I mentioned in my last entry (six days ago! yikes!) that my son was ill but seemed to be getting better. A few people, I think, may have misinterpreted it and thought he was all better. Which was not the case; when I wrote, he seemed to be improving under my wife’s care. We had every reason to believe the worst was over, though.
It wasn’t over. Not by a long shot.
Last weekend, he took a turn for the worse — from being able to take a few tentative steps to being unable to stand, from eating a few small meals a take to a few mouthfuls a day. On Monday, we were calling his pediatrician as soon as their doors were open. Before the morning was out, he had been checked into the county hospital. Before sundown, he was riding a medevac helicopter to Children’s Hospital in Oakland. You didn’t misread that — HE WAS MEDEVAC’D to a hospital SEVENTY MILES AWAY, because the local hospital decided almost immediately that THEY COULDN’T HANDLE IT. (Sorry, I’ll ease up on the all-caps. It’s been a rough week.)
The whole family spend Monday evening in Oakland. I drove myself and my daughter home that night (we got back around 11:15 pm), then we turned around the next morning, went back, spent the whole day there and came home during rush hour. Meanwhile, the Supermodel never left — she hasn’t been more than a block away from him since Monday night. (Children’s Hospital has a “family house,” called the Family House, where she’s staying.)
And the hospital has been running test after test — blood lab work, a spinal tap, an MRI — trying to figure out what in blazes has gone wrong, what turned a happy, hyper five-year-old into a 36-pound rag doll. Last night, they finally found a diagnosis that fits …
(Are you sitting down? Okay, of course you are; you’re at a computer. My stuff’s too freaking long to read on a BlackBerry. But seriously, you should be sitting down for this.)
… West Nile virus. My son has West Nile virus.
As bad as it is, it sounds worse. West Nile is like H1N1, one of those illnesses that seem to cause more headlines than deaths. There’s no cure, but it’s rarely fatal; I know at least one person that’s had it, and it was a three-day affair for him. You just have to ride it out. What we think happened with our boy was that he was riding it out until about Friday evening, and he just ran out of ammo to fight it with. (He’s tough, but he’s only five, after all.) What the good folks at Children’s Hospital are now doing is passing him ammo — pumping him full of vitamins and PediaSure to give him the strength to battle back.
And I do mean “the good folks at Children’s Hospital” — that’s not just me spitting cliches. Over the last few years, we as a family have had to get used to being treated as an inconvenience by a sizable percentage of medical professionals. Not all of them, not even necessarily a majority, but quite a lot of them. Last week’s experience at a certain local emergency room was one of the worst — a long stream of people who acted like they would prefer we just went away, who cared more about having forms filled out than the obviously sick kid I was carrying. (Classic moment: a nurse getting annoyed with me when I said I couldn’t sign a consent form because I didn’t have a hand free; I needed both of them to hold my son without dropping him. No one offered to help. I don’t know if that damned form ever got signed; I do know I was never given a second chance.)
The situation at Children’s Hospital couldn’t be more different. Everyone there — and I do mean “everyone” — has gone out of their way to be helpful, to cater to our son’s needs, to explain things to us in layman’s language, to assuage our fears, to communicate the message that “we care about you and your son, and we will do everything we can to get him back to 100%”. They’ve been kind, they’ve been courteous, they’ve done everything they can to make us feel at home without violating state health and safety codes. Any staff of any hospital or medical facility could do this. Not every one does. Children’s Hospital does.
In addition, we’ve gotten a chance to see the body of Christ at its best. Beginning last week, we started sending out e-mails on our son’s condition to … well, to everyone we know who’s even remotely likely to pray for him. The response has been overwhelming — not just the people writing back with such words of compassion, but all the people who’ve said, “we’re praying for you … and so is the whole prayer chain at our congregation.” Pentecostals, evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Christians who can’t be classified — all the secondary theological characteristics fall by the wayside when a toddler is sick. (According to my mom, there are a few Mormons in the mix, too. I told her that when it’s my son in the hospital, I’ll take prayer from an open-minded Muslim!) You can afford to be picky when it’s not your kid in the balance, I guess. I was told by an old friend (ex-Army, ‘Nam) that there are no atheists after a good firefight; I can testify now that there are no denominational stances during one.
But one thing neither the excellent staff at Children’s Hospital nor the hundreds of prayer warriors can change is that we’re stretched thin as a family: my wife and son in Oaktown, my daughter and I in Stockton. And my wife starts work Friday; the school year begins at her school Monday. So tomorrow, we’re switching off — my daughter and I (who stayed in town today to take care of a bundle of errands and otherwise just plain rest) will drive out to Oakland around noon. Around 2:45 pm, I’ll be dropping off both the ladies at the MacArthur BART transit station to take the train (actually, three trains and a shuttle bus) back home, and I’ll be staying with our boy until he’s healthy and ready to go home — hopefully early next week. The Supermodel will move out of the Family House, and I’ll move in. It’s going to be rough, though probably not as rough as it has been so far. But with all those prayers and a great medical staff helping us, we’ll get by.
So if you wondered why I haven’t written much here of late, that’s why. And that’s also why I won’t be around much in the next week or so. In normal times, I’d be tossing up four posts a week on the American church, marriage, politics and the U.S. soccer team’s 2-1 loss to Mexico tonight. But alas, these aren’t normal times. Almost everything in my life is on hold until my son is back to being himself. And that’s the way it’s gotta be. That’s the way it should be, isn’t it?
But when he’s his old self again, I’ll be back, as full of vinegar and tomato sauce as ever. Hang tight, everybody.