The Valley of the Shadow of Death

October 4th, 9:00 AM: Punksin has been sick since last Saturday [the 30th] and now that she is on the tail end of it, Pudding is starting to show signs of also coming down with a cold. Throughout the night he has not slept well due to a stuffed nose. He awoke with a slight problem breathing. Because of the episode in the hospital he had when he was 18 months old, we have a nebulizer. I give him a treatment of albuterol.

October 4th, 10:49 AM: I don’t notice any real decline in Pudding’s wheezing; his chest is still heaving and although he is moving around, it’s plain to see that he is having trouble breathing. I rub his chest with a medicine rub in the hopes that it will somehow help at least his nasal passages.

October 4th, 12:15 PM: I administer another treatment to Pudding. He sits in my arms very quietly, putting his head back and closing his eyes. I don’t like that he is so quiet. I tell Punksin to call the Tech Guru and tell him to come home so I can take Pudding to ER. I think we can wait that long, and I am not calling the local ambulance for them to take me to the shitty hospital we went to in 2009, where they almost killed Pudding with their negligence.

I take Pudding’s temperature. It’s 102.8. I give him some Motrin. In desperation I give him another albuterol treatment. I’m supposed to wait at least 4 hours, but at this point I’m afraid to and I take the risk. Later I will discover that this is actually acceptable protocol, to administer two treatments if necessary, but as of this moment, I am worried that it will somehow harm him. On the other hand, I’m more worried that he’s still wheezing.

October 4th, 2:00 PM: Pudding is able to get dressed and walk on his own to the car. Whenever he talks he sounds as though he is gasping for air. I tell him to be quiet, to save his energy. In the rearview mirror I can see classic signs: puffing of cheeks, a certain stiffness in how he is sitting…but I am glad that he is still feeling well enough to smile and laugh.

October 4th, 2:30 PM: We are in the Pediatric ER. They quickly take Pudding back to a room and get him started on some albuterol. The nurses are wonderful and caring and absolutely great with kids. There are also family specialists, people who walk around and help the families with anything they may need while the children are being attended to. In 30 minutes we’ve received more attention than we did in 5 hours at that OTHER SHITTY HOSPITAL.

Pudding is excited because his room in the ER includes a nice TV that swings right over the bed, and a Wii Station/DVD player. This is all so fabulous to him that he barely winces when they insert a needle to begin an IV line.

I go outside of the room and begin to cry.

I know he is in good hands, not because I trust just any idiot with a medical degree, but because I can see the level of care and attention he is receiving. Still, I cry, because I am having flashbacks to the awful episode of 2009, when the assholes in the ER at St. Joseph’s Hospital barely treated him and I watched him regress from an alert toddler with a slight respiratory issue, to a child limp in my arms with his eyes closed, completely unresponsive to IV needles. I remember putting my forehead to his and begging him not to leave me, please, please, whatever you do, Pudding, do NOT LEAVE ME. I remember a doctor, on one of the FEW peeks into our room that were made in 5 hours, saying that his lungs might collapse. I remember sitting there feeling helpless and watching my son’s life slowly drain away, watching longer and longer periods go between each breath, and seriously beginning to wonder if one of them would be his last. I remember how that thought gripped me with fear, the thought that my child might die in my arms in a fucking EMERGENCY room, where no one was acting as though what was happening to him was of any concern at all, furthermore an emergency. I remember digging deep down in my spirit to remember that I AM HIS MOTHER, and that although I have no medical degree it is MY job to try to save my son. I remember our pediatrician telling me, when I was still a new mother, never to be afraid of or doubt my instincts when it comes to my own children, and that my instincts were telling me that my son was dying.  I remember telling myself that I would NEVER forgive myself if I just sat there watching him waste away and it ends in…the worst way possible. I remember feeling the dread turn to rage at what was happening to MY SON. I remember telling the Tech Guru to take Punksin off to her best friend’s house, because I do not want her to see what is happening to her brother, and I don’t want her to see me afraid. I remember waiting for them to leave, and then rising from the chair in which I sit rocking Pudding back and forth in a useless effort to steady his breathing, and carrying him out of the room draped in my arms, like Michelangelo’s Pieta. I remember holding him up, laid across my arms with his arms hanging to the side lifelessly, to display his limp and unresponsive body to the entire staff that was sitting out there chilling the fuck out and rarely checking on him, and I remember demanding, with loud rage, that SOMETHING BE DONE TO HELP MY SON RIGHT. FUCKING. NOW. BECAUSE HE CAME IN HERE ALERT WITH A MILD WHEEZE AND NOW HE IS DYING WHILE YOU SIT THERE AND DO FUCK ALL, AND IF HE DIES IN HERE, EVEN GOD WILL NOT BE ABLE TO HELP ALL OF YOU WHEN I AM DONE.

