime). But my mind did run to worst case scenarios a few times before I wrested it back to the present moment: septic shock. Leukemia. Lymphoma. Rare diseases and disorders named after the people who discovered them. (Why would anyone want a disease named after them?) While we waited in the lobby to be called in, I found myself thinking about bargains I would make, things I would give up, in order for Clio to be OK. Basically, I concluded, I’d give up anything.
There are funny things to write about in connection with this whole ordeal, too: how Clio pooped four times within the space of two hours while we were at the hospital, grunting and turning red like an old man. How she quacked – yes, quacked – in response to my mother making quacking sounds when she gave her her stuffed duck pacifier. The face she made when the rectal thermometer was introduced. Her earnest attempts to roll over on the exam table while the PA was trying to look at her rash.
And then there was the usual ER fun: Clio’s name misspelled on her bracelet after I spelled it out for the receptionist upwards of three times. Nurses saying they’d “be right back” and disappearing for forty-five minutes. The Vietnam vet across the hall with the triage nurse, brought in by the police, insisting between incoherent, manic ranting that he was “just confused.” (But don’t get him started about the government! Why did they ask him if he knew who the president was? Did they want to know who the vice president was? How about secretary of state? Why did they ask him about the president if they didn’t want to know about the secretary of state?)
We were there for nearly four hours in all. Clio was heroically brave while three vials of blood were drawn from her arm. And by “brave” I mean she screamed bloody murder, but recovered fairly quickly and fell asleep in my arms. They collected some urine from her using a neat little bag inside her diaper (no catheter, thank god; this bag just stuck to her labia with adhesive and caught whatever came out), and took a stool sample (easily done since, as previously mentioned, she was pooping up a storm).
While we waited for the results, Clio and my mother napped. I drank decaf coffee and read The New Yorker
. At a little after 8:00, the PA came to give us the results: everything was blessedly normal, except for a slightly high lymphocyte count, which apparently suggests that she might have been getting over a virus. This fit in logically with the diagnosis of her rash: Henoch-Schonlein Pupura. It’s a form of vasculitis that occurs when the immune system reacts weirdly to a virus, bacteria, medication or chemical. According to one source, it happens most commonly in the spring, often in response to an upper respiratory or throat virus. I was down with a sore throat a couple of weeks ago, so maybe that’s what triggered it. Most importantly, it’s nothing serious. It’s not indicative of any larger problem or condition, and the potential complications (inflammation of blood vessels in the kidneys or intestines) are very rare. Hallelujah, amen.
At the girls' 4-month checkup yesterday, the pediatrician gave Clio a once-over, and everything seems fine. In fact, both girls are growing like weeds. Lengthwise, anyway; both are around the 25th percentile for weight (Clio is 11.5 lbs, Elsa is 12.5) but they’re in the 75th and 90th percentiles, respectively, for length! My long, tall baby dolls. How I love ‘em.
It was almost exactly a year ago that I found out I was pregnant. May 9th, I think, was the first positive HPT. After a frustrating year and a half of negative pregnancy tests, it felt completely surreal, abstract, impossible. And now, a year later, these babies – these two little people – are becoming so real to me, and so important, it’s frightening.