Just a Wee Bit of Peril Makes the Days Fly By

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Do you ever look at the calendar in absolute astonishment and wonder where in the world all of the time went? That was the last month and a half for us. I know we did things. I mean, I have an Instagram account to prove that we did things, but that pretty photographic portrayal doesn’t exactly tell the whole story.

Look past the beach walks, the flowers, and the full moon adventures.

You’ll see my youngest in a mask at the doctor’s office, snuggles in bed while reading, and plenty of herbs infusing on windowsills.

May was a hard month.

May was the month of Covid-19. We all got sick. I stopped working. It was reminiscent of the illness we struggled with for weeks when we first got to Washington in the latter part of last year. We all burned up with fevers. The little girls got a terrible cough. It felt like we couldn’t breathe. It dragged on for weeks.

The only difference between this and then is that the whole world was shut down. When we had gone to the doctor before they told us it wasn’t the flu and that it was probably just one of those unnamed viral respiratory infections. This time they told us not to come in at all, that it was safer to stay home unless someone really wasn’t breathing. That we obviously had Covid.

So we stayed home. Or at least, stayed at the campground. Thankfully we were fairly isolated to begin with. We had a private walkway to the beach from our front doorstep, and since the beaches were shut down to the general public, they became our private playgrounds. The illness itself was exhausting. School slowed to a crawl. Some days it was all we could do to cook meals and get a few minutes of sunshine on the beach. Most days we snuggled and read and napped.

The doctors told us there was little medicine to be offered, but, being a kitchen witch, I got to work. Cough remedies. Immune system fortifiers. Calming syrups. Chest rubs. All the oils. Sunshine and sleep.

Twenty three days later we were, all five of us, fever free.

We still tired easily, and I swear some days it is still hard to take a full breath, but we got better.

Everyone except my oldest, Bishop. Each day he got weaker, more tired. Headaches. Stomach aches. His blood pressure was through the roof again and nothing seemed to make it better. While the rest of us were sick, he seemed to waste away. I did everything I knew to do and still…he wasn’t getting better.

He also didn’t want to go to the doctor. Being closer to man than child, I trusted him to tell me if it got worse than just annoying. Annoying is what he called the headaches, the stomach aches. It wasn’t bad enough for a doctor, he was just worn out from helping to take care of everyone while everyone was sick. Hell, I’m a grown up and I was exhausted. So I believed him.

Then as I was making dinner one night, he told me his hands and feet hurt. They weren’t red. They weren’t swollen. There was no bruising. He couldn’t remember hurting them. What an odd symptom to add to the rest. We checked his temperature. We checked his blood pressure. Everything was fine. Within the parameters the doctors had given us.

But it didn’t sit right, you know? Mother’s intuition.

Unfortunately, this Momma is alone with four kids. It didn’t look like an emergency so I told him to rest while I finished supper, made sure that the dog got walked, and put the little girls to bed. We would pack snacks, some school work, and head to the hospital after. It was silly. He was completely coherent, fever free, and clear eyed. His feet and his hands hurt. It was ridiculous. But we were going anyway.

Leaving was a bit of a drama. A few weeks earlier our neighbor had died of a heart attack. At the time, the little girls were very concerned about The Virus and were afraid that he had succumbed to the invisible plague that had shut down the planet. We explained that Mr. Mark had died of a heart attack and immediately my worrier, Em, was scared for Bishop. You wouldn’t believe how long it took us to calm her down after that one.

If you’ve been around the blog for a while you know that we were at the Pediatric Cardiology unit at Seattle Children’s Hospital last fall for Bishop’s heart. He had super high blood pressure that couldn’t be explained and refused to be regulated by medication. Thankfully his doctor worked with us to find a natural approach that his body responded to better and we were able to be cleared for travel.

Well all that went out the window when I kissed Em goodnight and told her to be good for her big sister because I was taking Bishop in for a check up. It took thirty minutes of crying, reassurances, and promises from Big Brother that this was nothing and that he would be fine before we were able to leave.

Then an almost hour drive to the hospital.

