A Fever Pitch Is No Match for Our True-per

Life can be incredibly unpredictable. Most of the time we get lucky and it is unpredictably good, but other times you want to punch life in the face, kick it, scream at it and pull it’s hair. Yet it is in those times that we get to find strength that we didn’t know we possessed or we get to see strength in others that inspires us.

Today when Truett woke up from his nap, he felt a little warm. It is actually a pretty hot day in Portland for a change, so I wasn’t too concerned but I took his temperature anyway. 102. Then I looked at the calendar, July 27th. Really July 27th?  To most people it is an insignificant day or to others a birthday, or an anniversary but to me it is the day Truett almost died, for the second time. Yes, that is right the second time and yes he only just turned one just over a month ago.

Some of you already know this story, some may know bits and pieces, but today the irony of Truett having a fever on July 27th, was a bit of cruel joke the universe was playing on me. I think one that was meant to remind me of his brush with death last July 27th and the one that came before it last June 23rd. It was meant to make me become overcome with how lucky we are to be here a year later watching this little guy wobble around on his unsure footing sticking everything in his mouth that he can find. These are things one year ago today were weren’t sure he would get the chance to do. Life goes by so fast and we get so consumed that we often forget the lessons were were taught, the gifts we have been granted, and to that we need to appreciate each day.  So, I decided I was ready to share Truett’s story in full. It is a long one that dives way deep into mommy blogdom so feel free to jump off now if you are not interested. It also deals with labor talk and hospital stays so if that is not your thing, no need to read forward. It is deeply personal, so if you don’t want to know me in that way, again click right on through, I won’t mind or be offended.

Pregnancy

Me Ready to Pop

The day I went into labor with Truett, it was a sunny day in Portland. I was huge, I had gained almost 90 pounds on my 5’4″ frame and although I will likely regret sharing this picture later, this is me in the raw, looking massive, two days before he was born.

After two days of monitoring mild contractions on my iPhone, I knew it was time to hit the hospital. Just like my pregnancy with Jack, I had been walking around dilated at almost 5 for over four weeks and just like Jack, Truett was in no hurry to make an appearance.  My labor was slow and we arrived at the hospital much the same way. There was no panic there was no rushing, just me wobbling in my Uggs towards the maternity wing.

Me Waddling the Halls

Much of the rest of the day was spent the same way.  Contractions were slow and not all that painful so we were relaxed. We joked with the nurse, sang songs to our iPod birthing mix, and I wobbled around the halls of the maternity ward waiting for for Truett to make his descent. We reached a point where things weren’t really progressing so we made the decision to get Pitocin. I also decided I wanted to get an epidural. This was something I struggled with because I wasn’t in pain yet and didn’t want or really feel I needed drugs, but was so far dilated, I also didn’t want to reach the point of no return. This was a decision I would later be so grateful for.

As the Pitocin and Epidural kicked in,  the labor became even more smooth than it had already been, however Truett decided very quickly it was time to make his appearance. Each push came easy and before I knew it, it was time for the last push. We were all smiles. We had already found out we were having a boy, with Jack we had waited to find out, so we were so anxious to meet out newest little guy. I had remembered holding Jack immediately after he was born,  his little wrinkly pink skin pressed against my bare chest, and I couldn’t wait to do the same with Truett. It didn’t exactly go as planned.

As my doctor gave me the my pep talk for my last push I could hear Falling Slowly by Glan Hansard and Marketa Irglova playing on my iPod as I mustered all my energy and pushed. I looked down between my feet at the mirror waiting to show me my baby boy, I started to see his head crown, and then I saw it jerk back in a way I can only describe as a turtle stretching its neck out and then quickly pulling it back into it’s shell. I saw the smile on my Doctor’s face turn to concern. I felt the nurse next to me squeeze my arm as she whispered in my ear “did you see what happened, it is going to be ok, his cord is wrapped, we are going to untangle it.”  Seconds felt like years, then another whisper in my ear “stay calm, we there isn’t enough slack, we are going to have to cut it while he is in the canal, don’t worry he will be out in no time”  My doctor pushed the mirror away so I could no longer see. The cord was cut. I felt an incredible tug and heard the words “code, get a team in here.”  My doctor looked up at me and said “I know how strong you are and I need you to push again. Push, Push, Push as hard as you can.” The nurse was no longer next to me, she was on top of me and was performing compressions on my stomach. My doctor climbed up on the table between my legs, the room flooded with people. All I could hear was “PUSH, PUSH, Take this sinking boat, PUSH PUSH, Point it Home, PUSH PUSH, We’ve Still got time”   I looked over at my husband he was pale. I felt the most intense pain and felt like I was being pulled from the table. I had to hold onto the side bars not to fall.  I saw a small bundle whisked from my doctors arms to a nearby acrylic crib, I saw a small bag attached to his little mouth I saw five nurses crowded around the crib, I couldn’t see anything anymore, I couldn’t hear anything. Then I heard myself saying talking as if it was someone elses voice, “Is he ok? I don’t hear him, John can you go look at him, is he ok?”  John’ stood frozen, My doctor yelled to him, “Go to your son, and tell your wife what you see, tell her anything, she needs to stay calm, so she doesn’t hemorrhage”  John drifted across the room almost as if he was in a trance. I saw him staring down at the baby trying to make sense of the wires, the gloves, the oxygen bag. I kept saying “Is he ok, does he look alive is he ok?  and then I heard a cry, the most beautiful cry in the world.

