I Can’t Fail Him, But I Worry I Might

It’s the middle of the night right now, as I write this. I’m not saying that for dramatic purposes or poetic license. It’s literal. I’m not sure why I’m not just laying in bed instead.

As a kid, I would always attribute the nighttime hours to vampire time. If humans went to school at 9 AM, then vampires went to school at 9 PM. They ate lunch at midnight and they’d settle down for dinner at five in the morning. Right now, as I type, the vampires are starting to finish their school day. Little bloodsuckers, gather your book bags.

Of course, my own little bloodsucker is up too. He’s hopping around in bed. That’s why I’m typing this.

My non-verbal son is sick, I think. Well, maybe he’s not sick in the most dire sense of the word. He’s wheezing a bit when he breathes and, as is usually the case when we switch on the heat to combat the outdoor cold, his respiratory issues start to flare up. It can scare the hell out of me.

It’s been happening on and off over the last few days and can start out of nowhere. He goes from zero to whooping cough in no time flat. I hear his breath struggle to escape his body and it can shake me to the bone, even after years of handling it. It can also make me a bit defensive.

His in-home teacher came the other day and, after no problems for the entire afternoon, he was suddenly coughing up a storm. She remarked.

He’s really coughing a lot.

I don’t know. He was fine until you got here.

I didn’t cause it.

I’m not saying you caused it.

It was awkward. I know she didn’t cause it. The problem was that I didn’t know what was causing it and, even after years of the same time of year causing the same type of problem, I still am never fully sure. My son is eight years old and, since he has no words for this situation or the inclination to share such information with me anyway, he can’t warn me when this issue springs up. The only way to tell is when he comes barreling past you at a hundred miles an hour, looking for the latest cup of water or electronic toy, and wheezing like Thomas the Train Engine after an all-night rave. You have to physically stop him to listen for his breath.

slpIn that moment, time almost grinds to a halt. It becomes a game of second guessing yourself and wondering what the right thing to do is. Nebulizer? Medicine? Witch Doctor? Vicks? Water? What? What does this kid need? The irony is that, even if he could speak, I might not know.

Then again, I might.

That’s a fantasy scenario though and, as I mentioned, this is total reality. Like Napoleon Dynamite, I have to listen to my heart and go forward with whatever I think might work.

Even after over a decade of parenting, I can’t believe that’s an acceptable thing. I mean, heck, what do I know? I don’t know anything. I’m not a doctor. I don’t even know how to properly pronounce the heart medicine I take. When I call the pharmacy for refills, I sound like the text-to-speech app reading the ramblings of a child who slammed his face on the keyboard.

Yet, here I am, loading up a nebulizer and forcing it into his face. I’m convinced it won’t do anything. He’s going to wheeze forever. I’d bring him to the emergency walk-in, but I did that when he was little a time or two. I squeezed a coat on over his pajamas, drove all the way there, and he had been breathing fine by the time we got out of the car. It was the type of visit where the staff say “it’s all OK, Daddy” in that condescending tone. They tell you it happens to all kids and that you have to “play it by ear”.

So I’m playing it by ear. As I sit here now, I’m watching him slowly fall back to sleep on his monitor, occasionally popping up for a fit of screaming excitement, as he’s oft to do. It’s a sign that things seem to have worked and, hopefully, I can get some sleep. It’s more than just the physical aspect of having to get up that riles me. It’s the mental mountain I just climbed in the middle of the vampire school day.

Sure, I might not have failed my son before when it comes to this situation. I may have always used my non-medical skills to make medical decisions to help him get a good night’s rest. There is, however, a first time for everything. Every single time this springs up, a voice in my head insists that this will be that first time I blow it and his lungs come flying out of his body. Failure is just around the corner. It’s always right there taunting me. It’s not just when it comes to sniffles and coughs. It’s a bigger worry and a bigger concern. It’s always looming.

But to paraphrase a famous TV quote, what do we say to the God of parental failure?

Not tonight.

No, not tonight. Tonight, I did good. Tonight, he’s going to be better. Tonight, I did the right thing. Now, as a worried parent, I can finally rest.

Until tomorrow.


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