A few weeks back, my wife’s grandfather turned 92 years old and in honor of that rather impressive achievement, we took the baby with us to pay him a visit in the nursing home. This is where I need to be completely up front and honest – I don’t do well with nursing homes. Hospitals are not up there on my favorite list either, but nursing homes have a way of just sending me into an orbit of fear and depression.
I don’t care how much of a fact of life it is, I don’t want to get old. I know, I know. It happens to all of us. I’m not talking about getting older though. I mean getting old. So old that you can no longer care for yourself.
Just as we arrived at the Nursing Home, we took an elevator to the floor where her grandfather is currently staying. As the elevator doors shut, I caught sight of a group of elderly people, some in chairs, some in wheelchairs, their heads sagging down to their chest, expressionless, sitting around in a semi-circle in front of a large television, while the Today Show with Hoda and Kathie Lee played on. Obviously rounded up by the staff for some ‘entertainment,’ these people were sitting there, those images of the TV flashing before them and a look of lifelessness on their faces.
“This is going to be tough,” I thought.
When we got to her grandfather’s room, he was not there yet. He was still down the hall with her mom. When he made his way down via walker, he plopped himself into a chair and his face lit up at the sight of the baby. Hey, who can resist the smiling laughs of a one year old. To see him laughing, playing peekaboo, and dancing in his chair just to entertain our little guy – my heart melted. Our little man was actually making this man’s day.
As Meg, her mom and her grandfather all talked and the baby laughed, I looked around the room. Photos of family and friends – some long gone, others relegated to an occasional visit. A stack of books on top of a cart that sat next to a motorized bed. At the bottom of the cart sat boxes upon boxes of denture hygiene products.
The smell in the air was funny – I can’t put my finger on it, but if you’ve ever been in a nursing home, you know what I mean.
Another man, several years older – late 90s, I believe – wheeled himself in at some point. Talking rather loudly (he can’t hear well, we’re told), he wheeled himself up to her grandfather’s face to ask why he wasn’t at the dinner table. Then, the conversation veered off about their pills and the man then wheeled off, saying he’d look for him at the next meal. The fellow was concerned about him, which was nice to see. This is what friendship is when in a home, I thought.
As we left, wishing her grandfather a Happy Birthday, he asked if he could have a bath for it. And my heart broke.
Here is a man of the Greatest Generation. A man who fought at Iwo Jima, now unable to move without a walker, wearing sweatpants, talking about pills and asking if he could bathe for his birthday.
I wanted to cry.
I know this is life, but it’s not fair. How can people so strong, so full of pep and leadership, pillars of our society, become so weak, so dependent? Why must they lose control of their own bodies and need to wear diapers, be cleaned by others, wait for someone to change or clean their own bed sheets?! Argh! It just…it frustrates me so much that this happens in life and yet, it happens to so many.
We have one neighbor who is 91 and another who is 95. Just within the past few weeks, the 95 year old took a fall that brought ambulances, police and firefighters to his home. His family doesn’t think he can live on his own anymore and when I see the lights of his home dark while they bring him from family member to family member, deciding what to do next, my heart sinks again.
So many people say they want to live forever. Not me. I don’t ever want to reach that point. When I can’t take care of myself, when I, a person who pretty much has to take a shower every day or it mentally haunts me, can’t keep myself clean, I want to call it a day.
It just leads my mind down a path that becomes too overwhelming to handle or comprehend. It means that one day my own parents are going to get old, a thought I suppress whenever it hits and just have trouble handling. One day I will be old, as will my wife. Will we be old together? Will I be around when she gets there? Where will our little guy be in life when it happens? What kind of a relationship will we have? Will he still be my buddy? Will he be on good terms with his parents? The relationship between my father and his parents fell apart decades ago and never ever recovered, to the point of non-speaking. It’s very easy to say ‘this is different,’ ‘we’re not them,’ but let’s face reality – we all carry with us the traits of our parents, grandparents, ancestors, etc, whether we like it or not. We also ALL have the potential to love or hurt those around us, be they family or friends. How does that factor into equation as life continues? Would my little monkey, all grown up, even want to take care of us, or is our future that of the weird smell in the air, the shouting about pills and just wanting to have your dignity back?
I know it sounds horrible, but for all their sakes (my wife, my son, any other children we may have between now and then), I hope it never comes to that. I don’t mind getting older, but when all dignity is gone, I have a hard time envisioning a life that’s being lived.