We had called ahead to find out where to go and who to see. Even emergency rooms were cautious with Covid, and we were immediately rushed back to an isolation room. Anyone who entered the room was in full medic battle gear: masks, gloves, gowns, face shields…the works. It was super weird, like a scene out of a pandemic movie. They requested urine, drew blood, checked who knows how many levels of what, administered the through the nose brain swab that they call a Covid test. It was actually the most bustling emergency room visit that any of my kids have ever had.

After what seemed very little time, but had actually been about two hours, the doctor finally came in.

“It’s not leukemia. (I didn’t know that was an option?!) His blood pressure is really high but his EKG looks good. (Thank you to any God/dess listening.) My concern is that his blood sugar is in the six hundreds and his kidneys appear to be shutting down. You didn’t mention that he was diabetic in his history. I’ve already secured an ambulance. We’re sending him to the Pediatric ICU in Portland. They should be here any minute. I’m Dr. John.”

Wait. What? I needed to sit down but I was definitely already sitting.

Diabetic? My son isn’t diabetic. Portland? I need to go with him. But my girls. I can’t. I’m just one person. I can’t be in two places. His kidneys are shutting down?

Y’all. I’m just going to stop right here and give the biggest spoiler on the planet. The kid is okay.

I had about fifteen minutes to call his dad in South Dakota, wake him up, and explain what I couldn’t understand. I had been out of work for almost a month. I was supposed to go back the next day. I woke up my boss to let her know that I wasn’t coming in. I’m pretty sure that was a shock reaction. I needed to call my oldest daughter. I needed to get in that ambulance with my son. He definitely had crazy eyes going on.

It didn’t matter at that point if he was closer to man than child. He was my child. My little boy. And he was scared and sick. The ambulance was here.

They were asking if I was going with him. But if I went with him I had no way back to the girls.

I had to ask him to make a man’s choice and it killed me. I needed to see his face but we had those damn masks on. I asked if we could take off his mask and the doctors said no.

It didn’t matter. They were all masked. His had to come off.

I needed to see his face when I asked him the next question. He met my eyes when I told him to take the mask off and he listened to me over the room full of doctors.

He took the mask off.

I had tears absolutely running down my face as I stared into my little boy’s face and I asked him, “Do you need me to come with you? I want to. But the girls are alone. I promise you, I will come as soon as I can. Or I will go with you now and figure out how to get home later. I’ll call someone to be with the girls.”

“Mommy…” My sixteen year old boy said, “Mommy.” Y’all, I died. “Yes, come with me. I don’t want to be alone. No. No. You have to be with the girls. They’re going to be scared. They’re not going to understand. I love you. I’ll go alone.” I watched his face through all of it.

That’s why the mask had to come off. I had to know. To KNOW that my baby was really going to be okay without me, trusted to the care of strangers in a city three hours away, in a hospital surrounded by people we had never met, battling a disease that we hadn’t known about.

I got to walk beside his little wheeled bed the whole way out of the hospital. We were going in two different directions and had no idea what would happen in the in between.

Watching that ambulance drive away was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life.

Driving back to my girls was a nightmare. An hour of driving. Of talking to my husband on the phone. Of screaming at the gods. Of pulling over and bawling my eyes out. Of whatever it took to be calm when I walked through the door. Because I hadn’t called my daughter. There was no way I could do that over the phone.

It was 2 a.m. I held my oldest and told her everything. I held her while she cried and asked questions I had no answers to. Em woke up to use the bathroom and wondered what all of the crying was about. I had to tell her too. A much watered down version to be sure but definitely that Big Brother was sick and had to stay in the hospital overnight. They were going to make him all better. Go back to sleep. Somehow it was 4 a.m.

The hospital admissions department called at 7 a.m. No, they had no news; they just needed our insurance information. No, they weren’t sure if I could visit yet. He was in the PICU but he was also in isolation. Someone would call.

At 9 a.m. the youngest crawled in bed with me. Where was Big Brother?

