So there I am, walking briskly along the uneven path of parenting, stepping lightly over the weeds of disobedience, swerving gracefully to avoid the cracks of stubbornness, and oops, before I know it, I have tumbled into a pothole of offspring illness. Damn, damn and thrice damn.
B, who had been coughing like a hardened 20-a-dayer, developed an ear infection over the weekend. Obviously, being the caring parents that we are, did nothing whatsoever about this until Monday, when the doctor confirmed that B was definitely unwell and not just having a grump (my own first attempt at diagnosis). I have a vague recollection of looking at B on Saturday, falling over for the fifth time that morning, with his flushed cheeks and slightly red eyes and thinking ‘blimey, I wonder if he has an ear infection?’ And then, because I am pretty sure my maternal instinct was removed by accident when I had my C-Section, I dismissed such folly and put it down to teething. I swear, if I see my son with a limb hanging off and a fence post through his torso, I shall attribute it to teething.
And, being those aforementioned caring parents, we took him to nursery the next day. I entered reception looking like I was about to open a pop-up pharmacy, cradling Calpol, antibiotics and ibuprofen in my arms and making B walk as there was no room left for him to hitch a lift. He waved forlornly at me as I left him in the baby room, and walking back to the car I mentally docked myself 100 points from the league of great parents. Which meant I was currently running at a 342,800 point deficit. Shit, I am going to have to pull my finger out and do some serious Lego tower building to recover from this.
I drove off to my meeting, thinking happy thoughts about him being absolutely fine, but cringing every time the phone rang in case it was nursery telling me that B had taken a turn for the worse. But give my son his due, he did last until about 4pm, at which point he surrendered to his temperature and started to heat up like a hot thing in hot land, sitting on a Bunsen burner in a set of thermals.
We gave him a bath of Calpol and a spoon of cool water, sorry, a bath of cool water and a spoon of Calpol (although I am not convinced that the former would not be more effective), fried a couple of eggs on his forehead for our tea and got him to bed. All was quiet for three hours. Perhaps he is over the worst, we thought. As parents of two children, we should know bloody better by now, but no. Go to stupidity jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200 or any sleep. By half past ten, B was awake. And when I say awake, I mean screaming inconsolably. We cuddled, we stroked, we sang, we walked, we Calpoled…
(Oh yeah, get me, I have just made Calpol into a verb. To Calpol verb: to administer strawberry loveliness to a minor. If the language pedants amongst you are struggling with this, I suggest you pour yourself a large glass of Calpol and relax a bit).
…but to no avail. B was rasping, struggling with short, rapid, shallow breaths that made us distinctly nervous.
“Shall I take him to A&E?” I venture with a grimace. I shudder involuntarily as I remember the last time I went and spent four hours waiting to be seen, at which point I was told to just go home.
We do what parents do when they are totally out of their depth and have a potentially very sick child on their hands: we act decisively and swiftly. Oh no, wait a minute, that must have been another, more competent set of parents. My mistake. What we do is stare at each other, then at B, then back at each other again, as if we can conjure the solution from between us, just by tracing an invisible line of magical answer-giving triangulation. After a while it becomes apparent that the sofa cushion is not going to spring to life and give us any medical advice, so we escalate our focus from the cushion to NHS Direct.
I approach the call with trepidation, since the last time I phoned about E having what I suspected was the Noro virus I was told to keep feeding him normally, including curry. There spoke a woman who was not going to be responsible for the ensuing clean up operation. Well, actually, there spoke a woman who did not have a bloody clue and was reading it off a screen, but let’s not be picky. But they were remarkably good, and arranged for a doctor to call us. We waited for forty five minutes, watching our son rasp and wheeze as he tried desperately to find a comfortable position on M’s lap. Eventually, I spoke to the doctor, who asked me all the same questions, agreed with me that it could be a chest infection, warned me not to use his puffer too much in case he became tachycardic (I am sorry, did I just wander onto the set of bloody Casualty? How am I supposed to know what that means? Oh, fast heart rate, you say? Well, why not tell me that in the first place, you knob?) and didn’t answer the only question that I actually had:
“Do you think it is safest to take him to A&E?”
“Well, it’s up to you.”
“I know, but given that you have had seven years medical training and I struggle to apply a plaster correctly, I was kind of thinking you might have a better idea than me.” Okay, I did not say this. But I thought it. Really loudly, Whilst grinding my teeth.
He did leave me with a very comforting thought though. He said that with young children, they can go downhill into a more serious condition very, very quickly. Ooh, super. You know, I had approximately one atom of my being that was not being consumed by anxiety up until that point, so thanks, Doctor Knob, for coming to my rescue there.
Well over an hour after this whole debacle began, we were back where we started, pondering an A&E trip. B, meanwhile, was so pissed off with our inability to make him feel any better, he had dozed off, at which point we thought sleep would be a better cure than four hours in a hot, noisy A&E., so we decided to break the cardinal rule of the household and let him sleep with us so we could hear him breathing.
And so there we ended up, M and I flanking B, who laid on top of the duvet in his vest to get the full effect of the fan I had rigged up to cool him down. I was sodding freezing, but moaning felt a little churlish, so I kept my own counsel, the effort of which was quite something. B decided the only way he was going to sleep was to grind his head into my windpipe until my neck was at snapping point and I had a curiously close up view of the headboard. Not my position of choice for a sound night’s sleep, it has to be said. Stoically (okay, I was thinking some terrible, sweary things about my current predicament, but given I said none of them out loud I can still play to stoicism card, I reckon) I put up with this until 2am, at which point I could bear it no longer and gently passed the baton, I mean, boy, to M. I stared at the headboard a little longer, as my neck had seemingly frozen, and spent the next three hours in that weird semi-awake state where a small but insistent part of your brain is screaming “Don’t Sleep! You have a sick child! He could stop breathing for all you know! Stay awake you bitch! Don’t you dare close your eyes!”
It was almost a blessing when B roused himself at 5am to start the day, and I never thought I would hear myself say that. My limbs had been filled with concrete, my eyelids stuffed with grit, my brain had leaked out of an unspecified orifice and looming ahead was a call to the doctor’s surgery where I would be told I was eighth in the queue, behind an octogenarian who was going to give a full medical history of her varicose veins. I tell you something about falling into this pothole of offspring illness. It’s bloody cramped, it smells a bit and I think it has made me little tachycardic. Oh yes, in your face, Doctor Knob.