It can feel like there’s not a whole lot to be thankful for when your 4 year old son has spent most of the past week in hospital with an inflamed cerebellum (back part of the brain) slowly regaining his sight and the ability to walk.
But I’m trying.
Thankful to live close to a hospital
Son #1 woke up on Day 1, stumbled into the lounge room, complained there were two clocks, changing colours on the TV and the picture on the wall kept moving. He tried to stand again and fell over.
I got dressed, threw a few things in my handbag, left Son #2 with Mr D, carried Son #1 to the car and drove ten minutes to our closest major hospital with an ER.
Thankful for modern medical technology
After an assessment by the Director of Paediatrics we were transferred by ambulance to the Monash Children’s Hospital for an MRI to find out exactly what was going on inside our son’s head.
By this stage his condition had worsened. He couldn’t stand at all, could barely see and even when crawling he would keel over to one side.
There were no beds available on the wards. The neurology team kept an eye on him in the ER overnight before his MRI the next day.
Thankful for sleeping children
Son #1 had been fasting for most of Day 1 in the hope his MRI could be squeezed in on the same day.
Depriving any child of food and water is distressing, let alone a sick and frightened one.
Late on Day 1 the call was made that the MRI would have to wait until the following day. Son #1 ate, drank and finally fell asleep. He would need to fast again from midnight.
I hugged Mr D, who had come straight from a full day of work, and cried. And cried and cried. I’d been strong and calm for our little boy all day. His sleep brought us both some relief.
Thankful for compassionate and talented medical staff
Paediatric doctors and nurses deal with small children and freaked out parents every day. And damn they’re good at it.
To the ER doctor who flippantly diagnosed my 4 year old son as having consumed an excess of gin, thank you. The light comic relief was welcome.
To the ER nurse who gave my son a knitted teddy as a reward for taking his medicine, thank you. Hospital Teddy is the new favourite toy.
To the neurology team who saw that Son #1 was too tired, hungry, thirsty and overwrought late on Day 1 and decided to do his blood tests under general anaesthetic the next day with the MRI, thank you. He needed a break,
Thankful that it wasn’t any worse
Son #1’s MRI was scheduled after an unconscious middle aged man on life support and before a bald young boy in a wheelchair.
I heard the nurses welcome the boy as a frequent flyer and support his request to try the MRI while not under general anaesthetic this time. He promised to stay very still inside the huge tube for the lengthy scan. They said they’d put a movie on for him to lie back and watch inside the tube.
Late on Day 2 a senior neurologist delivered the good news to us that they’d found no ‘lumps or bumps’ in Son #1’s scan. A euphemism if ever I heard one.
Thankful for fold out beds
After the MRI we were transferred upstairs to a ward. I spent the next four nights sleeping on a single fold out couch next to Son #1. It had plenty of lumps and bumps and my feet hung off the end if I lay on my stomach. It was, however, a vast improvement on the 2-3 hours sleep I had the first night on an upright plastic chair in the ER.
The facilities on the ward were incredible. A Parents Room with tea, coffee, couch, TV and a shower.
An art room for the kids to paint in. The Starlight Room with computer games, crafts and beanbags. Portable DVD players, shelves of books, show bags of activities on arrival and kits of toys such as play dough trays magically appearing at the bedside.
All of these made the days more bearable.
An otherwise active 4 year old trapped in bed, attached to a drip with low vision and only able to use his left hand (because of the drip inserted in his right hand) is a cranky patient indeed.
Thankful to family and friends
My Mum moved in immediately and took over 24/7 care of our 2 year old son. She ironed Mr D’s shirts, cleaned our house, washed our clothes, brought Son #2 to visit me and his brother every day and brought us food, Lego and other comforts of home. The woman is a self contained miracle.
My husband worked a 6 day week and visited every night and most mornings before work, bringing more Lego, proper coffee and the occasional McHappy meal for Son #1, who refused to eat the hospital meals.
My sister brought her gorgeous 3 month old daughter to cheer Son #1 up. He is absolutely besotted with his baby cousin.
Friends and family dropped in and brought their sunny presence as well as more Lego, craft activities, an Olaf pillow and food parcels.
Phone calls and emails came from locally, interstate and overseas.
Thankful he’s getting better
Day 2 brought the overwhelming relief that the diagnosis was ‘only’ a virus which had attacked his brain, causing inflammation in the cerebellum.
The prognosis was excellent: once the inflammation eased he was expected to make a full recovery. Intravenous steroids and a 4 week course of oral steroids would help speed up the healing process.
As I hurried down corridors to fetch another coffee, some juice, a cup of ice chips, a pot of jelly, my eyes would wander to the wards I passed.
Toddlers with feeding tubes in their noses, closed doors with infectious disease protocols, several teenagers who clearly knew each other and had settled into their communal ward for the long haul. Stoic parents with tired smiles.
I kept thinking to myself ‘at least my son’s not seriously ill like this. It’s just a virus.’
On the morning of Day 3 I held my son’s hands while he tried to walk so the physiotherapist assessed his condition. We were all elated when he managed a few steps, albeit leaning heavily on me for support.
Then it hit me. My son was pretty damn seriously ill too. It may be just a virus but it had attacked his brain. His BRAIN.
Viral meningitis does that and kids lose limbs. Some people catch a virus in their heart and need a transplant. Or they die. HIV is a virus too.
I fought back tears and congratulated my 4 year old on his first steps.
But we’re so lucky. He is getting better and he will be fine.
On Day 5 he let go of my hand and took a few wonky steps down the corridor all by himself.
On Day 6 the drip was removed.
The sight of the physiotherapist chasing my son down the hospital corridor because he’d broken into a brief, wobbly run was overwhelming.
I am truly thankful.