The Phantom in the Other Room

I am lying awake in bed in the early hours of morning, my husband lost in dreams beside me while darkness shrouds the spring-time day soon to explode outside my window. I am sleepy-eyed and cozy and still in that blissful, transformed state that occurs only when you’ve just woken from a deep and restful sleep and the details of daily reality have yet to flood back into your consciousness to shock you stupid. That’s when I hear it. Like a phantom menace from my daughter’s bedroom emerge the sounds I have come to dread most: Cough-cough, sniffle-sniffle, cough, sniffle, cough-cough. “Please God, please,” I silently pray, “Please, don’t let her be sick again.”

My prayers fall on deaf ears. By the time I reach her bedroom the coughing is intense. Her child-cum-young-lady’s body is convulsing in rhythm to the spasms in her lungs, her cheeks, flushed and warm to the touch, and her face contorted in an expression that screams “Help me, Mom.” She is twelve. I am not new at this. I should be able to keep her healthy. I should be a better mother.

Mornings like this are not a rare occurrence in our home. Over the past year-and-half or so she has been sick, more than most children. After a battery of tests in the fall of ‘08 that required countless doctor’s appointments, numerous lab visits, and far too many tubes of blood drawn from one so small, we were able to determine that she does not have Mononucleosis, no Celiac’s Disease, not any form of Immunoglobulin Deficiency, no severe allergies. And although she has had pneumonia four times, this, apparently, is not cause for alarm within the medical community.

“She may be what is called an A-symptomatic strep carrier,” one health professional announced. “We suspect she carries the strep-throat virus without presenting the usual symptoms, and therefore can easily fall prey to it’s negative health consequences.” Translation: She can get sick, often.

“No kidding, Einstein?” was my reply. Okay, I didn’t actually say this, but it crossed my mind. “But how do we fix it?” was what really came out.

“I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do.” Period.

Well then, what now? I know that this is not life-threatening, but is it life altering? And still…cough-cough, sniffle-sniffle, fever-fever.

In the periods when she is well my Little Miss is a happy, vivacious, out-going girl. She excels at school, she has many friends and she is a talented singer/musician/performer. A simple glance into her big brown eyes or a quick flash of her grin is all that’s required to see the light shining within. But just when I am lulled into a sense of security, just when she has been well long-enough to almost forget, wham! That tormented sound slithers its way back into our lives and I am chagrined, humiliated, for being so easily fooled.

As mothers we believe, I believe, that my primary duty is to keep my child safe, happy and well. To this end, I read the label of every food product I buy, I shop organically whenever possible, I am religious about bedtime, I believe wholeheartedly in appropriate clothing for inclement weather, and she must, MUST, carry her cell phone at all times so I know where she is. I have been heard to say on more than one winter’s afternoon while hanging out at home, “Put socks on your feet before you catch a cold!” Even though I know that colds are not caught through the exposure of bare feet to carpet, a part of me holds fast to this old wives tale, just in case. Better to be safe than sorry, especially where she’s concerned.

Last night I went out to a very enjoyable event with other mother-writers like myself celebrating a recently published new memoir. Little Miss was safely at home with her father. The night before, a Saturday, my husband and I went out with good friends while Little Miss spent the evening with their children, twelve and fourteen years of age. It was a late night, sure, but we do not go out without her often, and once in a while, on a weekend, bedtime can be extended by even the strictest of adherents to the rules like myself, can’t it?

The answer seems to be no. Every time I let down my guard, the result for her is a day or two or three in bed with the phantom in the other room. As irrational as it may sound, I feel like this is payback, a lesson to be learned the hard way as penance for going out two nights in a row when a “good mother” would have been at home, caring for her off-spring.

6 Responses to “The Phantom in the Other Room”

  1. Hi Christie…

    I’ve been a little pre-occupied the last couple of days. My VERY pregnant step-daughter has a urinary tract infection. I had to take her to the emergency room this afternoon. Six hours later, the doctor released her with a prescription for penicillin. Never a dull moment it seems… oh how I’d really love to have a dull moment for about a year.

    I don’t think worry about the kids ever goes away. Even after they grow up and move out. Actually, I think it gets worse when that happens.

    Let me to tell you about the day that MY son was riding home from school on his bike and got hit by a truck just as he was about to ride through the intersection. To make a long story short, when I got there and the paramedics were standing around scratching their heads, I was less concerned about Zach than I was about the poor man that hit him. Zach was standing there laughing and cutting up with the paramedics and the police officer… he was okay (his bicycle was another story, though). The man that was driving the truck, however, looked like he was going to faint and/or have a heart attack right there in the intersection. He was standing off by his self and I just felt compelled walk over to him and put my hand on his arm and introduced myself to him and then asked him if HE was okay. The end of the story is that the gentleman took Zach a few days later and bought him a new bicycle… a REALLY nice one. Zach had a minor scrape on his right shin and it did get some bruising, but I was grateful that he got up and walked away. That was five years ago… spraining his ankle is no big deal. LOL! He’s rough and tough like old shoe leather.

    Christie, you wouldn’t be doing your job right if you weren’t concerned about Little Miss’ health. Like all us other ‘know it all moms,’ you’re going to worry when she isn’t feeling well. Oh, I want to tell you, in case your doctor hasn’t, schools are hot beds of all sorts of infection. And the older the school building is, the worse it can be. (check the topic of ‘dust’) On any given day, how many children go to school with the sniffles when they really should have stayed home?

    Still, we can’t put them bubbles forever. Eventually, Little Miss’ immune system will kick in to accommodate the things in her environment that cause her the most trouble.

    Hang in there… you’re doing just fine.


    • Liz,

      I simply can’t imagine what you must have felt in that instant you thought your son had been hit! I appreciate the words of support. Do you want to know something funny? Her school is a very old building, just as you guessed, and in fact this year she is spending her classroom hours in a portable while the building is renovated, it’s so decrepit. I hope your daughter-in-law is on the mend,


  2. Having a sick child is hard on any mother. As mothers, it is part of our job description to worry and fret that we haven’t done everything humanly possible to keep our heart strings (read: kids) healthy. Even if we know we have, there is that gut wrenching fear at the bottom of our souls that we just haven’t done enough.

    My Little Man (that’s no so little any more) had to have a set of tubes put in his ears when he was but only 1 year old. The doctor told me that the stuff he drained out of Zach’s left ear was as thick as glue! A year later, he had to have yet another set of tubes put in his ears. Horror of horrors! However, for the most part, he’s been as healthy as a thoroughbred race horse ever since. Cuts, bruises, and scrapes have come and gone. LOL! He just sprained his ankle the other day… the poor dearling… but he hobbles along with it for the moment.

    Don’t beat yourself up, Christie. Little Miss will probably grow out of this tendency to be sickly at times. If she eats well and gets plenty of fresh air and appropriate measures of sunshine, she will be just fine.


    • Hi Liz,

      Thanks for the kind words of support. On good days, when Little Miss is well, I’m really quite rational about the whole thing! It’s just in those quiet, early morning moments, when the coughing starts, that I wonder what the heck is going on and how I can fix it. Mom’s are, if nothing else, supposed to keep their kids healthy. Of course I know this isn’t always possible, but still…sometimes a little self doubt creeps in . It’s good for me though – it keeps me on toes!


    • Liz,

      Ooops! Forgot to wish your son a speedy recovery with sore ankle. All my best,


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