Later I would find out that he wasn’t breathing for over two minutes. That a cord wrapping is a common occurrence, that usually they just take it off the baby’s neck like you would a necklace and the off chance that they have to cut it during labor, like they did with Truett, the baby usually just slides right out and takes it’s first breath. Not so with Truett, he was too big for my birth canal and his shoulders were stuck. It is called shoulder dystocia. It is also another common occurrence in childbirth. The two just don’t usually happen together. We just happened to have the worst case of both a cord with no slack and a baby stuck without vital access to oxygen via the umbilical cord. I didn’t realize the gravity of the situation until they told me Truett could not be on my chest, that he needed oxygen and he couldn’t be with me. As they wheeled him out of the room I begged my husband to go with him. My doctor said she would stay with me. She came to my side, grabbed my hand, said she had never been so scared and we both cried together.

Truett and his Monitors

We had to wait to see if the lack of oxygen would require a NICU transfer as we were at a hospital without a NICU. Fortunately Truett found strength and rebounding astoundingly fast. However, he was not allowed to stay in our room with us. Something that broke our hearts. The next few days were a serious of tests and x-rays to make sure he had not suffered any permanent affects from the lack of oxygen or from the forceful evacuation.  It was also a steady stream of nurses coming in to tell us how remarkable and calm our doctor had been and that the hospital just happened to be having a training that day and that the people who responded to our doctors code just happened to be the most experienced people in the field of infant resuscitation.  If they hadn’t been, who knows if Truett would have taken longer to breath or if he wouldn’t have taken a breath at all. Yet he did.

The next four weeks were filled with so much joy. We had a new sense of purpose as parents. We felt like Truett had survived so much and that we had so much to be thankful for and to look forward to with him. He was an amazing trooper with breastfeeding and gained weight very quickly. We even nicknamed him True-per.

Roughly three weeks postpartum John, Jack and I came down with mild flu-like symptoms. They passed quickly and we mused that maybe it had been a slight case of food poisoning. A week later we would find out that wasn’t the case.

I awoke on the evening of June 27th at 1:00 am to nurse Truett. It was hot night in Portland and as I un-swaddled him, I thought he felt a little warm. I mentioned it to my husband and we both decided it was probably the hot night and the double layer of swaddling. I nursed him and he gently fell back to sleep. I placed him in the bassinet next to the bed and fell back asleep. When I awoke to his crying at 4:30 am I lifted him out of his crib to begin nursing him, as I held him in my arms, his little head rested against the inside of my elbow, it felt like it was on fire. I woke John up and again we agreed that is was likely from the hot night and that both of us were also really warm.  He nursed well and I swaddled him and laid him back down. I laid my head on my own pillow, but I couldn’t sleep, I could still feel his hot head on my arm and I just had this feeling that something was really wrong. I couldn’t take it anymore so I reached for my iPhone and googled the words fever and four week old. The results were not promising. Infants that young are not supposed to get fevers. Words like deadly and meningitis screamed at me from the screen. I quickly jumped from my bed and grabbed the thermometer to see just how hot he was.  104 degrees, externally. I shook John awake and said something is wrong. I scrolled through the numbers on my phone and called the doctor. The answering service asked my name, the babies age, and the temperature reading. They said a doctor would call back within the hour. We had been though this drill with Jack and didn’t expect a call for a bit, but seconds later the phone rang. It was the doctor. His instructions were simple. Pack a bag and get to the nearest hospital as quickly as possible, he will be admitted when you get there.

The next 15 minutes I scrambled about the house packing a bag while John contacted his sister to come over and watch Jack. John had an important meeting at work and we both talked about how this was probably nothing and was going to be a long wait in the waiting room for nothing. I took his temperature again on the way to the hospital and it seemed to have dropped a degree. For a second we debated going back home and waiting to see if the fever went down, but we decided that we better listen to the doctor.