The response was instantaneous. And it taught me that I can NEVER relax my vigilance over my children, even when they are being treated by others who are supposed to know what they are doing better than I do. God sent them to me. I am their shepherd, their defender, their shield, and sometimes, I will have to fight laziness, stupidity, ignorance and people just NOT DOING THEIR FUCKING JOBS while you sit there assuming everything is okay. I can never assume. To them, he is a patient. To me, he is…my life.

All of this, I remember, because we are back in a hospital, albeit a different one. I leave the room because I do not want Pudding to see me cry and become afraid. The Tech Guru rubs my back, tells me it will be okay. The Family Specialist, who sees me crying and asks me what’s wrong, soothes me when I share that story, and tells me to let that go, that Pudding is in GOOD hands now, and he will be okay. I believe this, I honestly do, but…I cannot help remembering.

I am also angry with myself for leaving the house without my Klonopin, because if ever I needed anxiety medication, it’s NOW.


October 4th, early evening:Pudding’s heart rate has gone down and more importantly, his oxygen intake has gone up. He has been receiving albuterol treatments up the wazoo, and is more comfortable. His chest x-ray shows no pneumonia or anything bad, thank God. Still, the doctor and I both notice that his chest still heaves; that he still puffs up his cheeks while breathing.

Pudding in the ER

She decides to admit him. I am disappointed; I brought him in fairly early in the hopes that he would be well enough to go home by evening. Still, I can see that he still has a way to go, and I don’t want him to return home only to get worse. I am not prepared for this but there is no question that I am staying with him.

October 4th, 9:30 PM: Pudding is taken to a bright, cheerful and clean room right across from the nurses’ desk in the pediatric unit. The whole hospital is so clean, but also pretty and soothing. Pudding has had pizza in the ER, which is good because he ate nothing all day. There is a flat-screen TV in the room and he is into the cartoons. Against the wall is a sofa. This is where I will be sleeping. The Tech Guru and Punksin go home. Thank goodness I had the foresight to tell Pudding to bring his favorite stuffed animal, his dog Ruff-Ruff, in the hopes that having something familiar will ease any fears.

October 4th, 10:40 PM: Pudding is watching Phineas and Ferb, one of our favorite shows. The Tech Guru texts me to ask how it is going and I tell him that I feel weird, that I feel…lonely. Not in terms of being alone but in terms of FEELING alone. I know I am not explaining it well to him and I let it go, because I am unable to explain that my loneliness is not merely about being in the presence of other people, but about feeling alone in my SOUL.

The Tech Guru mentions, apropos of nothing, that… he liked my lingerie today. ?!? Part of me is mildly annoyed because right now, the last thing I am thinking about is me being sexy, and it almost seems…inappropriate to be thinking along those lines. But I realize that he is not worried about Pudding, and really, he has no reason to be. Not only does he have faith, but he doesn’t have this…darkness that seems to well up in me at times, oozing out of my pores. Maybe he’s trying to lighten my mood. I voice surprise that he even noticed my underthings in all the hubbub. He texts me back:

It is not enough to keep the utter loneliness at bay, and because I am already emotionally on edge, this makes me want to cry. Right now, I don’t feel beautiful, or lovely, or brainy, or curvy, or anything. I just feel tired and worn down and desolate, and also…afraid. And then I feel angry for feeling afraid, and angry for feeling alone, because…because what? Because I’m not supposed to feel this way? Because I’d like to think that I’m invincible and in quiet moments like this I know that I am not? I wish I could feel more responsive to this gesture; part of me consciously appreciates that he still feels that way and still voices it, even now, after so many years, but… that part is not the part at the forefront of my persona right now. Right now, the vixen has gone into hiding and the shy lonely person that most people don’t even know exists but who is always always there…she has taken over.

