My daughter had a fever Friday night. Her eyes were glassy, and she didn’t have her usual bouncy enthusiasm for our Family Movie Night. Instead, she was sluggish and tearful. After dinner – and after chewing some children’s ibuprofen – she wrapped herself up in a cozy, red blanket and headed upstairs to her room. While she read a book on her Kindle, my husband and I watched Turbo (for the third or fourth time) with our son.
Maddie didn’t stay up late reading, though, as has been her habit lately. She was fast asleep by 8:30 or 9:00, tucked under her quilt and at least two other throw blankets. My husband, expecting her to wander downstairs in the middle of the night with pain from another fever, had set out an assortment of symptom-relieving medicines where they’d be easy for us to find without having to rummage through the cabinets. But she didn’t come down that night. She slept hard until morning.
During the first few days of my two-week hospital service stint in early September, I ran into my father’s nurse, a brown-haired woman in her 50s with a kind face and a gentle manner.
I was in a patient pod (a large space with six glass-doored patient rooms around a central nursing station) in the second floor Intermediate Medical Care unit. The IMC is a patient ward reserved for very sick patients who aren’t quite sick enough to need care in the intensive care unit but who need more intensive monitoring than on a regular floor.
I was there to see a patient, an older man who had been just diagnosed with a devastating and advanced cancer. I had not met the man yet; this would be the first time. I was there to tell him about his cancer. I was there to tell him exactly how bad his diagnosis was, and how short he was likely to live.
I had not been in the IMC since the end of February, when my father was a patient in that very pod, and when my family was on the receiving end of the bad news. I was fully aware of this fact, and I’d been trying to suppress the emotions that kept trying to surface ever since those automatic double doors to the IMC swung open to allow me entrance.
My father’s nurse stepped out of a patient’s room. We saw each other in that same moment, and I saw recognition on her face. She smiled, and then her eyebrows furrowed and her smile faltered as she recalled why she knew me.
I am off work today, on a scheduled day off that I planned for as a reward for working the last 18 days straight. I’ve already checked my work email three times, and I’ve spent 15 minutes logged in to the hospital’s electronic medical record to check on some of my patients. Have I mentioned that I’m terrible at days off?
I also woke up sick, of course. My throat is filled with shards of glass, and coughing makes me wince. My joints ache and my brain feels foggy. When I sneeze, the cats startle and dash out of the room.
I’m medicated now, with Sudafed and ibuprofen, and I’ve had a cup of coffee and a bowl of steel cut oats. I think I’ll be able to face the day, once the full effect of the medications kick in.