It goes something like this when you’re home again: Settle the baby, make sure they’re comfortable and of course close. Kisses on flushed foreheads. Extra I Love Yous and lingering looks, exhale, count fingers and toes in your head, remember the length of eyelashes and the slightest of dimples. Then a shower, quickly, water hot to burn off the tension in your shoulders. Exhale. And then climbing into bed – it feels like I do this no matter when we are released. Day or night I crawl into bed and curl like a bracket around my baby. And I type. Tiny feet beneath my knees the hum of my old laptop and the tap, tap, tap of my keyboard soothes my weary and worried soul. Finally release through my finger tips onto a white screen. As my rose-coloured baby sleeps beneath my tired eyes.
Is it that same way always? Back and forth, back and forth, should we take him in? Last pamol? How much water has he had? And you go back and forth and back and forth and then something makes you grab the nappy bag and then you’re on your way before you can even fully comprehend it. But it’s better than an ambulance or a race against time so I try to say that to myself as my jaw tightens. And as you make your way, half in the back seat, muttering soft it’ll be okays to your tiny love, you feel as if the world outside is water. Both shall row, my love and I.
Oh small mercy a separate area for children and families in ED. Finally! The Accident and Emergency waiting room is a mass of humanity, the best and worst and everything in between. And mostly, it’s no place for children let alone very sick children. My sweating and shivering baby, wrapped in a blanket rests his head on my shoulder as I fill in a form and wait for a blessedly short time. The nurse immediately tells me to take his blanket off. Of course. Why on Earth did a wrap a feverish baby in a blanket? “Don’t worry, it’s an instinct” she says. I want to hug her. They shiver so you want to keep them warm and a blanket is a comfort. She gets it. And then I am doing the verbal dance of the anxious mother who wants to be taken seriously. One, two, three, four and He is just not himself and he’s so hot I really have tried to get his temperature down for at least 16 hours now and STEP two, three I would never come in unless I really needed too, we were in a lot when he was little so I know when to come in and when to stay home Four and again, two, three I’m struggling to get water into him, he’s had half a lemonade ice block. I repeat the dance with every nurse and doctor.
The books are poor quality and the toys are shit. When I get out I will remember to donate some new, nice stuff. I’ll get Eddie to pick his favourite books. This will be a short trip I’m sure so my mind is already turning to those who are here for the long haul. I can see it in their faces as they are herded in, shuffling like zombies behind beds with wheels that carry their loved ones. I used to touch a button when I was a child, the start probably of my nervous anxiety. I felt convinced I could change the fate of someone in an ambulance if I just touched a button in time. I’ve grown. I’m grown. I still sometimes search for buttons before my brain catches up and reminds me that miracles are performed at the hands of the qualified not the anxious.
I spend my life trying to get the kids out from under me, but when they’re ill I want to scoop them up and hold them as close as I can. Pull out the sickness through my touch. Lips to hot cheeks to try to ease the pain and absorb it for them. I try to sing away the fever and the aches and pains. Tender thoughts and gentle cuddles to keep them safe. A little bird under a mother’s wing. A home under hospital white.
To distract Eddie from the IV line the doctor and the nurse ask him questions but I know he wants to know how much blood is being taken. “Will they take all my blood?” he whispers, fear in his squeaky voice. “Will they leave some for me?” I explain the procedure, put his whirring little brains at ease. Then I suggest one day he could do this for a sick little child. “Would you like to be a nurse or a doctor when you grow up Eddie?” He looks shyly at those holding his tiny hand. “No thank you” he says. “Well what do you want to be?”
“A dad. I want to be just like my dad”.
“Can you be very strong and push your feet against my hands as hard as you can?”
“I am so strong” Eddie whispers weakly.
“And now relax”
“I don’t know how to ever relax. I am just prolabley proll-a pwobly the strongest boy you ever meet before”.
“Is there anything going on at home that might be making him feel stressed or worried?”
I consider this and ask Eddie directly.
“Yes” he says and I am alert – what is going on? Is it kindy?
“My mama hurted my feelings”
Well I wasn’t expecting that answer. “Can you tell us more Eddie and then I can say sorry?”
His eyes well up “I dunnant want to come to hosdiddle and mama said I had to and it did hurt my feelings very bad”.
The doctor tells him that that’s the job of mamas, to make sure their babies are well looked after even when their babies don’t like it.
He interrupts her-“A couple more years ago at kindy there was a boy and he did bite me on the leg and I never bite anyone at all”. He continues on about the biting incident that happened around two years ago.
“Is he a good eater?”
He wants to go home and he’s pulling on the splint and bandage on his hand. He’s pulling on the line underneath. He won’t drink the cup of sugary salty stuff that apparently tastes like bubblegum. He can’t pee for the urine test because he hasn’t had any water. He won’t drink any water. Or juice. He has pressed one ice block to his ruby lips before passing it to me and shaking his head. One small spoonful of red jelly. One small spoonful of yellow jelly. He won’t drink the salty sugar stuff. It doesn’t taste like bubblegum. I try again to get him to pee into a cup and he sways and says “Please mama I jus want to sleep”. The tiny frustrations don’t feel like frustrations here – they feel like something else. Less anger-inducing and more resigned. Not white caps on water just a gentle lapping of a tide and your damn shoes keep getting wet. It’s not their fault. It’s nobody’s fault.
Alarm bells remind me I’m lucky. Beepers going off ensure I know I really am blessed. Angela is right that we do do our best work as mothers when the going is tough and we have to make it count. My blood pulses and my heart beats for him and I am good at being what he needs. I think I get better every time I am here. Maybe it’s more trust in the system. More ease in translating the language of this land. More familiarity with the view from here. More surrender to the ebb and flow of the seasons of poor health in our fragile babies. As his temperature begins to fall, I close my eyes as he rests on my chest. Dreaming of my bed and my babies by me. Home, home, home. These walls are tear stained and full of hope for home. Wishes behind every curtain. We walk out the doors and don’t ever look back. It’s bad luck. Touch a button. Cross your fingers in your pocket. Thank the lucky stars for those with skill not superstition. Kiss twice, one for each. A whisper of gratitude and we’re home.