October 4th, 11ish PM.: Pudding is still up watching TV and practically bouncing off the walls – one of the more lovely side effects of the albuterol. Still, he needs his rest, and although I had hoped to read, I realize that I will need to turn off the lights and the TV in order to get him to go to sleep. I also realize that I myself need rest, not only because of the stress of the day, but because of poor sleep over the last several days tending to sick children at night. I am beat.

I sit there, watching Pudding. People have been asking about Pudding throughout the day by call or by text and their attention and concern is comforting, but now, it is late, everyone has gone back to their lives and…I feel very lonely. I am tired, but I feel the need for company, a shoulder to lean on, an ear to sob into or just to listen, a moment to be weak since I have to be strong in front of Pudding. I need…a friend?

But, there is no one available, no one to talk to, to distract me, to sympathize, to comfort. I am here, in the room, with Pudding, and my only real and dependable source of comfort has gone home to get rest. And for some reason, I feel much lonelier than I have ever felt in my life.

October 4th, 11:39 PM: Pudding is still awake. He has been tossing and turning and chatting, and using the board that is supporting the hand with the IV in it to bash himself in the head. Because I am exhausted, the amusing aspect of this quickly wears off; I want him to sleep. He needs rest and so do I. He looks over at me and says “I almost forgot we were in a hotel!” I want to laugh and cry at the same time. I am glad that, if he has to be sick at all, that it can be here, and he can have such a positive experience.

I also have to lock the bed controls because he is having a blast moving the bed up and down, first the head, then the feet, it’s all a big game to him. I am almost delirious with tiredness and find myself getting annoyed. I know it’s the damn medication making him jumpy and jittery. Apparently LACK of medication is having a similar effect on me, with a good dose of irritability thrown in.

October 5th, 12:06 A.M.: The nurse comes in to administer the treatment to him and HE IS STILL AWAKE. If there ever was a night for that Go The Fuck To Sleep book, this is it.

These treatments are supposed to happen every 2 hours.

It will be a long night.

October 5th, 12:16 A.M: Pudding’s treatment is done and…he is finally winding down. I watch him and I am glad he is finally getting rest, and he looks better than when he came in, and yet…why do I still feel so sad? I realize that this sadness has almost zero to do with Pudding and everything to do with me. What he is going through is bringing it to the surface, but…it is something that is always there.

October 5th, 2:41 AM: Pudding gets another treatment. I wake up to check his numbers but he sleeps right through it. Wonderful.

If I could climb in there with him and breathe for him, or suffer for him…I would.

October 5th, 4:33 AM: A nursing assistant comes in to check his vitals. She is pissing me off because she won’t shut the fuck up. She’s so busy reassuring Pudding that everything is going to be ok and she is not going to hurt him, that she fails to notice that…HE IS FAST ASLEEP AND COULD NOT GIVE LESS OF A FUCK! But because she is TALKING so fucking much, he is slowly regaining consciousness, and I want to bash her over the head for trying so hard to allay fears that he DOESN’T EVEN HAVE. I glare at her but she’s too busy trying to be Florence Fucking Nightingale. I pray he will be able to go back to sleep after all of her unnecessary chatter.

It is still dark out, and in here it is just Pudding and me, awake in the deep still of the night, each of us battling our own demons. I am sure his will be beaten soon.

I am not so sure about mine.

The resident on call comes in and asks me to go over Pudding’s medical history. For about the 4th time since we have entered the hospital, I start the litany which begins with his birth. The resident says the treatments will now be every 4 hours instead of every 2. I breathe a sigh of relief, as this means we will not be awakened at 6:30, because I fear that if Pudding gets a treatment at 6:30 he will wake up and STAY up. And if that happens, I will wrestle a syringe from somebody and stab myself in the eyeballs.

