IMR: 1998: November: 15 — Wednesday, 11:11 p.m.
Carter-Dillingham Pediatrics Ward, Kapi`olani Medical Center, Honolulu, Hawai`i

Where to begin?

Katie had been battling sporadic fevers for several days... since Veteran's Day, in fact. Always warm, sometimes hot, peaking at 104 degrees at one point. The thing was, apart from her temperature, she was just fine. Laughing, crawling, smiling, being her usual adorable self.

With no other symptoms, the doctors said, we were probably just looking at a week-long battle with a bug. Of course, we still rang the on-call physicians at Straub at all hours, Jen panicking at the slightest change. The consistent advice was to keep giving her Tylenol, wiping her down and taking tepid baths to keep her cool, and wait out what seemed to be a textbook viral infection.

But despite the apparent slightness of Katie's affliction, several times throughout the day on Friday and Saturday we were on the verge of grabbing our bags and locking up to run off to the emergency room.

It's a regular process, between Jen and I, her hyper paranoia against my firm skepticism. We consistently land somewhere in the middle, and it's always worked out. I trusted the process.

Each time, though, before we were actually out the door (Jen always ultimately prevails), Katie's fever would come down, or she'd seem happy, and we'd just settle for another call to the doctor and another nervous few hours watching an obvlivious Katie crawl around on the floor.

We'd been through this fairly recently, after all. A high fever with no other symptoms, a lot of worrying, a short rash, and before we knew it, everything was fine again.

But last night, she woke up at 1 a.m., mad as hell. She was burning up. And as Jen and I again debated whether or not to take off for the hospital, Katie vomited on the bed.

We didn't need to debate back and forth. We were dressed and in the car inside of five minutes. And fortunately, we live about a block from Kapi`olani Medical Center, the place for sick babies.

As soon as we were at the emergency room, Katie — finding herself in a scary new place in the middle of the night — started crying and screaming and kicking, suddenly looking and sounding like the sick infant she truly was.

She had, without a doubt, the worst night in her short life last night. Surrounded by strange people (and half a dozen other screaming kids), poked and prodded, several blood tests and a urine sample taken by catheter. Jen couldn't handle Katie's fierce, red-faced hysteria, often having to leave the ER before breaking down.

And this time — and it really bothers me that I can even say "this time" — it got to me too.

Before, perhaps, I saw Katie as such a small and helpless thing, I thought screaming to be the only means of expression she had. Now she was nine months old. I've seen her giggle and clap and grab at her own food. Now that I knew she was a beautiful, delicate person that I loved and who loved me back, my heart wrenched at seeing her expressing what could only be genuine terror and pain.

I held her close when the nurses and doctors did their thing, pressing my cheek against her face to hide my tears in hers.

Finally, they found something. And, strangely, to finally have concrete proof of a problem after four days of vague guesses and half answers, it was almost a relief.

Everything was fine, they said, except her urine. And what they found was bacterial, not viral. It was a urinary tract infection — common in girls Katie's age whose immune systems are only just starting to work — that may or may not have worked its way up to her kidneys.

So, although it could be nothing, they wanted to do a routine series of tests... tests that take a few days to perform. Meaning, Katie would have to be admitted.

It was almost word for word what we heard the last time Katie had to stay in the hospital. But back then I had only been a father for four days and was half in a daze. Now I was all there, and thus able to fully feel the impact of the word "hospitalization."

They had to put Katie on an IV drip to get the first dose of antibiotics in, a messy process that again found Jen opting to wait outside. And to prevent injury, they had to strap Katie down, top to bottom, on a small plastic board. She was a big girl now, after all, and could easily kick something she shouldn't.

I leaned down over her, cradling her head, as the nurses went to work with the needle. Katie was screaming. Really screaming. They tried her wrist first, but couldn't get a good vein, so they opted to use her foot instead. All the while we were nose to nose, my whispered nothings being easily rebuffed by her wide-mouthed yelling.

I vividly remember a split second, smelling the milk on her breath while I held her, when she looked me right in the eye. All the sounds around us seemed momentarily sucked away in a vacuum, and we connected, just for a flash, a sensation I could never describe.

I felt, instead of pain, a sense of accusation. (My own guilt, perhaps?) I could only think, "I'm sorry."

They put us in a room three doors down from where we shacked up in January. This one, however, housed two large stainless steel cribs instead of a single plexiglass bubble. They looked like jail cells.

We immediately requested a regular bed instead, knowing Katie would never sleep without us about her like a pair of parental parentheses. For this we had to sign a handwritten waiver basically stating the hospital would not be responsible if we left Katie alone and she fell to the floor.

By this point it was 4 a.m., and I don't even remember what went on. There were a few more tests, a number of questions, and a number of attempts to finally get a wrung-out Katie to sleep foiled by someone coming in to do "one more thing." The sun was up at 7 a.m., and so were we.

Today has been a long string of cat naps, crying fits, and sporadic monitor alarms. We took a couple of walks around the ward — now very much under renovation — pulling Katie's IV and pump behind us on a wobbly pole. Mom came by twice bearing food and supplies, and doctors checked in to look Katie over and answer questions.

Best case, she could be discharged tomorrow afternoon. This presumes they identify the strain of bacteria early in the morning, get the right antibiotics in her before noon, and results are seen before dinner. We're resigned to the fact that she (and thus we) will probably be here through Tuesday, however.

I have no doubt the staff here have seen everything, but I still can't help feeling a little weird in how intensely we care for Katie. I mean, we're with her in the hospital at all times, she's breastfed on demand, and she sleeps in what progressive parenting groups call "the family bed." Most of the children here, from what I can tell, are on their own, and see their parents once or twice a day.

(The nurse is in now as I type, trying to get a temperature and heart rate. Katie's grumbling, but still mostly asleep.)

Katie is doing well, by most accounts, even crawling and laughing and clapping now and then. But she's still very tired, and extremely nervous, and contact with anyone besides Jen and I usually launches her into a hollering fit.

Her temperature is mostly down, though it still gets up to 100 here and there. We feel like the generic antibiotics are working, but it'll take the scheduled 6 a.m. urine culture (with another catheter) to be absolutely sure. There's also an ultrasound tomorrow, to check for any structural problems.

(Nurse just explained why we'll most likely be here until midday Tuesday. Jen's not happy.)

Despite the occasional needle and thermometer attacks, it's mostly a waiting game now. It's definitely testing our resistence to cabin fever, to which Jen is already succumbing. At least we got our Simpsons and X-Files.

I'm still not sure if I'm going to class and work tomorrow. If I do, I'll be wearing shorts and a T-shirt and will probably look like hell.

Besides the cabin fever, Jen's very distraught about simply being here. Even I agree Katie's two hospital stays are two too many. Again she's hungrily searching for some sort of reason, often spiritual, for why we're back. She's convinced at times it's all her fault, or that it's some sort of message from a higher power.

I definitely don't think it's the latter, but on the other hand, I've not a single hesitation now when she asks me to pray with her. Though we're both usually skeptics, it's times like these that I can really understand (and almost envy) the touch of faith she keeps buried within.

What especially disturbs me is that we both had been reporting nightmares about Katie this past week. The one I had Friday morning was the first one in which Katie appeared in anything but a positive, inspiring light, and it put me in a sour mood all day.

It's freezing. I should turn in.

The good thing about being exhausted is that you rarely dream.


© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 15 November 1998 · Last Modified: 22 November 1998