Chart Number 151

December 19, 2014

By Ekta R. Garg

Last week Eight got sick. We first discovered this last Tuesday evening. The kids had an introductory appointment with the orthodontist (which I’m sure I’ll mention on Growth Chart again in the weeks to come,) and by the time we got home it was about 5:30 in the evening.

Because Six has arts and crafts after school on Tuesdays, I picked up Eight from school first. Now, normally, this child doesn’t admit to any sort of fatigue. If we happen to go to a friend’s house for dinner on the weekend and we’re there late, you could ask Eight at midnight if she felt sleepy and she would answer with a vigorous shake of the head and an emphatic, “No, I’m not tired at all.”

That’s why if this child admits to being tired, I know she really means it. And when she got in the car after school on Tuesday, the first words out of her mouth were, “Mamma, when we go home after the orthodontist’s office, can I please lie down on my bed for a little while?”

When I heard her make such a specific request, I knew she really didn’t feel well. I didn’t want to turn this into a melodramatic moment, though; Eight has a flair for big displays of emotion (have no idea where she could have gotten that from; certainly not from her writer mother who, by the nature of her profession, has to live each and every moment to the largest capacity possible.)

No melodrama, as I said, so I just replied, “Sure, [Eight], no problem.”

We went to the orthodontist’s office, and although she was a little subdued she still retained a fairly good sense of humor. Halfway through the appointment, when the orthodontist had finished his examination of Eight, we left to pick up Six from school. During Six’s turn Eight joked around with her sister, showing her normal even temperament.

The appointment took almost two hours, though, so by the time we got home the “temperament” had changed into a “temperature.” Specifically 102 degrees.

Eight stayed home on Wednesday morning, and I spent the rest of the day—and what eventually became the rest of the week—trying to keep her entertained and comfortable. She had a fever and a cold and cough that became more noticeable as the days progressed. At one point her temperature hit an all-time high of 104.

The last time Eight got sick was a couple of years ago, so I worried that we’d follow the same protocol from then: monosyllabic answers from her and a refusal to cooperate when it came to describing symptoms. But Eight surprised me this time. While she obviously didn’t spend her whole time at home chatting nineteen to the dozen, she did make small talk. For that, if nothing else, I’m grateful. With her matured handling of the whole situation, I could worry less about getting information and actually make a few observations about my child.

Here, then, is a short list. I call it “5 Things you learn from an eight-year-old when she gets sick”.

  1. With some supervision, you can train your child to take her own temp. We have the kind of thermometer that runs on a battery. You press a button and it goes to its “ready” screen with a beep, and when it’s done measuring your temperature it beeps again. Because Eight’s time at home started with a 102 fever, I monitored her body heat fairly regularly throughout the days she spent at home. I think by the fourth or fifth time she’d begun to encroach on the entire process. By the time we checked for the last time on Saturday afternoon to confirm she’d finally spent 24 hours with a normal temperature, she had gotten into the habit of running to the bathroom and saying, “Do you think I need to check my temp? I’m going to check it.” It became something to distract her from the general yuckiness, and she learned to tuck that thermometer under her tongue like an expert.
  1. You get an opportunity to teach your kids new words when they’re sick. On Wednesday when Eight woke up and I asked how she felt, she said, “Okay.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I know what it’s like to be all yuckiness inside.”

“Yuckiness?” she asked. “What do you mean?”

“You know,” I said. “Just all gross and like your body is all icky inside. When you feel lousy and you just don’t feel good.”

“Oh,” she said with a knowing nod. “Yuckiness. Yup. That’s what it is.”

She used the word several times after that to describe her general state of being. Some might argue it’s not really a word, but sometimes a “not-really-a-word” word is the only one to do your condition justice.

  1. If you don’t learn how to pop her Tylenol, she won’t let you hear the end of it when the chewable pill splits in half…again. For just a fever and no other symptoms, we couldn’t give Eight anything more than Tylenol and the Tylenol for her age group comes in chewable tablets. The thing about those chewable tabs, though, is that the manufacturers seal them really tightly for quality control. I’m all for quality control, but it made popping the pills out of the sealed tabs next to impossible.

According to the directions I had to give Eight a couple of pills in each dose. The majority of the time I could only get one of the pills out intact. The other one would inevitably break into half with little Tylenol dust lining the plastic. Eight started shaking her head and rolling her eyes every time I told her she had to take her medicine, not because she protested the idea of medication but because she knew I wouldn’t be able to get both pills out without some wrangling.

I managed to do it a few times, but those few times did nothing to restore my daughter’s faith in my ability to get the pills out every single time. We’ve noticed that in the last several months Eight’s sense of humor has blossomed, and she’s learned the fine art of ribbing. I definitely got my fair share.

  1. Kids can be accurate barometers of their own bodies. On Wednesday evening Eight looked a little better. We’d spent the day checking her temperature several times, and in the late afternoon it had come all the way down to the 99-degree range. She and I shared a smile, me grateful for what I thought was a recovery and her for feeling better. About an hour later she came to me and said, “I feel warm again.”

I pulled out the thermometer, and, sure enough, her body temperature had gone up a degree. I don’t know when she’d begun tracking her health with such finesse, but she began internalizing the differences in how she felt. This became especially apparent the next day.

  1. Kids can, within reason, become responsible for their own healthcare. When Eight woke up Thursday morning, she felt unreasonably warm. I checked her temperature (and by this point had begun to feel like a nurse in those old black and white movies; all I needed was the big hat and the white uniform.)

The thermometer beeped back a solid 104, and I knew I had to call the doctor right away. Eight has been healthy in the last 15 months since we moved to Illinois, so the nurse informed me briskly that she couldn’t give me any advice on the phone and that I’d have to bring Eight to the office so someone could see her. I had to coax Eight out of bed to take her to the doctor’s office where they did a rapid strep test that came back negative. The nurse offered Eight some sympathy and recommended that we continue with the same course of treatment we’d been following: rest, fluids, and Tylenol.

Throughout the entire visit Eight kept repeating in a quiet voice that she felt tired, that she just wanted to go home and sleep. Once we received the word that she didn’t have strep and headed back to the car, I asked Eight if she wanted to eat anything. Before leaving the house I’d tucked a few snacks into my purse in the hope that I could convince her to nibble a little bit so I could give her some Tylenol.

“No, Mamma, I just want to go home and sleep. When I get up I’ll eat something then.”

I asked a few more times during the 15-minute ride home, never pushing, just suggesting it as a really good idea. Eight remained stoic and firm. She would feel better after she took a nap.

I lingered for a moment on the point and then let it go. If she didn’t have any other major symptoms, maybe a nap would help. And it did. When she woke up two hours later her face showed me how much better she felt. Her temperature came down a couple of degrees, so while she still cleared 100 by a fair margin on the thermometer, she didn’t get close to 104 again.

I wish for good health for my girls first and foremost, but if they do get sick again it’ll be interesting to see how they manage it at that time. It’ll be interesting to watch and compare to this experience.

Which is all fine and good, as long as I don’t have to wear a huge white hat.

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