I'm holding my breath. And counting.
I should breathe, but I'm staring at my son, willing him to start breathing again too. We'll exhale together.
Kavi is on the 911 call, the paramedics are coming. They can't be far away.
He exhales, I don't know how long. I've lost count when I coughed. His lips are a little blue or am I just imagining it. The next 3 minutes feels like an eternity. The next three days are a blur.
I never want to feel like that again. That was back in 2016, but that fear runs through my veins every time I put on a mask, get that whiff of sanitizer. And if that is how I feel when this story has a happy ending, I can't imagine what a tragedy would feel like on my conscience.
I'm jetlagged, sick and shell shocked. A week ago, I was in Australia. I had taken a mid-week trip to Australia, the first time I had said bye to the kid for a work trip. The plane goes SF, Sydney, Melbourne, then meet hundreds of people at a conference and then back again. On the way back, I've come home with a cough. Nothing serious. I just need to get enough sleep, drink a megadose of vitamin C and keep going like I always do.
But I missed the little guy. And I'm also feeling guilty that I haven't done my equal parent duties for that week. I played with him, rocked him to sleep on my shoulder and everything else I always do. I even joked about my cold that it's alien, but that "this is how he's going to build immunity". It's not like that would've actually mattered, he slept in the same room anyway, but I definitely didn't care. I was sick, but not enough to stay away.
When he held his breath the first time, I was in entire denial. No, this bad thing is not happening, because if he's really sick then I would be the one who brought something bad home. Sleep deprivation just amps up my paranoia about risks hidden to all but me. I overcorrect it by pure and blanket denial from deep within - it is not happening, if it is happening it's not too bad; you're the one making it a big deal, not me, if you leave it alone, it will go away.
And sometimes things get real. Way too real.
Waiting for that ambulance, that other part of me was starting to crush me from the inside. But by the time the ambulance was loading up, there was just a determination to get through this, for him, before I give way to that guilt. There was a long list of things that are more important than how you feel.
The ambulance takes off to the hospital without the sirens. I'm sitting up front, because I don't have a car to follow in. One stop sign later, he starts seizing again and the driver drives at 50 through, onto the ER. We run in, through those doors that swing both ways. The ER staff tries to get an IV into the foot, he kicks & perforates a vein, blood spurts onto the bed. I would have thrown up if I had some breakfast in me. I know I need to call people immediately and ask for help before I fall apart.
On the other hand, I'm relieved nothing is in my hands anymore, but there's still no time to wallow in regret. The doctors tell me that they need to get a CT to check for blood clots, need a spinal tap for viral encephalitis, send swab samples to PCR for some virus (MERS?) and need to shave bits of his head to wire up an EEG. There are consent forms and then some more. If not for the paperwork in the way, standing by in the ER is a religious experience, forcing you to confront the fragility of everything.
For the next few days, there was a mix of relief and disappointment as each test came back negative, until they called it an hMPV infection. We went home with an apparently healthy child, but without any information on why it happened, a diazepam shot and with instructions on avoiding infections which might cause fevers (because of febrile seizures). Bottles of sanitizer in every room, masks on for visitors, limited outings and no more good night kisses for him.
Except for getting triggered once in a while, the ending redeems everything. The next time it happened, we were ready. Went straight to the ER, got a diagnois, the treatment worked and Kavi took him swimming, to celebrate. And nothing like that has ever happened since. Phew.
The guilt of passing on something dangerous to someone more vulnerable than you is an unbearable burden on your conscience. It is a stain that will not wash off.
To everyone reading this, you all know why a mask saves others, but don't feel it in person - you just don't know who you're going to save and they won't care that it was you. Except, knowing who you doomed and how will break you. Because it will be your friends, your family and you might wish that it was you instead, not them.--
It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.
-- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray