Ancient History

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The family that is sick together, sticks together.

Someday, I will lovingly needlepoint this sentiment and hang it over hearth. Little hypodermic needles, Amoxicillin bottles, and cans of Lysol will be immortalized by the redundant dainty X. It shouldn’t be difficult to paint a picture of Streptococcus with varying shades of green thread. I am still working on the best way to represent the concept of a feverish child without involving flames.

All five of the kids are or were sick this week. It started with Sam, who inspired Tommy to join him on the couch. They’ve always been pals. Aidan was close on Tommy’s heels. A brief reprieve and false sense of bullet-dodging crumbled when Ryley succumbed after a valiant, short-lived, apparent invincibility against the germies. Joel rounds out the gang, developing his fever this morning just in time for a visit with my parents and my in-laws this weekend. 

Ryley seemed to be the strongest. But when the mighty fall, they mightily crash. The other kids managed to get through their illnesses with one doctor visit. Ryley ended up in the ER very early this morning with a nasty case of croup.

He came into our bedroom gasping “I can’t breathe!” We hustled him downstairs and gave a breathing treatment to him, then took him outside in the cold night air. It didn’t help. I called the pediatrician’s office and was told to take him to the hospital. Now.

Talk to me, Ryley. But not too much. Just tell me how you are doing. Let me know if you are getting worse.

I drove and talked to him, glancing back. His shoulders moved up and down. He barked coughs described by doctors and mothers as a seal’s. If I were a seal, I’d be insulted. Do seals sing McDonald’s jingles and Stevie Wonder hits when they have coughs? I took comfort in the hacking racket coming from the middle bench seat because it meant consciousness, but I still kept my right foot pressed firmly on the gas pedal. I got to the ER in good time and hustled him inside.

The waiting room was temporarily empty, aside from a triage nurse and a security guard. We walked up to the desk and she asked what the problem was. Ryley barked on cue and she said “croup!” We were taken back into the land of the curtained rooms and steel-hard beds on wheels. We were told someone would be with us shortly.

I removed Ryley’s shoes and decided to look at his chest to see if he was sucking in around his ribs. That is when I noticed his bellybutton.

Some time yesterday, before he swallowed a seal, he decided to color his bellybutton and the surrounding skin a lovely shade of blue. Normally, his marker skills are top-notch for a first grader, but not this time. It looked like a half-hearted bellybutton decorating job and just as I was about to open my mouth to comment on my finding he wheezed “don’t laugh.” I didn’t. I wasn’t mad, wasn’t annoyed, wasn’t embarrassed by the prospect of the doctor seeing Ryley’s creative side.

Soon the doctor came into our little million dollar slice of hospital and summed up what needed to be done. Meds for his fever, steroids for the croup, a cool mist breathing treatment, and observation. He peeked in Ryley’s ears, looked in Ryleys’ throat and listened to Ryley’s breathing with his stethoscope, over his Spongebob pajama shirt. The doctor never saw the blue umbilicus.

It remained our secret in a place where there are no secrets. The ER is where thin fabric separates the dying from the mop wielding janitor and the mother with her blue-bellybuttoned boy who was going to be okay. Just watch him for the next few days.

Oh, I will. I wasn’t watching when he tricked-out his navel. All I can hope and pray for as a mother is to recognize when to watch and when it’s okay to turn my head away. And when not to laugh.

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