At 11 a.m. the hospital finally called and gave me clearance to come in. No, the girls couldn’t come, hospital policy. Abby made a cooler for lunch, snacks, and drinks. Shoved coffee in my hand. Assured me they would be fine. Pointed to the emergency numbers on the board if there was a problem. It was a three hour drive to the hospital. I had to get going.

Somewhere around halfway to the hospital they called to let me know that Bishop was stable and being released from the PICU. He would have his own room when I got there, but we were still in isolation for Covid until he got two negative test results back.

When I got to the hospital I was given a proper mask, had my temperature checked, was whisked on an empty elevator up to the right floor, escorted to his room, asked not to leave, and had the door firmly shut behind me. It was the movie scene from Pandemic all over again, but I didn’t care. There was my boy.

The nurses introduced themselves. There were so many of them. The doctor gave a phone consultation because she had already left for the day. It was definitely Type 1 Diabetes. His kidneys were fine. The original, small town ER doc had over-exaggerated the whole “shutting down” thing. Regardless, he was still in the hospital for a while. We needed to be educated on managing his condition before he could be released. Days of education. Wasn’t there any way I could be there earlier each day? Not to worry. We would be assigned an educator, a nutritionist, a social worker. It would be fine.

We visited until about 10 p.m. We talked about how he was feeling, what we had learned so far, how the girls were doing. I had to tell him that I might not be in tomorrow. That I had to figure out some way to get me and the girls closer. I couldn’t leave them every day alone. I couldn’t drive back and forth so far. He already knew. It was so hard leaving him again.

Oh yeah. If you aren’t in the Pacific Northwest you might not know about the travel bans. Not only were the states on super lock down, individual counties could lock themselves even tighter. Our county in Washington and the county in Portland were two of the strictest. All of the campgrounds had been cleared out except for essential workers, once you left you couldn’t return, and no new campers were allowed.

It was 1 a.m. when I made it back to the camper. I was exhausted. The little girls were asleep. Abby needed another few hours of snuggles to deal with being the adult to two scared little girls when she was still a scared little girl herself.

I woke up bright and early the next day and started calling campgrounds in the Portland area. The hospital had a parking lot but no hook-ups and nowhere safe for the girls during the day. We needed something else. We needed someone willing to sneak us in. It was a long shot but I begged my case to anyone that would listen. Campground after campground rejected us. They were sorry for our situation but their hands were tied. After two hours of calling I finally found a campground where a single mom answered the phone.

“Tell no one where you are going. Don’t talk to any of your neighbors when you get here. No, don’t worry about the price right now. Come take care of your boy.” It was exactly the angel we needed.

I called Bishop and let him know that I wouldn’t be in until much later that night. The girls and I were moving.

Never mind that we’ve never moved without Bishop. He normally takes care of all the exterior break down, loads the bikes, and directs me to hook up the truck. Abby is amazing. She did the entire inside of the camper while I stumbled through the outside stuff. We got the little girl bikes loaded but there was no help for leaving the three big kid bikes. We justified it by saying they weren’t in the best shape anyway, but really, there was just no way for us to lift them by ourselves. Everything else though…we did it.

We only had to take a single short break when the social worker called wondering why I couldn’t get my ass in to see my son in the hospital. He had told her some crazy story about me not coming in because we were moving but wasn’t his welfare more important… I may or may not have unloaded on that woman in true southern momma style. I have a ton of faults but not loving or moving heaven and earth for my children is NOT one of them.

It was 2 p.m. when we left for Portland. The little girls had stuffed the truck full of snacks and drinks so we actually made it to the campground in one piece by 5:30 p.m. Then we figured out how to unhook the camper and set it up without Bishop. Two miracles in one day! It was 9 p.m. when I finally got to the hospital, but Bishop didn’t seem to mind. He had spent the day researching.

It was the fourth day of our little adventure and finally we could get down to business. The girls were safe and close. Bishop was feeling better. His blood pressure was normal! And Momma was able to visit every day.

I’m not going to go into the details of Type 1 Diabetes education. It was I don’t know how many full days of meetings in the hospital with him, me, and various teachers.

