Here's the thing about new babies: When they show even the slightest sign of sickness, things can get serious fast – very, very fast.
When my six-week-old son, Jake, spiked a 102 fever, my wife called me at work to let me know she was taking him to Dr. Evans. Dr. Evans is a small, frail, instantly likeable man who looks like he would struggle mightily with a baby-weighted car seat.
Any time we had brought our kids to Dr. Evans, he'd say, "This baby looks great! Just keep doing what you're doing."
While I appreciated the good doctor's optimism, sometimes I questioned whether he was actually looking at our children or simply offering the stock phrases new parents needed to hear. If I substituted my Boston Terrier for my son during a visit, how overworked would Dr. Evans need to be to say, "This baby looks great! Just keep doing what you're doing."
I felt certain Dr. Evans would assure my wife there was nothing wrong with our son. After all, I'd read somewhere that babies spike fevers all the time, and it's generally nothing to worry about – unless the baby is under two months of age.
When a baby falls into the under-two-months category, all bets are off and even the most seemingly innocuous symptoms can lead terrified new parents straight to the emergency room. And that's exactly where Dr. Evans sent us.
That's exactly where Dr. Evans sent us.
By the time I got to the hospital, Jake was hooked up to a heart monitor, an oxygen monitor, and IV fluids – an IV they finally got in after seven unsuccessful needle sticks. Nurses were prepping him for a spinal tap, and I was told the doctor suspected meningitis, but they needed to see what variety of meningitis it was, viral or bacterial.
All we could do was wait. When you're sitting in the ER waiting on your baby's test results, your mind becomes a dangerous thing. Here are five thoughts that ran through my mind during my son's hospital stay:
1 | This must be a mistake
As an avid "Grey's Anatomy" fan, I always scoffed at the show's portrayal of the family members' reactions to bad news. On virtually every episode, there's some sad sap who can't seem to comprehend the very clear facts a doctor is offering about their husband, wife, son, daughter, mom, dad, etc.
Dozens of times, I've put my wine glass down, stood up and yelled, "Come on! Nobody would act like that!"
But after Jake's hospital stay, I think Shonda Rhimes may have gotten it right.
When a doctor explained a bacterial meningitis diagnosis would require a minimum seven to 10-day hospital stay, adding complications could arise, I started questioning the reality of the situation. At one point, I actually thought, "This has to be a mistake."
I think time has a lot to with the irrational reaction. I just couldn't comprehend how, in a few short hours, the seemingly healthy baby I'd kissed goodbye before leaving for work was now looking at the prospect of at least a week's stay in the hospital. This wasn't a life and death situation, and it certainly wasn't the worst medical news I've ever received (I listened to a doctor tell me my father was going to die), but something changes when your own child is involved.
And that brings me to another thought....
2 | How do parents of sick children do it?
I'm fully aware of how dramatic I sound talking about what happened to my son. In the end, he was okay and, even though there are some complications we have to watch out for, things could've been so much worse. Things are so much worse for so many parents – and I thought about those parents a lot.
While waiting for Jake to get discharged, I found myself devouring Facebook posts involving GoFundMes for people struggling with the financial burden of caring for a sick child and parents' harrowing personal essays about life with children suffering from rare, life-threatening diseases.
I can't imagine the toll caring for a truly sick child takes on a parent. I only know how helpless I felt throughout the entire experience with my own son. I think that helplessness made me a little more empathetic toward others, that my tiny glimpse into what life with a sick child could entail made me a little less likely to judge others too harshly for their actions.
After all, you never know if that dick who just cut you off and gave you the finger might have been a burnt-out dad, who, between the constant trips back and forth to see his daughter in the hospital added to the stress of trying to hold down a desperately needed job, was simply at his wits' end.
3 | The Internet is a horrible place
Anytime I noticed my wife crying, all I had to do was glance down at the cell phone she stared at to determine the cause. With the intent of educating herself about what our son was facing, my wife took to the Internet. Like all concerned parents who brave the world of Google-based medical research, eventually the road led directly to terror and tears.
When I asked to see what she was looking at – medical websites listing after-effects ranging from memory loss and developmental disabilities to epilepsy and loss of sight – I, too, wound up crying. Some well-meaning relatives who dropped in to see how we were doing had the misfortune of walking into the hospital room during one of our teary research sessions. Luckily, all I had to say was "We were looking up meningitis online..." and they understood.
4 | How much is everything going to cost?
We're fortunate enough to have health insurance through my employer, yet I still worried about how much everything would cost, what would or wouldn't be covered, and what type of expensive follow-up care would be required.
Families without healthcare coverage have to deal with the stress of a sick child as well as the knowledge that the treatment for said child will likely put them in debt for the rest of their lives, completely destroy their credit, or both. In the grand scheme of things, my family and I are lucky.