Saturday, 31 January 2009

Nature Is a Harsh Mistress

Let me start this account of Dylan's latest sickness, involving a lengthy stay at the hospital and two visits to the emergency room, by stating two of the insights I took with me (or rather, insights I've had before but which were reinforced with the experience):
First, it is fair to say Dylan would not be here today if it wasn't for science delivering us with modern medicine. Ventolin, antibiotics and drip infusions to the blood are chiefly responsible for sustaining Dylan's life this week. Those, however, would have been worthless if it wasn't for civilization providing Dylan with access to these aids. Say what you will, there are some very good reasons for us to be happy to be living in this day and age and not, say, some 200 years ago when only 1 in 5 babies made it to the age of two; Dylan would have been one of those forgotten four.
Second, anyone suggesting to me there is such a thing as a loving god is risking some severe abuse. Say what you will about me and my wrongdoings, what did Dylan ever do to justify what he's been through? Oh, wait a second, I hear someone at the back saying this was all a trial for us parents; then let me ask you this: what kind of a sick sack of shit would use (or rather abuse) an innocent baby this way? If a person did such a thing we would put them in jail and the tabloids would have themselves a party; as I would hold a god to higher standards than us mortals, I would expect some finer ways for said god to craft its plans. But let's stop the fooling around: anyone with their eyes open would see what we're really dealing with is a harsh reality, a natural rather than a supernatural one, in which every living being has to fight for this world's limited resources.
At this point in time, having subdued all the big killers of this world, the best nature can come up with as far as enemies for humanity are concerned are viruses. Indeed, viruses are a marvel of this living world. And it was a virus that knocked us all down.

In hindsight, it seems like Dylan's cunning virus worked its way in multiple ways.
Probably acquired during Dylan's first two days of the year at childcare, it first triggered a cold that triggered an asthmatic attack. That attack sent us to the hospital the first time around. A night later Dylan was back at home, vomiting for the first time. We thought it was a one off.
The next day Dylan didn't eat much but didn't seem too bad. The following day Dylan vomited three times, in quite a spectacular fashion, never missing an opportunity to have a go at Jo. In the process our sofa became a casualty, leaving us puzzled still as to how we're going to clean it enough to get rid of the puke's lovely smell.
That night Dylan seemed pretty listless and seemed to almost pass out in the bath, so we called an ambulance in. By the time the paramedics arrived Dylan seemed quite cheerful, so they suggested we keep him at home and check after him during the night.
And so we did, only that the night was pretty awful. Dylan spent most of the night crying weakly, and when I got to him he would usually go “Babby, ma-im” (his version of the Hebrew words for father, water). But it's not like he's had much water at all, so by the morning he was pretty listless and we took him to the doctor. Again.
The doctor quickly told us to go to the emergency room. Again. By now Dylan was more like a doll, or a still breathing corpse, depending on how you want to look at it.
We took Dylan to the hospital in our own car and waited in line for the triage nurse to have a look at him and assess his situation. It was quite the surrealistic experience: this long line of people who are obviously not that happy waiting for someone to look at them and say how urgently they require medical attention. Those that are deemed less worthy get the pleasure of waiting in an adjacent waiting room full of not so happy people waiting for their luck.
We've waited for half an hour or so for the triage nurse, and then waited for half an hour or so to be called in to see a doctor. I don't want to think of our fate had we been there to take care of an adult who was not in an immediate life threatening situation; that adult could rot to a very slow death before anyone bothers giving them a look.
Inside they took an x-ray of Dylan's chest and plugged him a drip. He was diagnosed with some form of pneumonia (which turned out to be a mild viral one), dehydration, and gastro. By then I started feeling cold myself, despite the very warm weather: my circumstances reminded me of when I was 14 and went to see Dune in Tel Aviv Cinema with Avi Stinger on a typical stupidly hot day. We were dressed for summer, but the air-con at the cinema was so violent we spent most of the film freezing. This time around that wasn't really the case, though: it was just a sign that through dealing with Dylan's puke I managed to catch his virus. Jo's blocked nose signaled the virus got its way with her, too.
I could feel myself getting sicker by the minute. As we were waiting around (even after admission, what you mostly do at a hospital is wait) I started having these weird dreams I only have when I'm sick: I was playing FIFA, but not the way one would expect; I was actually one of the animated characters on the screen. Then I got to listen to crap music in my head, stuff I would never allow my brain to digest: Spandau Ballet's Only When You Leave. Ouch!
A short while after admission Dylan was sent to the exact same ward he was at a couple of days before, only that now we got an honorary treatment: Because Dylan had a contagious disease, we were treated to our very own room. Mental note: Always report a gastro when checking in to a public hospital.



The video here shows Dylan being taken from the emergency room to his ward while sleeping on me and while I'm lying on a bed being driven by a couple of nurses; it felt so unreal I had to take a video. Wasn't there a TV series that started this way, with a bed navigating through a hospital? I know Family Guy has had a gag on it.
In the private room Dylan and Jo stayed for the next five days as Dylan went through a slow recovery. It's not like he's back to his old self yet; he's far from it. He still has a fever in the late afternoons/nights, and he is so weak he is totally unable to move: no standing up, and definitely no walking. It feels funny to have him at home and not be forced to use all the barricades we have erected to prevent him from doing dangerous stuff.
But at least Dylan seems alive, which wasn't that conclusive an observation earlier. It's really hard for me to analyze the notion, but it's not nice to be in a situation where you can see life going out of your son. It's pretty scary. We never got to a situation where we did not know what to do or did not have any options available to us, so panic was never the case, but I suspect we were not too far from that domain.

