Catharsis Via Crisis

Yesterday I took the kids to the doctor for physicals. Liam is still behind on his vaccines, so he was scheduled to get two, MMR and Varicella. The physicals went great, the kids thought the doctor was hilarious, and everyone cooperated. Liam of course screamed through the vaccines and had to be held down, but directly afterward he was appeased by a Spiderman sticker. Five minutes after the vaccines we had gathered our things and headed around to check out. As we were waiting to check out, Liam began to cough and sneeze uncontrollably. This went on for about two minutes, long enough for me to begin to get concerned and even consider the remote possibility of a reaction to the vaccine but not long enough for me to ask if the doctor could take a look at him. When he stopped sneezing and coughing he sat in the chair by the check-out desk, rubbing his eyes and generally looking miserable. I thought maybe he was suffering from seasonal allergies like me. We checked out, I strapped the kids in the car and we headed around the corner to Trader Joe’s.

When we got to Trader Joe’s I went to get Liam out of the car first. He was sitting very quietly in his seat. He had a weird, sort of absent look on his face and he didn’t acknowledge me or look at me when I opened the door and started to unbuckle him. After a second his eyes focused and he stared at me, then he began scratching and rubbing his right eye and right ear in agitation. I turned his head and saw that his ear had swollen up and was bright red. In the thirty seconds it took me to get my phone and the Epi-Pen out of the front seat his right eye had swollen up like Will Smith’s in Hitch.

Think I’m joking? 
Bear in mind that this picture was taken over an hour after the first massive doses of Benadryl and steroids
I was profoundly grateful that we were in Naples and not at home, an hour from the hospital, when Liam’s doctor told me to take him straight to the ER and hold off on the Epi-Pen unless he began wheezing. I’m not gonna lie, I was also profoundly grateful that this reaction did not, thus far, appear anaphylactic. Jamming a loaded needle into my son’s thigh is seriously not something I’m looking forward to, even though the nurses at the hospital in Ft. Worth had me practice over and over and over and over.
Kind of like this
I managed to get a hold of the Ogre on the five-minute drive to the hospital. By the time we had parked and I had raced to get Liam out of his seat, his face looked like someone had cast a serious stinging hex on it. 
We entered the ER and there was no one in sight. Not a doctor, not a nurse, no one but the woman at registration who was trying to help a college-aged kid find the results of an MRI. I waited about 45 seconds, hoping that she would notice my son’s horribly swollen face, but then gave up and interrupted her phone call. She flagged down a doctor who whisked us straight back to a room, mercifully telling the suddenly  hovering woman demanding our insurance card that she could get it later because “this kid needs steroids and Benadryl STAT.” 
We were taken into the pediatric ER where four nurses swooped in and immediately began strapping Liam to a papoose board and prepping an IV line. Two of them whisked Sienna and Charlotte off, a fact which I registered with the part of my brain that apparently is able to keep tabs on other children while the rest of my mind is wholly occupied with the child in danger. I was actually impressed that my mind had this hidden compartment and made a mental note to reflect on it later. The pediatric ER doctor began taking a hasty medical history, and after examining Liam’s legs he showed me how the right one had swollen so much it was almost entirely stiff, and how the area around the vaccine was a bright, fiery red. He confirmed that the vaccine was the most likely culprit and expressed concern that the reaction would intensify as the vaccine broke down in Liam’s system. He said we should get medicine in him right away and he would come back and talk to me about it some more after the medicine had a chance to work. Mercifully, Liam’s lungs were clear, so the doctor said we could hold off on epinephrine for the moment.
Liam was frantic and terrified as he was strapped to the board and had the IV inserted into his hand. Tears leaked out of his eyes, which at this point were nearly swollen shut, and he kept trying to reach for me with the hand the nurses were sticking the IV into. I did what any mother would do…I kept my face near his and whispered “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, you’ll be okay, it’s okay, they’re just trying to help, I’m so sorry” while feeling helpless and wretched. When the nurses finally had the IV in they immediately gave him two syringes of steroids and two syringes of Benadryl. They unstrapped him from the board after that and I was able to hold him and calm him down, and once he had stopped screaming he immediately asked for “Nenna”, who obliged by showing up with a racecar-themed stroller-like thing which she pushed her little brother around in for a little while. 
They kept us for observation for about four hours. The Ogre was able to get a ride out to the hospital from very kind neighbors, since I had the car, and we spent some time talking with the doctor about future vaccines, allergy testing, and symptoms to watch for over the next 12 hours. They discharged us quickly and we headed wearily for the car, extremely grateful that our son appeared to be weathering this reaction pretty well. 
I got in the car and glanced at my phone, noticing that I had a few new emails. The Ogre had put up a notice on Ave Maria’s facebook group, asking for a ride to Naples, so I assumed the emails were responses. 
They weren’t. They were yet more anonymous comments on my blog, comments about my marriage, my reason for homeschooling, and my stupid fracking shirt. Comments that I normally would have shrugged off but that today, after five exhausting, frightening hours, I had to bite my lip to keep from crying over. 
The internet can be an inhumane place. If there’s one thing that I’m grateful for in this whole T-shirt debacle, it’s that the people on the freejinger site did help me see something, albeit in a crass and often cruel way. I might think it’s funny and harmless, that shirt, but someone who really wants to have a child and can’t because of a medical condition which requires birth control probably wouldn’t find it funny. It would probably really hurt for a woman in that situation to see me wearing that shirt, surrounded by my three kids. It may not be my intention to hurt anyone, but that wouldn’t really make much of a difference to her.
I’m sure that some of the commenters who spent time yesterday trying to figure out just the right words to use to illustrate my stupidity or my poor marriage or my rigid dogmatism might not have done so if they had known that at that very minute I was frantically racing my child to the ER or watching him be strapped to a papoose board. But they didn’t know that. They had an image of me, smug and superior and maybe a bit of an asshat, secure inside my comfortable home with my three children, and that’s what they were responding to. Not the real me. 
It’s easy to forget that lines of typeface on a computer screen are written by a person. A person with a story, a history, someone who might be mourning a death or worrying over a life or even just trying to figure out how to balance a checkbook. I’m glad that the people on freejinger called me out on that. What’s funny to me might not be funny to someone else. It might be offensive, or it might be hurtful, or it might be downright cruel. It’s no excuse to say, “that’s not my intention.” As cliche as it is, the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions. 
I think that it’s crucial that we on the internet remember that. We should hold each other to a spirit of compassion and common humanity. It’s easy to hide behind a computer screen and fling invectives at those who disagree, never having to look into their eyes. But we owe each other more than that. I owe you more than that. I hope you’ll accept my apology for all the times when I was thoughtless and heartless and lacking in compassion, which I’m sure are more than I can remember. And I hope in the future our discourse, both on my blog and elsewhere, can be free of hatred and bitterness and instead be marked by compassion for each other as fellow human beings…even when we disagree. Especially when we disagree.
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