Yes, this post was filled with fear, dread, some slight paranoia, and some ranting. I know. Sorry about that.
I don’t think Meg or I have ever had moments as terrifying as the ones we experienced last week. I don’t know how more bluntly I could put it other than, we thought our little man had left us.
For me, it was Friday night and I had left work. Meg was picking up the little guy that day so that I could head roughly 40 minutes out of town to a convention where I was set to spend most of the weekend promoting my comic book series. I got about halfway to my destination when I got a phone call from my mom.
“Get to the ER now,” she said.
My son had a seizure when Meg was picking him up.
I turned the car around and raced to the ER as fast as I could, behind every slow vehicle you could imagine, turning seconds into agonizing hours. When I arrived, I raced through the ER, the sense of fear eating away at me in those moments being absolutely inexplicable.
I was crippled the moment I walked into the ER and saw Meg holding our little man in her arms, unresponsive, his eyes rolled back, IVs and breathing tubes hooked up to him. Things seemed utterly bleak.
I looked into Meg’s red, crying eyes and knew we both were thinking the same thing – we thought we had lost him.
Before I had arrived but while in the hospital, he had a second seizure. The first time, he had a fever, they determined, the second time he had not, thus causing some questions and confusion amid the doctors. All sorts of tests were performed – bloodwork, urine, spinal tap (for meningitis) and a cat-scan.
Fortunately, all came back clear.
Then, at some point in the night, after test and test, tears and tears, and every terrible thought running through my head, it happened. When he came to and started responding, looking at us and for the first time he smiled again, well, you could’ve cut off all my limbs and I would have still been smiling to the heavens. He was awake.
The doctor decided to admit him and Meg and I spent the night alongside our little man in the hospital. Late into the night, he started showing signs of eye contact again, causing us to finally breathe once more. When he was spunky enough to start pulling the oxygen tube out of his nose because it obviously annoyed him, we were hopeful that our little monkey was coming back to us.
Throughout the night, the hospital staff checked in, even as he slept, monitoring his temperature, making sure he was getting what he needed in the IV, etc. The next morning, he was up and after a little bit of breakfast, was playing and giggling again, even if his fever was still bouncing up and down a bit and providing some concern.
What the doctors think happened is that he caught a virus. The virus caused the fever to hit quickly and to suddenly spike that afternoon, causing the first seizure.
I made a trip home in the night and returned with some familiar friends for our guy – Gerald the Elephant, and Pigeon, hoping that having a familiar face might help him feel more comfortable. In the morning, Gerald and Pigeon made a new friend – Grover, who joined us from the hospital gift shop on my trip down there for something of comfort, and to find Meg a magazine to read. My parents showed up at one point, bringing with them a talking Daniel Tiger doll that once he was awake, the little guy played with again and again in the cage-like crib set up in the hospital room. It’s set up so that they can’t get out in the night, but looks as though they’re an animal in the zoo.
We’ve always called him our little Superboy, and when he started feeling like himself again, that super-strength was in full force. They had that IV strapped into his arm but good, with an almost cast-like casing on his arm to keep it in. That didn’t stop him, though. When he was uncomfortable, he just reached and ripped that thing clear out of his arm the next day, causing a few nurses and attendants to come running to stop the bleeding he caused. Him? He was just so darn proud of himself. Me? I had to laugh. Our guy was on the mend, that much was clear.
When the hospital pediatrician came around the following morning, he said that we could go home. However, as I’m sure anyone who’s been in a hospital knows, discharge never happens right away. So in the hours between when the doctor said we could go home and when it came time to actually go, the fever had gone back up again. This then led to a myriad of paranoid thoughts about what to do. The doctor had already signed off on the discharge, so while we were told we could stay if we want, the insurance company may not cover it because he signed off on the discharge earlier in the day. The hospital said to call the insurance company, which, wouldn’t you know, was not open on weekends and said to leave a message for them to get back to us on the next business day.
After a lot of back and forth, we decided we would just go home. We felt that if he was acting normal again, we could at least be there with him 24/7, be able to administer his medicine without the need of waiting for a nurse or attendant or doctor to come in amid other rounds they need to make. And he just might feel more comfortable back at home.
