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11/18/2005

Jurassic hork

After consulting my watch, a calendar, and several core samples of the Earth's crust and mantle, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that Charlie has been sick for a geologic age.  A careful consultation of the fossil record reveals all.  The stratified layers of vomit offer incontrovertible proof; the petrified partially digested carrot cubes do not lie.

It started with a cold, an inconsequential case of the sniffles punctuated by the occasional gentle cough.  Charlie had had a cold before, so we knew the drill: he would wake frequently in the night, finding it difficult to breathe through his clogged nostrils.  His appetite would suffer, and he would be more irritable during the day.  We would shepherd him through it with patience, good humor, and a minimum of baby Tylenol.

And that was sufficient until he developed an ear infection to go with his cold.  After a night of screaming and only two doses of foul pink amoxicillin — Do you taste your child's medicines?  I do.  But I don't have a problem.  I can quit anytime, so wipe that concerned look off your face and call off the intervention already — he was doing well, feeling cheerful, and on the mend, we thought. 

How wrong we were, how wrong!  For then began the vomiting.

Don't read the rest of this before lunch. Or after. In fact, don't read this at all.

A brief digression, if I may, about vomit.  For the first several months of his life, Charlie had acid reflux, which caused a great deal of spitting up, usually immediately after meals, before the milk could curdle in his stomach.  When he began taking Prevacid, which shuts down acid production in the stomach, the byproduct he exuded was even less offensive; the milk was almost entirely unchanged by the digestive process.  And since there was no acid in it to hurt his throat, he was what's called a happy spitter, grinning one moment, dribbling three ounces of milk down my cleavage the next, and playfully dabbling in it with a curious hand the next.

This vomiting was different.  First, it did not merely ooze but was propelled, and with such force that it seemed to come not only from his stomach but from the depths of his small spotless soul.  Second, it smelled.  It smelled very bad.  And the smell clung, not only to my clothing, his bedding, and the upholstery of the glider, but to the very core of my being: even after showering, I was sure I still stank of it, and drove Paul crazy by following him around and whining until he finally consented to smell my scalp.  Third, because Charlie is now an avid consumer of table food, it had chunks in it, recognizable scraps of food, items I had only recently consumed myself.

He vomited a lot, after every meal, after every bottle, and even after he'd been put peacefully to bed fast asleep.  (If you are a parent, please consider the genius of what I call bed lasagna: several waterproof mattress pads interleaved with several crib sheets.  When the top layer is soiled in the dark of night, you can simply tear off the sheet and mattress pad, ball them up in a malodorous tangle, and set them aside for burning once the sun has arisen.)  We noticed that his vomiting was usually heralded by a cough.  Only after being drenched nine or ten dozen times did it finally occur to me that it would be a good idea to keep a basin handy; this cough told me when it was time to hold bucket and baby far away from my body and let the freshet of hork flow free.

He also began to have mild diarrhea, not the frequent, gushing kind, but a tamer variety that consisted mainly of runny, mucusy-looking stool.  Since our pediatrician was out of town, we consulted her partner, who did not seem fazed by the diarrhea, took note of the fact that he was neither dehydrated, nor fevered, nor losing weight from the vomiting — "probably just a virus" — and sent us away to get spewed upon some more.

So another week passed.  Charlie, I must point out, felt fine.  He was as cheerful, lively, and active as ever.  Paul and I were the ones with the problem, the cubic yards of laundry, the worry, and, yes, the scalp that did smell like Satan's own long-simmering chunder.

This couldn't be right, could it?  He'd been sick now since, oh, I don't know, the Permian age.  So back to the doctor we went, for the third time.  Our pediatrician was still out, so we saw a nurse practitioner, who, upon hearing that Charlie vomited after coughing, listened to his chest and immediately broke out the pulse oximeter and then the nebulizer, sternly informing me that my son was wheezing and needed to be given vaporized albuterol four to five times a day.  "But the vomit...?" I asked, "...and the diarrhea?"  "He's coughing so hard it's making him vomit," she pronounced, and sent us away to get spewed on some more, this time by a baby so hopped up on goof balls — for among the side effects of albuterol are elevated heart rate, hyperactivity, and excitement — that he might as well be a spider monkey.  A vomiting spider monkey.  On angel dust.

The medication did seem to ease his cough a bit.  He was still vomiting, perhaps not as often, but often enough for me to call the nurse practitioner back and ask, "What the fucking fuck?"  (My language was slightly more polite than that, but, since I was damp to the skin with vomit, only slightly.)  Her advice was to keep up the albuterol, that it would take some time for us to see an improvement.  She sent me away to get vom...oh, you know.  Monkey.  Vomit.  Angel dust.  You know it.

And then.  And then Charlie laid one of his runny diapers on the lovely women who care for him two mornings a week, and they were not best pleased.  It was communicated to me, gently but firmly, that Charlie could not return until he had a note from his doctor assuring them that whatever he had — "probably just a virus," remember — was not contagious.  They told me this while I held him in my lap on the floor of his day care room.  Immediately thereafter, he vomited into my lap.  Into my lap, when I was sitting cross-legged.

The vomit soaked my crotch.

I hobbled out to the parking lot, put the towel I keep in the car in the driver's seat, and drove home with a vomit-soaked crotch.

This was my low point.  Feeling utterly helpless, I wept as I drove, wiping my nose with my arm, leaving a long, silvery trail on a sleeve that still smelled of upchuck. 

Okay, I didn't really wipe my nose, but my internal editor felt this story didn't have quite enough secretions in it yet.  But I did cry, because I needed Charlie to go to day care.  Why?  So I could mop the floors he'd vomited on, and chisel the half-digested now-dried green bean mush out of the rug in his room.  And he was still throwing up.

This was the nadir, and what sent us back to the doctor's office with a clean baby food jar full of runny, mucusy, stringy-looking stool.  I will not tell you what it took for me to collect said sample, except to confess that I did not follow the doctor's advice to put a piece of Saran Wrap in Charlie's diaper, because, ew, but I fervently wished I had. 

It was worth it, however, because it gave us some answers at last.  It seems that the amoxicillin he'd been given for his ear infection several thousand years before had wiped out all of the well-meaning flora in his gut, which allowed some slightly more malevolent bacteria to move in and set up shop.  In this case, it was Clostridium difficile, which a baby can pick up just in the normal course of being a baby — crawling around, putting things in his mouth, eating dirt, that kind of thing.  To wipe out the bad guys, the doctor prescribed a course of Flagyl, a medicine so bitter that she advised administering it with a chaser of chocolate syrup, and we have commenced megadoses of acidopholus to strengthen the number of good guys.

Charlie is back at day care, and his excrement is once again only ordinarily offensive, and the vomiting, hurrah, has ceased.  The house no longer smells of soured milk, having reverted to its usual low-level diapery funk, and the pile of laundry is no longer taller than I am.  He and we are smeared with chocolate syrup — doctor-prescribed, I promise — instead of with, well, everything else.

And when future generations of appalled archaeologists unearth yet another festering pocket of half-gummed Annie's Shells and Cheddar, I pray they will understand. Because I'm not collecting another soupy stool sample, and no one on Earth can make me.

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