Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Rebecca called work sounding teary the other day, it was late morning - I had just finished a conference call. It was a regular day. "Did you get my email?" Quickly, I opened up my inbox to see her message "ER Call me." My heart sank, a quick exchange, and I'll be there soon.

The week earlier, John had complained periodically of a headache. His disposition was normal, no other symptoms, just a headache. Rebecca ended up taking him to the doctor a few days earlier to just check it out. Given the lack of any other symptoms, the doctor suggested changing his pillow and coming back in a week if they're still happening.

Only a few days after that doctor visit - the day I got the call - he woke up late. Normally an early riser, it was Grace who noticed he wasn't yet awake, "Mommy, isn't why John's not awake yet?" she says. Rebecca found him moaning in bed unable to get up. He was lethargic, unable to get out of bed. Upon getting him up, she realized he's also vomiting and the headache has gotten much worse. She promptly made arrangements for Grace and called the doctor's office. After the nurse, both on the phone and in person, demonstrated no sense of urgency, Rebecca decided to take him directly to the E.R. There, the doctor did have a sense of urgency.

I arrived about an hour and a half into the E.R. visit and the wait had begun. John was pitiful, just laying there. As a parent, so helpless. The doctor comes in and the concerns are serious. "We'd like to first take him down for a CT of the brain and see what we've got," he says - he's trying to rule out brain trauma or tumors. After coming back from the CT room they did some blood work.

The timing of all this is rather fuzzy. About 5 hours went by in only a few seconds, making it difficult to relay things chronologically.

In any case, the blood work and CT scan results came back. The CT scan significantly provided a lack of anything significant - we're ecstatic! The blood work, however, shows his WBC significantly higher than normal. Significantly higher than normal - without an accompanying fever - can be real bad, so we need to watch that. No tumor, no trauma, that's good though. Now, the attention turns towards meningitis - there are many forms, some much worse than others, and we need to rule it out. This requires a spinal tap.

He'd explained the spinal tap procedure to Rebecca while I had stepped out so I'd asked him to explain the risks again. Asking about the risks in this situation is odd. I'm asking because I feel obligated to ask. He's answering because he's obligated to answer. All the while, we both know that he's gotta do the procedure anyway - it's the only reasonable path.

John was groggy during the procedure but still in and out. I initially stayed in the room because I wanted him to see me if he woke up. Disappointingly, I ended up stepping out of the room - I watched, standing up, as Rebecca received epidurals for both John and Grace but this was different, unbearable. Then, he woke up. Mid procedure, he woke up, screamed, and neither I nor Rebecca were in the room. We felt terrible. We ran in to re-assure him and in short order it was all over.

The doctor ordered a chest xray as an added test - don't recall exactly why - then said he wanted him transferred to Fairfax INOVA, which has a better pediatric unit.

While we waited for the ambulance to transport him, I was holding John's hand and he looks up and says, "is this real?"... "is this really happening, Daddy?" I wished it weren't. I prayed it'd wouldn't continue. But it was. The question was appropriate - things were moving so fast, so incongruent with our previous days that it was hard to believe, but it was real and it was really happening. "Yeah, peanut, it's real, but Mommy and Daddy are right here beside you the whole way and we love you so much."

Rebecca rode with John in the ambulance while I drove the van. At this point we knew he had to stay overnight at Fairfax so I went home to grab some essentials. On the way to the hospital, I also drove through Chick-Fil-A for a cookies and cream milkshake - ice cream and stress balance one another after all.

By the time I got to Fairfax Inova, John was settled in his room. Rebecca went home and John and I played Chutes and Ladders, puzzles, and transformers. We both slept well, except for the occasional nurse-round annoyance.

Waking up Friday, John looked much better. He had color back in his skin and some energy. Unfortunately, we were still waiting on his cultures to come back from his spinal fluid, blood, and urine. They took more blood that morning with a finger prick to test his WBCs too. At some point on Friday, we confirmed with the doctor that all the really scary stuff had been ruled out. We were looking at Viral Meningitis at this point, the lesser of the meningitis' and an easy recovery. They had started him on some powerful antibiotics from the initial E.R. visit so whatever it was, was likely be knocked out.

I went home Friday evening and Rebecca stayed with him over night. Waking up Saturday, he had much more energy and it seemed this storm was over. His reward for one last Lyme Disease test (read needle) was a milkshake at Silver Diner and Home.

Now, as I write this, John is largely back to normal. Still has a mild headache that we'll continue to monitor. His WBC count has mostly come back to a reasonable range.

The flood of emotions during the "height" of this scare were incredible. Not long ago, we had another similar scare emanating from his knees. During that time, as with this, I reflected on what we'd done and what I wish God would give us an opportunity to someday do. I vow to value more our time together. To appreciate it as the precious gift that it is. I need not another test for this to remain.

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