With Jo and Dylan at the hospital and me not being able to stay with them due to hospital regulations (and due to being too sick myself), I got to spend the night alone at home.
It was strange: that sense of freedom that I used to crave not that many years ago, the ability to do what I wanted whenever I wanted (usually limited to watching loud movies or listening to loud music at unsocial hours) didn't exist. Even the PS3 wasn't tempting.
A part of it was to do with me not feeling well, weak with diarrhea and a fever, but that only applied some of the time. Another part of it was to do with Melbourne going through its hottest week ever, with temperatures outside reaching 47 degrees and 33 inside our air-con challenged house. With such heat I actually switched all electric components off to prevent them from dying: I was down to the fridge and the old TV I have since 1992, now our bedroom TV, the TV we hadn't even switched on for the last two to three years. But even the heat only applied some of the time.
The mix of the extreme heat and the fever was funny. Despite the intense heat, I would feel cold and wear a tracksuit to a bed armed with a winter grade quilt. To allow for more a more comfortable sleep, I would take a pill which gradually negated my fever but in the process made me feel the heat. So I would undress and chuck the quilt away. Then the pill's effect would run out and the fever would make a return, forcing me to dress up again. Eventually, I decided it was just easier to sleep feeling like shit: I gave the pill up, preferring the miserable yet coolish feeling to the hot reality. But even the fever only applied some of the time.
The reality is that I am now different to the person I was before. Relationships change you, parenting changes you even more: the relative silence we impose on ourselves at nighttime so Dylan can sleep (relative being the key word here, as we still watch movies the proper way) is something I have learnt to live with; not having Dylan around, or worse, having Dylan in the sorry situation that he was in, was much more troubling to me than not being able to play the PS3 loud in the middle of the night.
When you become a parent you sign away some of your life. Personally, I can attest that it seems I am happy with the compromise.

An account such as this would be incomplete without me having a go at private health.
We asked again for our available options, hospital wise, given that we have private health. We were informed private hospitals don't like to take sick babies or hard cases in general. Great! Please remind me, why do we need private hospitals in the first place?
I'll tell you why. We need them so that the upper classes can have their elective surgeries whenever they feel like at the expense of the commoners who have to wait their line at the public facilities. It all comes down to selfishness. It all comes down to the masses being too ignorant of just how they're being abused. The exact same story repeats itself with public vs. private education.
Our public hospital turned out to be resourceful. Upon admission they asked for our private policy number, even though they had no reason to need it. Then they sent this stupidly politely pushy lady to our room to try and make us sign these forms that would mean we will be hospitalized as private patients in the public hospital. There would be no difference to us, even though the lady suggested (consciously lying) that we would be able to keep our private room if we do so; the only real difference is that the hospital would get lots of money from our private health fund. Since the thought of screwing private health funds gives us lots of pleasure (especially given the way they've been screwing with us), we went ahead and cooperated.
I'll say it again: private health is the stupidest thing ever. More than that, it's evil. I'm sure the government will fix things up the day after they actually start doing something on global warming, something other than pushing the coal industry as hard as they can.

Contact with both sides of the family has kept me on my toes throughout the week.
“My” family tends to call us every couple of days, on average, so they knew of our troubles right from the start. Because of the situation, they started calling several times a day. Each one of them. Now, it's not that I'm ungrateful to have a loving/caring family, but having to recite the same status updates to the various family members was a rather annoying affair even if I discount my mother's habit of repeating the same questions again and again. Besides, given the frequency of them calling I often didn't have any updates for them, something they weren't particularly happy to settle with.
When I asked for some leeway with my mother, citing that I was feeling like shit and it was boiling hot, I mostly managed to annoy her. My sister, on the other hand, answered that it's the distance between us that forces them to call so often, an argument about which I can say but one word – bullshit. It's not as if they would be happy to leave us alone were we to live in Tel Aviv! They should really get rid of their “you've left us behind” guilt trip.
The worst, however, was me finding myself in a position where I needed to justify myself before them. Why did you do that? What did you eat? Are you drinking enough? You should drink Sprite with no gases, the doctors here say it's really good if you have diarrhea! They forget that I know enough to sustain myself, including Sprite facts (a lesson I passed on to them from the doctors when I had a much more sever diarrhea in Israel). For the record, doctors here recommend special powders you mix with water that help your body recover on salt, sugar, potassium and their likes. Drinks like Gatorade do a similar job, but they pack to much heat for a sick person and should be drunk at a ratio of 1:4 with water.
Back to family affairs, it seems like as far as my family is concerned I will always be the little child that needs attention and advice. Who cares if that child probably knows more than they do and has obviously managed to go quite far. Nowhere was that made clearer than with me having to defend myself before my brother, who insisted that he should come and relieve Jo for a night at the hospital. How realistic is that proposition, given that he doesn't know Dylan and Dylan doesn't know him? How realistic is it to expect to solve problems with magical guest appearances? If anything, my family's notions of being able to address problems through magical silver bullets indicate that they are the little delusional kids that need looking after.
The state of affairs with “Jo's family” is significantly different. They hardly bother to call us, seeming to time their interactions with the rising of the full moon. To be fair, we are just as guilty in not calling them too often; it comes down to them being too self centered for a culture of frequent and routine updates to establish itself. On the other hand, once they did learn of what was going on, Jo's mother booked a flight to come over and help us. Over the next week, we are going to have Mary Poppins rescue us.
Indeed, rescuing is exactly what we need, as all three of us now need a vacation just as much as Arnie did at the end of T2.


In conclusion, I would like to bestow the most prestigious honor one can receive in the game of Gunship (my much beloved attack helicopter flight simulator from my high school days), the [Congressional] Medal of Honor, to Jo.
For sticking with Dylan at the hospital all hospitalization long, in sickness and in not that great a health, Jo definitely deserves this medal.
She is my hero.

1 comment:

miss-elaineous said...

I'm glad to hear Dylan is OK and I hope you are all recovering.