Environment may very well play a role in how our minds work when it comes to health, because it seemed as though he perked right up when he got around his familiar environment, his kitties, and his toys again. The fever was still there, but they prescribed medicine for that. Ah, there was the rub, though. A quick trip by me to get the medications led to me going to three pharmacies, all closed by 7:30 on a Saturday night. Hannaford, closed. Rite Aid, closed. Even Wal-Mart (despite my not liking Wal-Mart…I was desperate at that point), all closed. I was at my wits’ end. I called Walgreens. There was one 20-25 minutes away, but I’d make the drive. Closed. I told them we had just gotten out of the hospital and I needed this medicine for my child, asking if they could please recommend SOMEPLACE to get it.
Fortunately, there was a local pharmacy that was open, and open until 10 p.m. I put my foot to the pedal and drove 25 minutes to that pharmacy and got it filled, along with some other items needed – including A+D Cream for the poor little guy’s heiney. All that temperature taking left him very, very sore. I also bought an ear thermometer so we could hopefully give his little bum a rest.
Luckily for us, Meg’s sister came by and lent a hand while I was out on this hour and a half long journey for medicine.
In the end, it turned out I ran myself ragged for nothing. That prescription the hospital pediatrician gave us? Turned out if was for child’s ibuprofen to treat the fever. All that time, I could have just picked it up over the counter.
My mind was in an utter fog, so I’m not surprised that these little things alluded me in the midst of panic.
That night, we slept in the little guy’s room, alongside his crib. We broke out a sleeping bag and laid it out, threw a few blankets down and set the alarm so we would make sure to get up at the right times and give him his medicine for the fever and monitor his temperature (something made a lot easier in the middle of the night with that ear thermometer). We did this two nights in a row, and saw his pediatrician the following Monday, who said it all appeared to be viral.
After the first few days home from work to monitor the little guy, my wife has now caught the virus and is fighting it off herself. We’re pounding the vitamin C (orange juice as well as powdered C inside water), and some Elderberry (great for the immune system) on top of the usual soup and tea.
It’s hard to be a week out and not think back to the horrors of seven days ago. I could sit here and worry about a million and one things. Yes, I know that I’ve always been slightly paranoid and a worry-wart before this. I know that I’m going to be very much airing on the side of caution even more than normal because of this. And yes, my mind keeps bouncing back to the words of the doctor telling us that now that this has happened once, he’s at high-risk for it happening again until he’s about five years old.
But I’ll try very hard not to. I know we all will. His fever has since subsided, and with the exception of a croupy-like bark that we’re working on, similar to what he had last February, he is playing and laughing and smiling and just being our little guy again.
And it’s absolutely wonderful.
I don’t care what superstitions anyone has about Friday the 13th. It was the day he was born and as of last week, it was the day he came back to us. It’s the luckiest day in the world to us.
My driver side and passenger side door were open.
“That’s odd,” I thought, as I loaded the baby’s bags in the backseat. That’s when something hit me to check the arm rest compartment. I opened it and found that, yep, my GPS and other items inside were gone.
Someone had broken into my car.
I’m not even quite sure if broken into is the correct term. Look, I’m normally a pretty paranoid person. Once I’m in the house and before bed, I’ll peek out the window and double check the car locks with my remote. This is the one night I didn’t, for whatever reason, and it’s the one night someone got into my car.
You know, I’m not even angry about it. I called police, I told them what was taken – a GPS which I haven’t been using much anyway since getting a smartphone, some phone charger cords and a key ring with discount tags for various stores and some odds and ends keys. This part had me concerned. There was nothing from the house on the key chain, but if they took it, what’s to say they didn’t take it with the intention of coming back and trying to use those keys?
It just really bothers me to know that while my family slept, someone was in our driveway and going through my car.
Needless to say, I’ve adopted my more paranoid-type ways with car locks in the days since.
It turned out to be a less than stellar day. Work was terrible (not because of the work itself, mostly because I have one co-worker who makes it a mission to treat me like less than a human being…why is that too much to ask of a colleague in a workplace?) and that day I also ended up finding out that a book deal I was to be a part of ending up falling through. It was something that, while I wasn’t depending on, I’ll admit I had daydreamed about, knowing its paycheck would have helped eliminate two out of my three remaining student loans and help open the door to a little more financial freedom in our future.
So, in every sense of the word, I felt broken into, broken down and beaten down. It was not my finest hour (or 24 hours as the case may be) and I will admit an incredible sense of frustration and violation.
