This morning my youngest woke up with a stuffy nose, a bit wheezy … and thinking he had a good chance of developing a believable case of Yellow Bus Fever. You know – the kind that goes away when the school bus drives by. And as I booted him out the door to make it through the day, I was reminded of a day that seems now like another lifetime, but one that changed absolutely everything for me as a mother. I rummaged through some old files and found the original essay that actually won a prize in a contest about a life-changing event. It’s a bit long, but here it is:
Good news never comes at three in the morning.
It just doesn’t.
I answer the jangling phone with apprehension, wondering who has died. Maybe it’s a wrong number.
It is a young man asking for my newborn – by name. That was fast. Barely on the planet for a week, and the little guy’s already receiving phone calls.
“This is his mother,” I reply.
“Uh, sorry, ma’am. I see now that he’s a newborn.” He stumbles over his words. “I know this may sound odd, but I need you to go check your baby and make sure he’s not running a fever or anything. Just make sure he’s okay.”
Now I’m scared. I sit up and ask, “Who is this?” My husband rouses long enough to mumble for me to hang up and go to sleep.
“This is the medical lab. I’m the night technician.”
Fully awake, I cross our bedroom and head for the baby’s crib. “What’s wrong?” I ask. It’s been two days since blood was drawn for a fever. They already found a strep infection in his blood, and I’ve been faithful with the medications sent home with me.
“Uh,” he pauses. This is one articulate guy. “Well, actually I can’t tell you that. I just need to verify the baby’s okay.”
I drop the phone on the counter and run to my baby, my breath coming in short, shallow gasps.
I feel his tiny forehead.
I put my finger under his nose and sigh with relief as his breath warms my hand.
I walk back to the phone and find I am trembling. “He’s okay,” I assure this technician. “Now I want to know what is so wrong with my son that you’re calling me in the middle of the night.”
“You’ll have to ask the doctor.”
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly, but it does nothing to dissipate the anger building inside. “I want your name. I am filing a complaint first thing in the morning. This is ridiculous!”
We sit silent on the phone for a few moments. I am hoping he is weighing the risk of a customer complaint against getting in trouble for not following proper procedure.
Finally, he speaks. “Your baby’s neutrophil count is 8. The protocol when it’s that low is to call immediately to make sure the patient isn’t in immediate danger.”
Neutrophil? “What is a neutrophil?” I ask.
“It’s the part of the white blood cell that protects against bacterial infection. It should be in the hundreds of thousands.” He speaks with an authority that is somehow reassuring, even while he’s delivering bad news. “Your doctor will be notified and will call first thing in the morning. That’s really all I can say, okay?”
I spend the rest of the night researching the internet.
Every new site seems worst than the last, full of words that no mother wants to hear about her own child.
I turn off the computer and sit in the dark, thinking of the day I discovered I was pregnant again. I’d suffered through seven miscarriages early in our marriage trying for children and was already blessed with a beautiful daughter and son. And when this last baby tried to come into the world too early, I stayed in bed for almost twenty weeks to ensure his healthy birth. I took every precaution imaginable.
I watch the stars twinkle in the night sky and remember his big sister just days ago holding our newborn in the hospital, her face shining. I recall our young son telling the nurse what good care he is going to take of his little brother. I picture my husband, his face softened with joy as he holds his youngest child in his strong hands and recall the smile we share over this new miracle of life. And then I wonder how we will ever bear this terrible news. Our family is already falling hard for this little guy.
As the sun finally rises on my shattered world, I hear the baby fussing, hungry again. He suckles on my breast as my tears drip onto his cheek. He opens his eyes, flails a tiny fist and grabs tightly to my finger.
I wipe my eyes and pull myself together.
I have been given another day with this little bundle of blessing. Whatever the future holds, I will be grateful. However short the time, I will cherish it.
I swallow hard and smile.
“My precious little guy,” I whisper and begin singing softly.
You are my sunshine. My only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey…
Update: Seven long months, many consultations with specialists and hundreds of tests later, our son was diagnosed with Cyclic Neutropenia.