When we got to the hospital, there was no waiting for us. They whisked us past coughing sick children and immediately saw us. They took his temperature it was 105 internally. We were told there was no time to waste and that this was likely meningitis. That there were two types bacterial and viral. Both are not good for a 4 week old, but bacterial is worse. Although bacterial can be fought with antibiotics it is more commonly the most deadly of the two, and in an infant Truett’s age it is unlikely that there body can survive the fight. Viral is better because of it lesser tendency to be deadly, but in an infant of just 4 weeks old, the immune system that is vital to fighting viruses, is not fully developed. It is a wait and see game to see if there bodies are strong enough to fight it.  Then the hardest news, the only way to tell was to do a spinal tap. A huge needle into our four week old’s spine where they would pull out his fluid to test A,  if he had it, and B what type.  Both have risks of brain damage if the fever cannot be controlled. The even harder part was the wait for diagnosis.  The cultures typically take 36 hours to grow so they would have to throw the book at him by flooding him with antibiotics as if he had the bacterial version and fluids to help him if he had the viral version. We would also be in isolation until they knew which one.

IV to the Head

The next 36 hours were the hardest of our lives. We left the room while they gave him the spinal tap as most parents get so upset it can distract the doctor at a time when they need the steadiest of hands, we watched as they fought to find a vein in his tiny arm and reluctantly allowed them to put the IV into his head when all veins proved to small to tap, we held out hope for the test results to be negative for both types of meningitis. Early on they could tell by the number of white blood cells that it was likely meningitis, but then we were thrown another curve-ball. There was another possibility. Herpes. Yes herpes.

Swollen Face

When they suggested herpes was causing the high fever my husband and I both blurted, ‘But, we don’t have herpes”. Then we looked at each other with sudden distrust. It was explained to us that mothers can have herpes and not know that they do and that  it can be passed to the child during birth. Especially when that birth involves trauma such as the case with Truett. They said they would need to test him for it and again throw another medicine into his IV called Acyclovir, just in case. They also prepared us that if was Herpes and he survived we would likely be dealing with more dire lifelong consequences for him.  When the doctor left the room my husband and I immediately launched into questioning each other. “Is there something you want to tell me?” we barked at each other. Then we looked over at Truett, and realized just how serious this was, and I said “Are we really having this conversation right now?”. We agreed to shelve it and although we knew in our hearts each other hadn’t strayed, the exhaustion of not sleeping for 24 hours and the stress of waiting was overtaking us. I knew it wasn’t Herpes, yet, I googled it on my iPhone anyway.  The possible complications list was terrifying.  I quickly shut off my phone. We watched as the fluids and medicine puffed up his body and swelled his little face.

Smiling For Viral Meningitis

As we waited for results we watched our True-per get stronger and stronger. He continued to nurse like a champ and his fever began to stabilize and even go down. All good signs. It wasn’t until they came in to tell us that the cultures were done. It wasn’t Herpes. It was viral meningitis caused by the Enterovirus. Remember those mild flu-like symptoms we had. Well that was the same virus. In adults and older children that is typically all she wrote, but in babies it can get into their spines and cause Meningitis. We cheered, it was the best possible scenario. If someone would have told me I would be cheering for viral meningitis I would thought they were crazy, yet here I was rocking Truett and smiling for viral meningitis.

It was like that hopeful diagnosis gave Truett the last little push he needed to get well. Within hours his fever was completely gone! He had made it! Again.

We often hear from people that Truett is the happiest most laid back baby they have ever met.  He wakes up smiling, he goes to bed smiling, and his deep belly laugh fills our house each day. We like to joke that he must know the secret to life because he has already almost lost his twice. He is also the strongest little man I know. so today when his temperature read 102, something in my heart knew was going to be just fine.

A few weeks ago John and I went to an Eddie Vedder concert and Glen Hansard opened for him.   The concert was already special for me because Jack’s favorite song is a Beatles Cover of Hide Your Love Away, which Eddie had just played before Glen Hansard came back on stage to sing a duet of Falling Slowly with Eddie. The emotion that overcame me during that song was more intense than I could have ever expected. At that moment I was so grateful for each and every moment I have been lucky enough to spend with Jack and Truett, because I now know all to well that we all could be just one fever away from the end.  I am not sure why we were chosen to have a happy ending when so many others are not given one, but I refuse to squander it and even knowing that harsh truth that is life and death I am still hopeful, because if Truett has taught me anything at all, it is that there is always time to point a sinking boat home.

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2 Comments

  1. Angie Fuse Whitener
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Sheryl, I am in tears reading your story…you are such a strong momma and an inspiration…wish I could give you a hug right now! So glad your litttle man is okay, your friend since kindergarten… Angie 🙂

    • Appatomy
      Posted July 29, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Angie, I got teary eyed just reading your comment and remembering all the memories of growing up with you! I remember the day you moved away for a short time and how devastated I was. I remember watching my first soap opera with you then acting out scenes, I remember watching Back to the Future with you for the first time and playing cigarette factory (what were we thinking) and for some reason every time I smell a Mr. Sketch marker I think of you. I remember making up code names for boys such as Galena for Gabe because he was a shiny rock. We were so crafty! I love and miss you! Your friend since kindergarten too!