Early one week in January, I commented to my wife that little Ari — then only eight weeks old — was faring well during the cold and flu season. On the very next Saturday, he got a stuffed-up nose. The next day, he slept a lot and his breathing seemed slightly ragged. Still, being experienced parents, we thought he’d be fine with basic care.
On Monday, Ari became increasingly upset, so Wendy took him to our pediatrician. The doctor said Ari might have RSV and that hospitalization was an option. RSV is respiratory syncytial virus, which usually causes cold-like symptoms. Most children get it by age two, but it can affect a baby’s lungs more seriously.
With the first two boys, Benjamin (6) and Jacob (3), we had avoided hospital visits entirely. Although Benjamin contracted RSV when he was one-year-old, he was cured by a few home treatments. We knew we were lucky but we were also deluded to believe we’d done everything well enough to keep our sons from grave illness. So we took the option to treat Ari at home. We had to administer albuterol to clear his airways, but he stayed calm and it went well. He slept peacefully that night.
The next morning, Ari was worse. He labored to breathe and his wails were muffled. I was at work when Wendy called to tell me that his temperature had risen too high. I felt guilty for not having taken him to the medical center more readily.
When I met Wendy at the hospital, she looked ashen and Ari appeared exhausted. A nurse, who seemed a bit nervous (she’d only been on the job a few months), had me hold Ari down as she ran a tube into his nostrils to deep-suction out the phlegm. Wendy could barely watch from a few feet away as Ari screamed.
More poking and prodding ensued as nurses attempted to draw blood for testing. Ari howled as I helped comfort him, but my stomach sank while witnessing the nurses dig needles in his veins before concluding that he was too dehydrated to give blood. They managed to insert an IV port into his hand, though he fought mightily before they got it in.
I finally went home to grab clothes for my boys who were to sleep over at Nana and Papa’s house. I ate dinner with them, trying to soothe their concerns but swallowed hard when Benjamin asked, “Is Ari going to die?”
“No,” I said. “But he’s going to need time to get better.”
“I miss Mommy,” Jacob moaned.
I kissed them goodnight and went back to see Wendy and Ari at the new hospital room, which we shared with a frazzled single mom whose baby also had RSV. Wendy cried, worn down by concerns for an infant she could no longer protect in her womb. I’d never seen her so worked over and I hope I never see it again. I, on the other hand, felt numb and tried to figure out how to help her, our big boys, my students who were to have a final exam the next day, and little Ari. I left late and slept for two hours alone in my house. It was eerie with my wife and three children away. I felt like a shell without them.
The next day, I gave my final exam and went to relieve Wendy, who had had a night of worry and beeping medical monitors. For the hours I then spent holding and feeding Ari, I felt strangely at peace. I was so connected to my son as I gave him the only things he needed from me — time and love.
Wendy returned to take the night watch. My mom brought the boys home and I went through the bedtime rituals as normally as possible, and then let the kids sleep in the big bed with me.
In the morning, I took the boys to school and went home to tie up loose ends. Then, Wendy called to say Ari’s lungs had cleared enough for him to leave the hospital.
Wendy and Ari got back late that morning, but it wasn’t until the afternoon, when I brought home the older kids, that I felt I could really breathe again. Ari did need medicine at home for several days, though his smiles returned, bigger than ever.
Looking back, I realize that what we went through cannot compare to what other parents endure with children who have more serious illnesses. Those parents have courage I can hardly fathom.
Indeed, parenthood has plenty of twists and turns to make us all feel out of control. It’s enough to force us to hold our breath for fear of what might happen next. Yet, we manage to settle down, however cautiously, breathing in the fullness our children bring to our lives.