My son became suddenly ill when he was 14 days old. I stood there in the emergency department of the local hospital and watched my precious son as he lay on the gurney that seemed to swallow his tiny body. He struggled to breathe and his heart raced as the monitors to which he was attached dinged warningly. I touched his skin and he felt like a firecracker. His fever had reached 103.5 degrees. Doctors and nurses scurried to get an intravenous line into his miniscule and fragile veins so that he could receive precious fluids and life saving medications. They performed a spinal tap as they do with any infant whose temperature reaches a high level. Even though I had seen the procedure dozens of times, I gulped as I saw the long needle being inserted into his spine in order to collect fluid for the suspected ominous diagnosis of meningitis.
He cried with a painful shrill that can never be erased from my memory. He was inconsolable. I felt like I was not in my own body. Well, at least not in my motherly body. Like a vacuum, it was as if a gentle, yet unyielding force was pulling me into a tunnel; back to a time in my life when I had not known the love I had discovered by being a mother. I am a nurse. As a nurse, I am confident, knowledgeable, professional, and in control. As a new mom, however, I was scared, ignorant, worried.
Was God using my mind to protect itself from the pain and fear I was experiencing during this tragic event? Was it my way of being courageous and strong - protecting my family and guarding them from the truth that I knew- “He may not live through this.”
After the spinal tap, the pediatrician sat down with me with telling eyes and noticeable concern. She told me he would be transported to the nearest children’s hospital, 90 minutes away. He was positive for Group B Strep Meningitis and needed more medically advanced treatment than could be provided there.
“What are his chances,” I asked, “for a complete recovery.”
“Very good,” she stated “since we are giving him the antibiotics now.”
“Very good,very good. Okay. I can handle very good,” I thought. But, in the back of my mind there was a voice that kept reminding me that “very good” was not a promise or a guarantee that our baby would be okay.
I calmly looked at my husband and told him not to panic, that everything would be fine. “Really? Is he really going to be okay?” he asked with tears in his eyes. “Yes, honey. He will be fine. I know it,” I replied convincingly.
I lied. I didn’t know it. I could not be sure of anything. I do know that at that point the nurse in me took over full force. Something came over me when I realized that our only child may die. I did not cry. I did panic. I took over; directing my husband and family with the skill of an experienced maestro in a big city orchestra. I delegated with skill and tact. I felt strong as that person. But, I knew that if I were the mother, I would fall apart. I needed to keep it together. Falling apart was not an option.
“Go home. Get several outfits for both of us. Toothbrushes, hairbrushes, shampoo, and anything else you think we may need. We are going to be away from home for days and maybe weeks,” I instructed my husband. He did as I said.
After what seemed like days, the ambulance for infants and children arrived to transport us to the nearest pediatric intensive care unit. I begged to ride in the front of the ambulance. “I promise I will keep my mouth shut if you will please let me ride along,” I said. Did I need to be in control or did I subconsciously know that this may be the last time I saw my son? The ride was a blur and I did as promised. I sat silently for an hour and a half as I received updates on his progress.
Upon arrival to the intensive care unit, we were informed that the next few hours would be critical. He was placed on antibiotics, fluids, and acetaminophen. He was monitored closely. I was allowed to stay in the room with him. I attempted to comfort him. “He must be in so much pain,” I thought, “and there’s nothing I can do.” I felt helpless as I rocked him until the morning sun shone through the window. That day, he was finally given morphine for pain. He had not slept for over 36 hours. As his body succumbed to the power of his medication, he drifted off into sweet slumber, and so did I.
After several days in the pediatric intensive care unit, he was discharged from the hospital. My nursing skills allowed me the privilege of taking him home, where I was able to administer the needed antibiotics. I can still see the pump used to deliver his medications. I can chuckle now; it was literally bigger than he was. The next weeks were so busy. I was sore from my recent cesarean and exhausted from my son’s medication and feeding schedule. It seemed as if I were just going through the motions of being a mother. I was still in nurse mode. I loved my son and was happy to take care of him, but the immense pressure of taking on not only motherly responsibilities, but also medical responsibilities took a toll on my body and mind that I would not realize for months to come.
By the grace of God, our sweet son recovered completely with no long term complications. He was such a fighter. A couple of months later, after I returned to work, I passed the children’s ambulance. Its lights flashed and its sirens roared as it sped to the children’s hospital. The memories of the day I almost lost my precious son began flooding my brain like a tsunami. The feelings I felt were indescribable. I lost control and was forced to pull to the side of the road. My body shook and tears streamed down my face. I cried like I had never cried before. I could barely breathe. Strangely, it felt good to cry like that. At that instant, I realized what it really felt like to be a mother. The feelings I had suppressed earlier that summer, when I didn’t know how it would all end, came rushing in like a thief in the night.
What I believed to be a protective mechanism for me was. My mind was protecting itself from dealing with the possibility of losing my baby and now that everything was indeed okay, it released the nurse in me and allowed the mother in me in. I am so thankful to now be a mother and to feel the love, pain, worry, and joy that come along with it. Not only did this incident make me a better mother, it made me a better nurse and a better person.