My husband’s second deployment happened just five days after our second son was born, more than 16 years ago. I’d dreaded his departure more than the first deployment because not only were we stationed across the ocean in Hawaii with no local family to rely on, but we also had no car. While he was overseas (fortunately not in war), I would be alone with a toddler and a newborn and no way to get around the island. I must’ve sensed that our situation was a recipe for disaster.
Three months into the seven-month-long deployment, my oldest caught a nasty stomach bug that left him with diarrhea — during the same week he’d finally graduated from his last diaper to underwear. While cleaning up his frequent, loose stools from the floor, I was also concerned about my infant son’s fever. Somehow, he’d contracted a respiratory infection that made his nose crust up and caused him to gasp while nursing.
Since we’d moved to Hawaii the year before, the only friends I’d managed to make had moved away when their husbands received new orders. I neglected to reach out and meet new people as my pregnancy progressed, and I became increasingly exhausted while also raising a toddler. By the time I gave birth to my second son, I didn’t know anyone besides my husband and a home visiting nurse named Sue who came by each week to check on my family.
To get to the medical clinic on base, I had to load my sons up in our double stroller and walk 2-1/2 miles to reach their doctor. The walks never bothered me, but the fact that the clinic was only open Mondays through Fridays posed an entirely different problem. If my kids needed emergency care during the weekend, I would have to find enough cash to take a cab across the island to the local military hospital (and back), a good 40-minute drive away. That was an easy $100 expense that I normally couldn’t afford.
Thankfully, my children didn’t need emergency medical care when the clinic was closed. Unfortunately for me, when a massive infection took over my own body, it was (of course) during a four-day holiday weekend the day after Christmas.
I remember my left breast feeling strangely sore the night before the infection took hold. I thought I’d forgotten to nurse on that side, so I made sure to latch my son to that breast first during his next feeding. The soreness never relented, though, and by the next morning my entire breast was inflamed, covered in thin red lines that looked as if my toddler had drawn spider webs with marker across my boob.
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When I stood up to get out of bed, the world seemed blurry. I could hardly stand up straight and knew, immediately, something was very wrong. My infant son was crying and I struggled to pick him up from his bed without falling. I could feel sweat running down my temples and the back of my neck. My body felt like a slow-moving, fiery robot that was malfunctioning.
While my eldest slept, I called the hospital helpline and was told that due to the holiday, the only clinic seeing patients was all the way down at Pearl Harbor, almost an hour away. Panic started to set in. I had no more money left in our bank account, and payday wasn’t for a few more days. Not anticipating getting sick, I spent our last few dollars on diapers, wipes, cleaning supplies for the floor, new underwear and Popsicles for my oldest.
I was in trouble.
I called the clinic at Pearl Harbor and over the phone described my symptoms.
“Ma’am,” the corpsman said to me, “you need to get to the clinic immediately.”
Sue, the only person I knew with a car, had recently gone off-island to visit her family, meaning I had absolutely no one to call. I started crying over the phone like a drunk, wailing that I had no way to get there, two kids who still rode in car seats, no money, no family and no friends to ask for help. Basically, I blubbered, I was going to die.
The corpsman listened and was kind. He asked me to hold for a moment and when he came back on the phone he said, “I found a sailor who will drive down to your house, pick you up, and bring you and your kids here to the clinic. He’ll even bring you back home once you’ve been seen.”
I repeatedly thanked the corpsman and spent the next hour struggling to get my two sons and myself ready for the doctor. I’m pretty sure my oldest had one sandal on and my baby was wrapped in a blanket with only a diaper underneath. I was a literal hot mess.
As promised, the sailor arrived at my door and helped me load my kids in the car before driving us to the clinic at Pearl Harbor. I was seen and immediately diagnosed with mastitis of the breast and given powerful antibiotics. The kids were also seen and given meds to help them feel better, too.
That night, while home and resting, I scrawled out a sloppy thank-you letter to the kindly sailor who rescued me and my sons the day after Christmas. It turned out that the worst day of my mom life was also one of the best, because it taught me that no matter how hard life gets, someone will be there to hold out their hand.