Is this the type of man I want my son to see growing up? Someone who was once ready to conquer the world with boundless energy, but is taken down by the actions or words of others, be it the break in of the car or just a beat down at work?
No, it’s not.
So, with that in mind, my pity party is done, and i am pulling up the bootstraps and continuing on.
Thanks for listening.
The large white flakes fell outside the dining room windows a day before the official start of Spring, leaving the backyard, the neighborhood, and many across the northeast blanketed in a fresh coat of snow.
Bob Dylan’s gravely voice sang that “Times, They are a Changin’,” as my son sat, propping himself up on all fours atop a white quilted blanket made by one of his grandmothers.
Before Dylan was Paul Simon with “Kathy’s Song,” both making me lose myself in the sight of this little man now getting prepped for bath time.
Times, they are a changin’ indeed, and I don’t quite know why I can’t shake it. My entire life, I’ve thought so much about the passage of time, not necessarily living in the moment nearly as much as I think I should have.
When I was a very little kid, I took a field trip to a museum. There, even at an elementary age, I was fascinated by a series of paintings by Thomas Cole called “The Voyage of Life,” displaying the various stages we each go through, up against the backdrop of an ever darkening sky as our life continues. I’m not saying that’s what it did it, but it was certainly a series of images that have stayed with me to this day.
How did my parents do it? How do they handle even now, having children who are once these little cherub-faced angels, only to have them grow up to become people?
As bath time progresses and Dylan switches over to Billy Joel bellowing out the lament of a Piano Man, the snow continues to blanket the yard, like it has years before and will for years to come.
I don’t know where any of us will be as I look out to that fallen snow and think of the years that will follow, but I know I’ll look back and feel that they went by too fast.
Will I see my reflection in the glass against the sheet of white and see a life lived or a life spent philosophizing on how quickly it all changes?
Maybe a little of both. Who knows?
I hope it’s a life that found a balance between the two, savoring the moments to their fullest because of an awareness that they won’t last forever. I truly hope so.
Only time will tell.
I had a very jarring moment recently that out of nowhere caused me to start thinking about mortality. Notably, my own.
Throughout the course of my life, I’ve rarely given it thought, or if I did, only in dark hours of sadness I’d care not to revisit. For the most part, though, I’ve been susceptible to what many youth are – that feeling that you will go on forever; that there’s always tomorrow; always next month; always a few years down the road.
It allowed me to cultivate an ongoing sense of forward vision, always looking to what project, what script, what new story, what task, was coming down the line that could be tackled or scheduled in.
There was always time.
Then, on a recent weekend, I was sitting with my son on my lap, now almost eight months old. He smiled at me and I looked into his eyes and realized, this moment I’m experiencing was one my father and me no doubt had, and his father before him and so on and so forth.
It was in that simple moment of a smile that I realized this is the circle of life at work. This little guy is the next generation. He will follow me as I followed my father, etc. But in that moment, staring into his beautiful eyes and having him smile back at me, I suddenly realized, truly, for the first time, I am not going to live forever. That someday, he might be bouncing a baby upon his knee and I may be older, and eventually as that circle continues, I may no longer be here.
It was an eye opener. I wish I had something quite profound to wrap this all in a bow with, but I don’t. In fact, I’m still processing the feelings it brought about.
What I do know, though, is that it just proved as one more example to me to get up and live life. There are things we can’t always control. Unless we’re independently wealthy, you know what, we have to get up and go to work each day. We have to do housework, we have to do grocery shopping, we have to repair things when they’re broken.
But that makes the time in between all the more precious. Whether it’s getting out, going for a walk and experiencing the world around you, whether it’s sitting under a tree with a good book, or whether it’s just telling your parents or your child you love them and spending time with them, DO IT.
Despite what you think, you won’t have the chances forever.
You couldn’t have written it to unfold any scarier.
The weekend had been great. We went to sleep with every intention that we’d wake up with just another Monday, despite an ice/snow storm raining down through the overnight hours.
But as the clock switched over to midnight, the baby suddenly awoke in his crib, making a gurgling sound as he coughed, sounding like he was gasping for air. We tried to comfort him but the more he coughed, the more panicked he became, which just compounded his fear and anxiety.
I am sure that as time goes on there will be situations where I feel even worse, but I’ve never felt more helpless than having your baby look at you, not understanding what’s going on and why they can’t stop this feeling, this coughing, why they don’t feel right, and looking to you for help and you can’t do anything to help him.
