A couple of weeks ago Adam went on a school camping trip with a sniffle and returned with what turned out to be a pneumonia that triggered his asthma. At first we debated whether we should wait to take Adam to the doctor in the morning. Then his breathing became shallow and rapid after he fell asleep. That's when we knew we had to take him to the emergency room.
There is not much in life that is more upsetting than seeing your child lying in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask over his face. There is not much in life that is scarier than seeing him so docile and weak that he's not complaining about how bored he is. There is nothing more addicting than watching his oxygen saturation levels on a monitor all night long.
But through all of this it is critical to never allow your hospitalized child to see you sweat. There are no exceptions to this last bit of advice. You must remain calm and evenkeeled in front of your child. If you have to cry or panic, take a deep breath. If that doesn't stave off the tears or quell the anxiety drawing blood away from your face, tell your child you'll be right back and walk it off in the hallway. If it's really bad, buy a packet of M&M's in the gift shop and finish it in the elevator.
The nurses and other hospital personnel in the pediatric ward are in a special class of superheroes. Whenever a nurse was in the room with Adam, he or she wholeheartedly loved him. The nurses cheered him on as his peak flow numbers inched up. They comforted him when he was told that he couldn't go home right away. A child-life specialist found a plush animal he could hold onto throughout his stay, so he didn't have to risk getting his own stuffed animal dirty in the hospital.
Every single person that Adam encountered in the hospital told him that he was going to get better, and they delivered on that promise in small, crucial ways. One nurse brought the Wii on the floor to his room, having sanitized the controllers for him. The childlife specialists played 277 rounds of Yahtzee with him while I catnapped. The respiratory therapists gingerly administered treatments in the middle of the night to avoid waking him.
Across town there was another group of superheroes monitoring Adam's progress. His class advisor called him in the hospital every day and told him not to think about schoolwork. His only assignment was to get well. His art teacher drew a get-well card that all of Adam's classmates and teachers signed. The headmaster called and said how much Adam was missed. Our rabbi called to cheer Adam up.
Our family and friends visited, called and emailed. Uncle Jonathan called twice a day and Titi - Adam's aunt - wore a mask when she visited, mostly to amuse Adam, although her throat was scratchy. Adam's aunt and uncle in New York sent him balloons anchored by a teddy bear. Uncles John and Glen talked to him every night in the hospital. The grandmas called early each morning and later in the afternoon. This is only a sampling of the outpouring of love showered on my son.
At one point, Adam said to me that he hadn't realized how many people cared about him. "You bet they do, buddy," said our favorite nurse, Linda, as she took his blood pressure. "They really do," I said backing up Linda.
Adam was suddenly teary. "But no one cares for me like you and Dad."
"If something happened to us there would be a lot of people who would step in to love you and care for you."
I wasn't comfortable conjuring catastrophe with Adam, especially when he was on steroids. Yet I pressed on. It was important that he knew that he was safe and secure, especially at his most vulnerable moments.
As we listed the people Adam could count on, our conversation was oddly ebullient. As Adam shared his stories about the people we mentioned, he realized that he was as important to them as they were to him. And then Christy, one of the child-life specialists, walked into the room. She had Yahtzee with her and was determined to win this time.
Health is a blessing. Youth is a blessing. The people who want only the best for you are a powerful combination of those blessings. Adam easily moved on from our talk and remained the Yahtzee champ of 6 West. The next day he went home with a new nebulizer and a set of elaborate instructions for complete recovery. Linda hugged him and said he was one the best patients she ever had. Christy wanted a rematch.
Adam had bounced back, and I'm sure he knew it wasn't solely because of the medicine.