Tuesday, 19 May 2009

There's nothing quite like the word....

..Meningitis to turn a mother's blood to ice.
Poor Junior hadn't been feeling well for a few days but we made the decision to continue with our holiday anyway. I caved in under the weight of his begging pleas. And, perhaps rather selfishly I had been looking forward to getting away with my sister and my brilliant wee niece. So, I just made sure I packed plenty of sachets of Calpol along with the sunscreen and cagoule.
We had a brilliant holiday. We don't get away often so it's nice when things go to plan. Saturday was perfection. We went to a little place called Mabie Farm in Dumfries and Junior and his cousin ran wild and free - they rode on donkeys, jumped on trampolines, fed baby animals, drove around in pedal powered go-karts (so did my big sis and I!), went on the choo-choo express, flying fox, hay barn rope swing just to name a few of the brilliant activities at the farm. The weather was on and off, but it was Scotland after all. As Billy Connolly once said, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes" By the end of the day the kids had roses in their cheeks, mud on their clothes and straw in their hair. They were positively glowing.
Junior had a couple of late nights disco dancing with Maxie Bear but nothing too outrageous. We were (embarrassingly for my sister and I) all in bed by 10pm every night.
On Sunday morning it was clear that something was very wrong. Junior could barely lift his head off the cushion. We left our accommodation early and headed up the road. Junior slept for most of the way - not an easy thing to do on the bendy, bumpy country roads. We got home around teatime and by then my gnawing anxiety had upped a notch to gut-wrenching worry. Junior made it (albeit shakily) from the car to the settee where he collapsed in a shivering heap. He was burning up even with the help of Calpol and more worryingly he was complaining of a sore neck. I gave him a tepid bath to try and cool him down but he whimpered the whole way through it and much to my horror I noticed a huge lump on his neck. He screamed when I touched it. Fear took over and I got straight on the phone to NHS 24.
I know there are lots of people who are happy to share their horror stories about our National Health Service but I have never had any complaints. Let's face it, in America the first thing they would have asked me that night would have been "What's your credit card number?" Anyway, I was promised a call back from a Doctor within the hour. What followed was the longest 40 minutes of my life. As I sponged my rapidly failing son (I'm sure the heat coming off him actually singed the hairs on my arms) I stared at the phone and longed for it to ring. But it lay lifeless on the duvet and my heart felt like it might explode. Eventually it rang and I can honestly say I've never been so relieved to hear another human being in my life. Rhona was her name. I ran through Junior's symptoms with her - paying careful attention to the sore neck and dislike of bright light as these are the two things that us mum's are trained to be on heightened alert about. I was aware that I was making a conscious effort to control my voice because my panic was spiralling and inside my head I was screaming,
"Just hurry up, will you! Do something!!"
After a lot of mm's and ah's Rhona asked,
"Has your child got unusually cold feet and hands?"
I thought this to be a rather strange question but I dutifully lifted the covers back to check. My brain was whirling,
"Please don't let his feet be cold because that must mean something bad..."
Imagine my horror when I felt his wee foot, like an ice cube against the flaming heat of the rest of his lifeless body.
"Yes!" I replied in a shaky voice, "his feet are very cold"
"I don't want to alarm you" said Rhona calmly (if ever there were words to alarm a parent then this is them) "but I think he might be showing symptoms of meningitis"
And there it was. That dreaded word. Of course I had considered it before that moment. The word had kept creeping into my head but I pushed it back like a lion tamer with a chair. At that second I realised with horrifying clarity that it could be a very real possibility. The room was swimming but I had to hold it together.
"I'm going to phone for an ambulance, it will be there with you very shortly" reassured kind Rhona.
"Thankyou for your help" I replied politely but what I really wanted to shout was "please don't leave me on my own!!"
The paramedics arrived about 4 minutes later. Relief is not the word. Junior didn't even have the energy to be fazed about the three giant strangers dressed in green standing beside the bed when he was woken from his delirious state. He mumbled "I don't want to play" (I think he thought we were still on holiday and they were Maxie Bear and Co!)
They were so kind and one of them, Christine carried poor Junior out to the ambulance. He looked heart-breakingly vulnerable in his pyjamas. I left the house in such a state I was still wearing my slippers. I must have locked the front door automatically because I had no recollection of doing so. Cue twitching curtains from nosey neighbours. Goodness knows what rumours will be floating around the estate this week. To be honest, I don't care.
The poor paramedics tried their best to be upbeat on the journey to the Sick Kids.
"I hope that's not beer you've got in there!" they cajoled as I bottle fed Junior Evian water. Sadly both Junior and I had had a sense of humour bypass by that point. Even the wheelie down the ramp from the ambulance didn't muster up a smile. By the time a Doctor saw Junior he had a temperature of 103.2 (and rising). He was immediately wired up to monitors and given anaesthetic cream on the back of both hands. You would think in this day and age somebody would have invented a numbing cream that took less that 45 minutes to work. Why is it when your child is ill every minute feels like an hour?
In typical NHS fashion we were put in the nearest available cubicle (it was a busy night - a nurse informed me that any Sunday before a holiday Monday is always busy in A&E) which we shared with a teenage boy who had had diarrhoea for two days. Imagine my complete horror when a doctor passed us with a cardboard cup and asked aforementioned boy to provide a sample for analysis. All of this was done with only a flimsy curtain separating us. I don't know who I felt more sorry for.
Next, Junior had to have his blood taken. Poor soul didn't even flinch. He was just lying on the trolley moaning quietly. If I could have swapped places with him I would have. Another agonisingly long wait for results. Of course the only words swirling around my mind during that time were those which seemed to have rung louder than any others that had come from the doctor's mouth - "sinister" "worrying" "untoward"
Anyway, as I type this now Junior is lying next to me watching CBeebies and asking for some lunch - so thankfully there is a happy ending. He has an infected lymph node which means his body is fighting hard against a nasty virus. "Nasty virus" seems to cover a multitude of sins nowadays... I'm sure he won't mind me telling you that he has horrendous windypops (probably a by product of the strong antibiotics he is taking to reduce the golf ball sized lump on his neck) but other than that he appears to be on the mend. It may take a while but I'm confident he will be back to his normal energetic self in no time - with the help of my winning combination of a. a few days off school b. lots of mashed banana c. tonnes of TLC and d. fruit pastille ice lollies.
It is a strange feeling writing this blog with the luxury of distance from that horrible event. At the time I experienced some kind of tunnel vision where I could not think about anything other than my child lying helpless in front of me. Nothing else mattered. I had to stay strong for my wee boy. In fact I didn't allow myself fall to pieces until I got home that night (with the kind help of my good old Dad who never fails to drop everything to help out) I was absolutely exhausted when Junior and I eventually fell into bed. A combination of a hectic holiday and the stress of the past few hours hit me like a tonne of bricks. After I got the tears out of my system I just spent the night staring at my sleeping boy and being thankful that things had turned out okay in the end.


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