Saturday, June 9, 2012

Well Child

It wasn't until our pediatrician mentioned it at Violet's well child this week that I realized it's been months since Violet needed her asthma meds and years since we had an asthma emergency. There was a time when she was a baby that we were at the doctor's office or hospital twice a week.

I fell in love with the health professionals who helped keep my daughter alive. I know that sounds melodramatic, but babies can't tell you what's wrong. For long stretches of time, I kept one eye peeled for flaring nostrils, shallow panting visible between the ribs, and bluish tint around the mouth.

It was always a judgment call as far as when to take her in. It was the morning of Violet's dad's birthday that I had a feeling something was wrong but I wasn't sure why. We had a houseful of visitors planned for the weekend. As I watched Violet crawling across the living room floor, she stopped and her face fell straight down into the carpet. She didn't move.

I picked Violet up and ran upstairs to tell her dad I was taking her to the hospital. He thought I was over-reacting but I was the one who was more clued into her situation as I handled her medical appointments. I left Daisy with her dad, trying to exude calm, and got Violet into the car. My knees felt like jello and shook on the way to the hospital, a thankfully short distance. I talked to Violet the whole time as she stared listlessly out the window.

When we got to the hospital, they rushed us into the ER - we had been there once already that week, and they greeted Violet by name. They checked her oxygen levels. They were dropping, dropping; the room exploded into shouting and movement as the nurse and respiratory therapist ran to get her hooked up to oxygen. I willed myself not to faint or cry. I called her dad and told him to come.

By the time Violet's dad joined us at the ER, we were told they were checking us into the hospital. I wasn't thinking clearly, and a nurse told me to go home and pack. Violet's dad took my place on the ER bed with Violet, and I sped home to pack, numb. Our friends had gotten Daisy to her grandparents. I stopped by a Safeway to grab a birthday cake for Violet's dad and left it for him at home; only one adult was allowed to sleep in the hospital room. When I returned to the ER, Violet's dad was crying.

The days in the hospital are carved into my memory. I spent a lot of time with Violet's respiratory therapist, who had himself grown up with severe asthma. He was a jazz musician, a charismatic middle-aged man who lived in Portland; he worked 12 days in a row in California then flew back up to his young wife and child for the rest of the month. He sometimes played on streetcorners with his kid on his back and his wife at his side. He was also a talented RT for babies. His presence was not unlike Morgan Freeman's character in The Shawshank Redemption. He stood there casually watching Violet for several hours after we checked in - babies can be fine one minute and in distress the next - while making slow and thoughtful conversation. I learned to associate the sight of the RT with relief. I was in no hurry to get out of that hospital, as much as it sucked.

There was a teen couple next door with a baby in a similar situation. The father who wasn't supposed to be there argued loudly with the mother, cussing up a storm and watching blaring TV for most of the first night. I tossed and turned on a cot. Violet was hooked up to oxygen and an oxygen monitor that made a loud beeping sound and was faulty - sounding off alarms unnecessarily. My nerves were toast by morning.

Violet's doctor, who was pregnant at the time, came to check on us in our quarantined room in the hospital; she scolded me for not complaining about the couple next door and encouraged me to take care of myself. I looked like hell. Our pediatrician is amazing - she's warm, caring, and seemingly not motivated by profit. She takes her time with her patients and goes out of her way to make things easier - or less expensive, which was huge. That year, our family's out-of-pocket healthcare costs totaled more than 20K.

This week, our pediatrician interviewed Violet as she sat on the patient table looking like a healthy six year old.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"A hairdwessuh."

"What do you like to do?"

"Put on make-up."

I had to interject - tell the doctor about what you like to do outside. You learned to ride a bike without training wheels before your older sister and then taught her how to ride a bike all by yourself after all the adults had failed for months. Tell her that!

Violet nodded with a shy smile and our pediatrician gave her a hug and said something like, "It is wonderful to see the healthy kid you have become. You were really sick when you were a baby. I am so happy to see you as a strong, healthy girl in kindergarten."

Violet beamed.

"What is your favorite book?"

"Fancy Nancy."

"I see a theme here."

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