Learning how to administer insulin.
Learning how to watch for high blood sugar.
Learning how to watch for low blood sugar.
Learning what to do in emergencies.
Learning what to do when he is sick.
Learning everything about him from scratch.
Learning how to feed him without killing him.

It was exhausting.

Finally they decided that we knew enough to take him home. Of course we would need to stay close. There would be many visits necessary. By video conference of course. And we still needed to take his vitals every four hours but since he was no longer critical…he had to go. Covid had changed a lot of hospital policies.

Oh! And we were released from isolation after day 5! I forgot that part.

Bringing the boy home was an event to say the least. We didn’t tell the girls he was getting released. And the dog was going to go crazy. Not only had I come home without him, we had moved without him! The dog had NOT forgiven me.

That starts the beginning of June.

Since he’s been home we’ve moved campgrounds twice. Portland was way too expensive. Thankfully our campground membership has campgrounds that aren’t as far from the hospital as our original campground. We’re only about an hour and a half out now.

Life is very much the same. The kids still do their schoolwork. They still play in the forest. The dog still gets walks. But it’s also very different. We’re not sleeping at all. Checking blood sugar every four hours kind of kills that dream. We’re still struggling with multiple low blood sugars a day. The doctors call it a Honeymoon Phase, but I don’t understand what is so joyous about it. Each low scares the crap out of me since the lows are what are actually dangerous. We talk to the doctors at least twice a week as they adjust his insulin levels. Everyone has learned about injections.

I’m sure we’ll get back to normal at some point.

My husband is still in South Dakota. The railroad hasn’t picked back up. He has a job but it isn’t enough to pay the bills on its own. I still have my job in Oregon, but it doesn’t matter much because I can’t leave Bishop alone yet. We have a cushion, but the medical bills are starting to come in. I don’t mention this for pity but just as a reality of what life is. It’s another problem, another reason not to sleep, another issue to lobby for.

Have you guys seen what an ambulance ride costs? Insulin? The strips to test blood sugar? None of it is cheap. And that’s with two insurances! Now we’re just that much farther from getting our family back in the same place. It’s frustrating.

But it’s also life.

Wonderful. Terrible. Terrifying. Wouldn’t miss it for the world, Life.

My son is okay. Sick, but manageable. More manageable as we get used to this new way of life, as medicine advances, as our own knowledge increases. He’s home. His blood pressure is completely normal. Funny thing, that. Rather than giving off normal, impending diabetes signals, his body gave us high blood pressure as the cue. So now that we are treating the diabetes his heart is happy. It definitely explains why his body went off the rails when we gave it high blood pressure medication.

My girls are no longer crying. They’re happy to have their brother home and have started to leave his side for more than five minutes at a time. Olivia finally got her shark teeth pulled while we were in Portland. Did I forget to mention that too? Her permanent front teeth came in but instead of pushing out her baby teeth they only pushed the teeth forward like tusks. And of course, all the dentists were closed due to Covid. We found one in Portland that was open for emergency dental care and willing to pull them. Emily is no longer worried each night that her brother is going to die from a heart attack. And Abby can go back to being a kid, not needing to fill in for Momma as often.

The dog has forgiven us but still doesn’t trust it when we leave. She sticks close to both the boy and me, not sure which one of us is less trustworthy.

And I’m back to blogging! There will be more pictures, more stories, more recipes. Hopefully more travels. Everyone tells me that I’m a manifestor, that my words have power, so here we go. The plan is to move the husband back to Texas where he will find a better job than the one he found last minute in South Dakota. That job will either hold us over until the railroad resumes or become something even better than the railroad could have been. Once established back in Texas, the kids and I will start heading that way and we will be on the lookout for land. No more crazy packed neighborhoods for us. If we can’t have new horizons each day, the girls want ducks. Possibly goats. Momma wants a witchy garden. We need to be back in Texas by winter to get Bishop his license and Abby her permit. No matter what, it’s time for the family to regroup and rehabilitate and rebuild. Together.

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