The ECG monitor beeps. Irregularly enough that you jerk your head up each time to check the yellow numbers. Which is ridiculous really because you don’t even know what they mean.
The wavy lines look so familiar from years of TV hospital drama, but you can’t remember George Clooney ever going over optimum oxygen levels in any detail.
An alarm goes off and people in pale blue scrubs run in the same direction.
Trolleys and beds rumble past, nurses and doctors blur into the same person.
Asking the same questions, pressing their stethoscopes onto the same precious little patches of skin on his chest.
You worry that teddy will fall off the bed.
You worry that the sick won’t come out of his favourite Spider-Man top.
You worry that you’ll never bring your little boy home again.
Not that he’ll die exactly (that darkness pushes permanently at the edges of your brain, an intractable fear, kept at bay with kisses, chatter, splashes, tickles and swings, too terrible to even fully contemplate), but that things will never quite be the same again.
The wide-eyed shock at your betrayal. Arms holding him down, masks looming towards his little face, with steam pouring out like some plastic, hissing dragon. You are complicit in the terror. You, the one who’s supposed to keep him safe, stop the monsters and shadows. You were the one pinning his arms to his side. His little body desperately bucking from side to side on your lap, the porter wheeling you both on a bed through A&E, as you try to stop him sliding off. Turning him into an unrecognisable little creature, pure animal, lashing out, fighting to survive.Halfway through, you want to say, ok, enough. Let’s just go home and take our chances. Nothing can be worth this trauma. The hysterical crying, breathless pleading, grabbing hands, kicking feet. This is the opposite of helping. Holding has become hurting.
Then it’s over. A lifetime of fear and pain distilled into a five-minute journey. The jolly, matter of fact radiologist bustles about the bed like a benevolent alien. Your worst nightmare is his normal.
The tiny body in your arms doesn’t move. He’s resigned himself to the nebuliser – for now at least, the fight has evaporated. Only his eyes register his outrage, darting from strange face to strange face, staring malevolently around this new space. They close.
His fingers clutch your hand, not quite ready to abandon his belief in you just yet. His breathing slows, his feet flop outwards, his head relaxes into your neck. A brief respite for you both.
The nurse smiles and says he’s doing well. That can’t possibly be true you think, this is as far away from ‘well’ as can be imagined, but you give a tiny nod. She turns away and a tear threatens to spill over down your cheek. No, not now. You stare at a resuscitation dummy sitting on a shelf opposite and the flood of feeling is pushed slowly but resolutely back down inside.
Please don’t hate me.
No, that’s selfish. Hate me as much as you want, just breathe. Breathe normally, without a wheeze, rasp, gasp.
More tests. More masks. More fighting. More tests…
“Teddy jump up high…like this.” The little arm holds teddy up to demonstrate.
And he’s back.
Our second tussle with a viral chest infection coupled with asthma is over and the wee bean is, almost, back his non-stop chatty wee self.