oh the weather inside


It was an unusual weekend. Normally, domestic stability is the order of the day with yard work, housecleaning, laundry, and long-prepared dinners as the cornerstones of the schedule, but the Holiday Season, fulfilling its role as a breeding ground of expectation and romance, worked its magic and got us crazy.

We finally got our visiting/travel/shopping agenda squared away, and the Management Team seemed to have the Christmas Problem solved. But there was something going on underneath all this. Viv and I were both out of sorts. Something was setting our teeth on edge.

Since Friday we'd been moving around one another, communicating with retracted glances, in a tension and style that requires a certain amount of mind-reading. It wasn't until we'd each settled into our own private funk that we were able to put a finger on the cause.

Viv laid it out first. She was the one with the guts this time to say what she was really feeling, and when she did I realized I had the same stuff on my mind but I just hadn't become conscious of it yet.

See, today is an anniversary of sorts. A negative anniversary. Three years ago today something terrible happened to Amy, and it put some bold punctuation into the story of her childhood.

Viv and I have always leaned toward being overprotective, we admit that, but she's our only kid. With cerebral palsy from the stroke she had at birth, Amy has not had a problem keeping our attention. But now here she was four years old, and mom and dad wanted to have a date.

That afternoon in 1995, Viv was at work and I was sitting here in this same chair, writing away as Amy napped on our bed in the next room. She'd been sick with a cold for at least a week. We'd kept her home from pre-school, but she was getting better now, and we'd planned to take her across the street in a couple of hours to stay with the neighbors while Viv and I went out to a party to celebrate the opening of a new theater. It was something we'd been looking forward to mostly because we'd never really gone out as a couple since she was born.

Around 5:00pm I hear her wake up from her nap and cough. And then I hear her vomit. I rush into the bedroom to find her sitting up in the middle of a groggy shock, and try to comfort her as she wakes up into what's clearly a miserable feeling. She vomits again. I carry her into the bathroom. I'm speaking softly, trying to soothe her as she throws up a third time, then a fourth. I put her in the bathtub and remove her vomit-soaked clothes. I can see in her eyes that feeling, that glaze of misery you get when you're in the middle of just plain bad sick. I'm trying to clean her up and soothe her and she's starting to get the shakes. As I'm talking I get the sense that she's not hearing me, fading away, unable to respond. Her eyes start to move up to one side as I call her name and say "look over here", waving my fingers to the side opposite her stare. I'm almost yelling her name now, begging her to look at me, but she can't. Her eyes are rolling back and her entire right side clenches as her body is ratcheting up into a rhythmic shudder.

This is bad.

As her legs begin to buckle I pick her up and lay her naked onto the carpet in the hallway as I run for the phone. I come back, roll her onto her side so she doesn't aspirate the vomit. I dial 911. Ambulance please.

I feel very alone. The voice on the phone is efficient and assuring in its recitation of procedure. The paramedics are on their way.

Time passes. Time doesn't pass.

I hear no sirens as I cool her body with a wet washcloth as per instructions. She seems so full of fear and so unable to express it, my heart breaks at what must be her overwhelming confusion. As she lies on her side I see only one eye -- am I visible to her, does she know I'm here, or can she only look toward me, desperate to connect with a father she cannot see?

More time passes, and there are sirens now. I tell the operator I can hear them. She calms me.

The sirens grow louder until their wail is eclipsed by the rumble of the engines of the firetrucks. I hear them wind down, their idle accompanied by the loud pushed sigh of air brakes and the crackle of radio traffic. Dispatches echo in my cul-de-sac.

I go the ten feet to the front door and let the firefighters in. Walkie-talkies and blue uniforms, helmets and questions. Lizzie comes over from across the street, relieving my loneliness with care and concern. I explain what happened as we both watch my daughter, so small and alone, enduring her spasms, naked in the middle of a crowd.

A man in my hallway speaks into his radio and his voice fills my neighborhood --

"401, patient is a four-year-old female..."

The ambulance pulls up. More walkie-talkies, questions, medicine. Some questions, my most desperate ones, they cannot answer.

Now I have to make another call. My wife. I push the buttons and imagine her at her desk, picking up the phone. I see it all, her face, the shock, and the horrible and agonizing drive she must make to the hospital.

Needles and medicine and tape and ten men huddled around my little girl, ready to take her away. She's on the gurney. We go outside. She's leaving. A thousand thoughts whirling around one fear -- is this her last day?

"Patient is non-responsive..."

I look around and in an instant I realize a fear I've had since I was little. I never wanted to be the family that lived in the house where the crowd of curious onlookers had gathered. I see the expressions, hear the muffled voices. I want to take names. I see the unusually heavy traffic on the street, cars in slow cruise past the scene, taillights, brake lights in the dusk.

I talk to the paramedics. I will follow them in my own car to the hospital. Yes, I answer three times, I'm okay to drive.

"Transporting. ETA four minutes..."

On the road, I'm feeling more relieved. I did my best. It happened so fast.

I'm stopped at a red light that the ambulance has gone through just moments before. As I sit there amid another crowd at the signal, the other drivers follow the ambulance with their eyes, wondering who it carries, what awful thing happened that makes them go so fast on their way to the hospital.

The worst part was over. There's more -- the seizure lasting an hour and a half, clashes with doctors, fog precluding an airlift, and the general malaise that comes from realizing you have a whole new set of problems to deal with now. But the worst part, the scariest part, was over. Later that night she was transported to Children's Hospital where we spent the next five days.

* * * * * * *

So, getting back to how this entry started, it was an unusual weekend. On top of this, Amy is sick with a cold again, and she's got the Christmas giddies just like she had them three years ago prior to her big event. We've often wondered if that mood was a precursor to the seizure. Now, in addition to holiday joy and childlike glee, we throw a dark wonder into the mix. It's not altogether crippling, but it would be nice if it weren't there.

Now that Viv and I have figured out what the bugaboo was these last few days, we're taking things a little easier. Remembering all that happened has a way of cutting through the frustration that seems to occur so automatically this time of year. It goes a long way toward explaining why Christmas seems so much like Thanksgiving.


Today's Music:

"Christmas Is Coming" -- Vince Guaraldi -- A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS


Wisdom of the Day:

"The child is father of the man."

-William Wordsworth, My Heart Leaps Up