Peter Shelton

The Family That Sticks Together Gets Sick Together

Posted in Confessions of a Grandpa, Watch columns by pshelton on December 17, 2010

Cloe stuck the digital thermometer in one of Alex’s ears: 101.7 degrees. Then in the other one: 102.4.

“Not!” Alex said, good-naturedly, as someone scrambled for a Kleenex. Two clear rivers migrated down his upper lip.

Adam had been sick for a while, too. No fever, but lots of “not.”

Cloe had been coughing for days. Her chest was so tight, she said, it felt like a vice. She convulsed with tight little explosions that didn’t break anything up, didn’t get anything out. Little underground nuclear tests.

Lily was the only one who wasn’t sick on our visit over Thanksgiving. She was as healthy as a smiling, bald, blue-eyed, six-month-old horse. She was so healthy, so full of energy, she wasn’t sleeping; she was running her poor mother and father ragged.

Ellen and I did our best to lighten their load. One or the other of us would occupy Alex by taking him on a backyard adventure, shoveling leftover yams into him, or changing a diaper. “Poop!”

I’d “fly” Lily around the house. Windows zipped by as if from a carousel. We banked the walls. We Supermanned above the inert people on the couch. We went until my arms fell off. Ellen sang to her when she got fussy, and always managed to buy some more time for Cloe to rest. Nana the snake charmer.

Ellen was convinced that Cloe was wearing herself out continuing to breast feed Lily. Cloe was convinced that the antibodies Lily was getting from the breast milk was key to keeping her healthy.

For the most part, Alex remained chipper. He wanted Buppup to chase him around in a game of “bear.” Mostly I tried to talk him out of it. His cheeks were flushed. He was burning up.

Of course, it was the weekend. Cloe’s pediatrician wasn’t answering her pager. The emergency room was the only option. Not even Cloe’s position as a doctor at University Hospital would get them special treatment.

Ellen and I couldn’t help but remember Cloe at Alex’s age, when she had what seemed to us a near-continuous string of ear infections. Her fevers sometime spiked as high as 105 degrees. We tried Tylenol and aspirin. We tried the old warm-oil-in-the-ear-dropper that my mother had used on me. Nothing worked. More than once we had to cool her down in a kitchen sink of lukewarm water, which felt like the Arctic Ocean to baby Cloe.

Our doc prescribed antibiotics, which did work if only until the next round. We became concerned that the antibiotics weren’t a good idea over the long term. And somehow we came under the sway of a new doc in Montrose who promised an end to antibiotics overuse. His solution: surgically implanted tubes in the eardrums that would allow the fluid to drain.

It had a certain logic. The Eustachian tubes that naturally drain the middle ear in adults is incompletely formed in toddlers, and thus the recurring ear infections in some kids. We signed up, with some trepidation.

Here we were letting nurses take away our three-year-old child. To be anesthetized. What had we done? E and I were frantic with worry.

She came through fine, and the latest earache seemed to be gone. A few days later, though (we happened to be on the road to Santa Fe for a Telluride Film Festival offshoot, Music and the Movies), Cloe’s eardrums burst. The tiny blue tubes came out on a river of puss, from both ears. That wasn’t really the way it was supposed to work, but Cloe seemed OK. And eventually she grew out of the problem, as most kids do. The doctor in Montrose made his killing and skipped town. Other parents we knew used the word quack.

After a long wait, the physician at the ER pronounced Alex to be in possession of a “raging” ear infection. The antibiotics dropped his fever almost immediately. Cloe finally got in to see someone on Monday and improved quickly on the drugs. Adam was the last to cave in to the inevitable. He saw a doctor for his virulent sinuses later that week.

Ellen and I drove home on Sunday afternoon, through a potent storm on the passes. It was a little like being inside a snow globe. Or like having a head full of “not.”

I didn’t say anything. And I knew it was too early to be feeling any symptoms if I were to have picked up a bug from one of the kids. Still, was that a scratchy throat I was feeling?



One Response

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  1. Kayla Manzanares said, on December 17, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    Man oh man that sounds like a miserable week. Hope you’re still feeling well and not both having your own version of a sick family. Those little kids are walking germ carriers. 😉
    Hugs, Kayla

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