Meg’s mom even showed up around one in the morning to lend a hand, but there wasn’t a lot that could be done for him at that time other than wrapping him in Meg’s arms, rocking back and forth with a cold mist humidifier spewing, and he eventually fell back asleep, his cough lessening as he dozed.
First thing in the morning, we called our pediatrician, only now we had added a fever of over 100 and vomiting to the mix since the nighttime. We were able to get an appointment 45 minutes from when we called and rushed out of the house and to the office to get him looked at.
The doctor says none other than “the croup.”
It’s a respiratory condition that comes from a viral infection in the upper airway. In fact, our pediatrician drew a very nice picture on the paper sheet in the examination room of the respiratory system and how the virus effects the system. I’m kicking myself for being lost in the worried-parent moment and not taking a photo to use on this blog because it was such a good sketch, but what can I say? I was more focused on the little guy and what was wrong than I was thinking of turning that experience into a blog post.
Anyway, the virus effects the upper airway and causes swelling in the throat, interfering with normal breathing and creating that barking cough. The symptoms also are known to be more persistent at night.
I’m no stranger to the croup. It was something I was all too familiar with in my own childhood, even tackling it in years when I was much older than our little guy. I remember many a night of being carried outside into the cold by my parents on a chilly winter night to break up whatever was building inside me, or the numerous times when I was mobile on my own and had to sit with my head above a pan of hot, steaming water with a towel over my head as I inhaled.
It wasn’t pretty, but then, as we sat there with our seven month old baby intermittently smiling and barking like a baby seal, I realized, it never is pretty.
This week we’re alternating taking sick days to stay home with the little guy, as the doctor prescribed 2-3 doses of a non-albuterol version of a nebulizer. It’s awful watching the uncomfortable, sometimes scared look on the little man’s face as we put this mask on him for the breathing treatments.
We’re just hoping that in the days ahead, he will begin to feel better and breathe easier.
Even the name sounds scary, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is, for both child and parent alike.
Fortunately for a lot of people, not every child goes through it, I’m told, and I’ve asked around and found that only a small percentage of parents I ask had a clue as to what they were, let alone had their child go through it. Which is good, because it’s frightening as hell.
My parents tell me that I had them as a kid, but was at least a few years old when they came about. Typically, they occur in children from 3 years old to 12 years old.
For us and our little guy, though, it started very early; within the first few months type of early.
For those who may have been lucky enough to not have gone through them, don’t confuse this with bad dreams or nightmares.
Oh, so different.
It can sound like normal crying at first, it can sound like a sudden shriek, but what it becomes is a long, arduous bout of exactly what it sounds like – continuous shrieks and screams of absolute terror from a baby who has only been alive for half a year and shouldn’t have to experience such fear, whatever he’s experiencing.
Seeing your child in pain, fear, etc, is hard enough for any parent, but here’s the thing about night terrors – you can’t do anything about them. You just can’t. The baby is not even awake for them. So, here we are, holding this tiny little guy, who is fast asleep, eyes closed tight, with no notion that you’re there showering him with hugs and love to comfort him, as he cries out in fear over and over again.
It gets even freakier and heart wrenching, when his eyes open a little bit during it, even though he is deep asleep and not even close to awakening. We’ve had night terrors periodically for months now, and last night was the first night I saw his little eyes open during them, while still asleep.
Believe me when I say I have never felt such heartache and helplessness as I did looking into his eyes and seeing the absolute terror on his face as he screamed, knowing there was nothing more we could do but hold him close, shower him with love and let him know we were there for him to come back to.
He’s absolutely inconsolable and unable to awaken and it’s quite scary.
I’ve heard a lot about night terrors, from doctors who say there’s nothing that can be done other than allow him to outgrow it to more metaphysical theories of night terrors as the process of babies experiencing trauma from a past life. When I think of that I just think, my god, if that’s true, what type of horror must my poor little guy have gone through in another life to be this frightened and tortured.
Regardless of what’s behind it, both theories prescribe the only thing that can be done – hold him, love him, let him know you’re there.
It’s the only thing we can do.
As gut wrenching as it is in the meantime, I just hope that one day, when I look back at this entry, I will go ‘wow, remember that?’ because the episodes will have become so far in the past, and he will be sleeping peacefully in the other room.