October 5th, 8:00 AM: Pudding gets another treatment and I order him some breakfast. He sounds and looks so much better, and his appetite has returned. He orders cinnamon raisin french toast from the hospital menu and then looks utterly confused when I don’t leave to make it. Because this is a specialty of mine at home, he assumes that I will be cooking it. This makes me smile.

October 5th, afternoon: Pudding is still getting treatments but he is looking blessedly better. Still, it is close to 1:00 and as yet no doctor has come in. I am getting antsy because I want him to be looked at and declared healthy enough to get the hell out. I am tired, I have not bathed, I’ve missed a dose of my meds, and I’m just ready to GO HOME.

Even Pudding seems to be getting antsy – he’s been up in that bed since the night before. I take him for a walk and we discover a little children’s library that is exquisitely decorated and filled with many new books. We pick a few to take back to the room for me to read to him. I am glad that there will be something else to pass the time besides TV.

October 5th, 5ish PM: After his last treatment, the head of pediatrics comes in and asks for Pudding’s medical history AGAIN. We go through the whole thing and given that this is only the 2nd episode in 5 years, he is hesitant to label Pudding as asthmatic, an opinion with which I fully concur. Still, he warns that there are no guarantees that this is not what it is…we can only wait and see if it happens often enough for him to finally earn that dreaded diagnosis. But for now, for today, he is fine, and he can go home.

Today, Pudding has beaten back the Asthma Dragon and I am doing everything I can to make sure that asshole does not set up residence in his life as it did in mine for my childhood.

But my vigil has worn me out, not only physically, but emotionally. In the dead of night, when you are staring things in the face, it is amazing how emotions are…amplified. Loneliness, depression, all of that can be magnified to the nth degree. There is something about the stillness that seems to do that. I can appreciate the Jewish tradition of sitting Shiva for the dead, the togetherness that it brings in times of need and sorrow. My son did not die nor was he even close this time, but the loneliness of my nighttime vigil…sears me. I realize that this does not have to do with needing someone to help me deal with fear, because I wasn’t really scared for Pudding. I knew he was okay. It was more that the lonesomeness of my vigil seemed to be a reflection of the lonesomeness of my life in general. It brought into stark relief the knowledge that in so many things, I walk alone. And for much of my life, I CHOSE to do that, but I’ve begun to realize that that’s not always so healthy, and that being strong can often mean admitting when you need help or support. But I feel as though there are too many times when I’ve admitted I need help and looked for someone to lean on, only to find that…the room is empty, and I must walk, crawl, or cry alone.  Often I deal with things alone, not by choice, but because… there is no other option.

I don’t know if it’s because people have a false impression of how strong I am, or if it’s because people just can’t be so bothered.  And…I’m not really sure what to do about it. For superficial laughs there are loads of people willing to line up and have me make them laugh until it hurts, but when the shit hits the fan, when I stop being a fucking comedian and become a real person with fears and hurts and needs…there are few people willing and available to hold my hand. Very very few.

I say all the time that I understand comedians and how it is that they can be some of the most depressed people in the world. People always find this surprising; how can someone so damn funny, who is laughing all the time, possibly be depressed? Let me tell you how: we laugh to avoid crying. We make you laugh so that we can escape some of our own thoughts. We laugh because we’ve developed a warped view of the world that may seem funny if we phrase it the right way, but is actually pretty fucked up. We laugh because we’ve seen all too often that that’s the only side of us people seem able to deal with comfortably. Laughter is a bandage that we are constantly wrapping around and around our wounds, but somehow…the wounds always bleed through. And then we bandage again. And again. And again.

We laugh because laughing helps to hide some really dark shit. From ourselves, because we can’t take constantly facing it, and from you, who become very uncomfortable and start to get incredibly BUSY when the clown makeup comes off.

I can’t expend much more time evaluating it now because I am still in the thick of this lonely feeling, and I know that I will need to climb out of it alone. So that’s the part I’m focused on: not how I got here, nor why, nor why I’m down here alone despite my being there when other people need me. Just…climbing out. I sit in here, in a vast desert of solitude…and alone, I will find my fucking way out. And I know that I will be back here again. I know this as surely as I know that the sun will rise tomorrow. And yet every time I get here…I must still try to find my way out.



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