I’m not a germ-a-phobe. In fact, after the NYTimes published an article citing research that eating stuff off the floor builds babies’ immune systems, I just recycled the pieces Sophia flung at the ground, blowing on them and sticking them back on her plate. Each time my husband cringed, I cited the Times—much to his annoyance. Still, we sailed through the first 17 months, relatively illness free.
That was, of course, until this week when Sophia got the diarrhea. Five straight days of it, during which, she barely ate or drank. On the fifth day, a Sunday, when Sophia, who ordinarily has no time for cuddling, hoisted herself on top of me and sagged over my body, lovingly limp, I called the triage nurse. Nonplussed, she instructed me to “call the doctor when it’s been two weeks.”
“TWO WEEKS?” Sophia, my baby, would desiccate and blow away by then.
“Well, is she producing at least three wet diapers a day?” She isn’t.
“Does she have a fever?” She doesn’t
“Start giving her Pedialyte. Or Gatorade. Two teaspoons every ten minutes.” This, for the baby who will eat or drink next to nothing.
“But she won’t eat or drink.”
“Then you’ve got to force feed her. And if she doesn’t wet her diaper in 12 hours, you’ve got to take her straight to the emergency room.”
I sent Kevin off to Rite Aide to purchase every flavor of Pedialyte and Gatorade he could find. He came home with five bottles of neon-colored liquid.
The Pedialyte was colorless, like water. I tried that one first. Sophia took one sip of it, gave a look of disgust and threw her sippy cup on the floor. I poured a glass of the iridescent orange Gatorade. She regarded the drink with suspicion. “Juice,” I ventured, and quoted from an alphabet book, “J is for juice, how thirsty are you?” She took a sip, scowled, and then took another. I turned, so my face wouldn’t betray my relief.
I called my mother for help. “It sounds like the swine flu,” she said.
“The what?” I hadn’t seen or heard the news for days.
“The swine flu. That bug that everyone’s sick with in Mexico. You were just on a plane right?”
“Out of Illinois.”
“I’m telling you. It’s the swine flu. It’s everywhere. She’s got the symptoms”
“Mom. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Nausea, diarrhea, fever….”
“I’m looking this up….”
“Fine. Look it up. Then get back to me.”
Kevin barely glanced up from his book on the history of obscure, ancient British kings. “She DOESN’T have the swine flu. Aside from the swine flu being a respiratory illness, there are no confirmed cases in the area.”
So I did what I always do in times of doubt. Internet research. Lots of internet research. Of course, he was right. But the more I read, the more I was able to visualize the swine flu stretching out across the country. Inhabiting. Infecting. And suddenly in our home, like a purple miasma rising up from the basement, engulfing our daughter, as I try, in vain, to get an appointment with the pediatrician.
Fear is virile. It spreads with the passage of misinformation, far more insidious than any germ.
The next morning, after another dry diaper, I called the doctor’s office again. “I’m freaking out.” I told them. “Bring her in,” they conceded.
Sophia, of course, did not have the swine flu. Nor did she have celiac disease, as the nurse practitioner suspected. Nor did she have a case of an over-reactive mother. She had a double ear infection, which can, I’m told, also lead to diarrhea.
After several days on amoxicillin, she was eating and drinking again. And not like she was before the infection. She was ravenous. Oh, she still flings bits and pieces on the floor (which, by the way, I’ve stopped recycling). But a fair portion of it winds up in her mouth.
Now hear this: I resolve to stop counting calories and bites. I will measure Sophia's health by how she looks and acts, not by the numbers on a scale. You are all my witnesses. I'm done. I will not live in fear.