Pickle has been ill - a mercifully rare, but rarely merciful thing. An ear infection which spread to her throat, is all. But her body has blazed and she's been in too much pain to want to swallow, or breathe. Asleep, her breath, through the confines of her swollen throat, has been too shallow to sustain her. She wakes, gasps, chokes, cries - each of which redoubles the pain. I soothe and hold and sing and say, 'I know, I know, I'm with you.' But I'm not. Pain is a solitary place. It takes time before she can be comforted out of the crying/choking/pain cycle, but at last she sleeps and I watch as her breathing diminishes, wishing her to rest in the peace of sleep and controlling the urge to wake her so she has enough oxygen and doesn't just. stop. Which is the subtext while I go through the motions with the Calpol and eucalyptus and extra pillows. Some trigger has been switched and I drop into the old routine as if it weren't old at all. I make notes so I can report accurately what happened when. I have clothes ready - layers for the cold night and the overheated hospital, clothes in which I could do business with an authoritative and exhausted doctor. My phone and charger are within arm's reach. I curse the hurricane outside for making the air ambulance an impossibility - not that they could help before. I spend those moments when I could be asleep praying with a desperate fervour. Praying, but also railing, 'Don't you dare!' I thunder silently, feeling what maybe all mothers feel in these moments; that if need be I could and would take fate and luck and any deity you care to name by the scruff of the neck and MAKE them save my child. It is a convincing conceit at the time - a prop when one is needed - despite so many of us having tried this and come away shaking our heads, hands, hearts. Come away alone.
And then it is morning. It seems I have slept because I am woken by Pickle's frightened gasps - she has no voice at all - and I administer another dose of drug, wincing at the heat of her belly, then begin a regressed version of our morning routine so no independent effort is expected of my tired and worried girl. We each know the other is worried and we each pretend this is not the case. I will not cry until we are in separate beds again and she, catching my anxious eye, gives me a tight grin and says, 'I'm happy.' She has been giving me these smiles all night, through the fire and the pain. She has been looking after her Mama, as we all do, and it cracks a chasm in me.
I phone the doctors the minute they open - understaffed, sick leave, hurricane - eight hours until our appointment. Unless it's an emergency? I look at my girl huddled on the sofa, a glum look of tired suffering on her pale face. Her fever has broken and she has eaten a little breakfast. No, I don't think it's an emergency.
We even use a break in the weather to go shopping - jelly, ice cream, Bob the Builder magazine with plastic chainsaw, chocolate biscuits for Mama, extra credit on my phone. Then hours of waiting, snoozing, DVDs of Bagpuss, Bob, Lars the Polar Bear, all spent curled together on the sofa. She cries if I go into a different room, even for a wee or tea. We must be together today. So I have time to sit and try to order my frightened mind. Generally I fool myself that the madness of grieving has passed, but fool I am. One trigger and I am fighting flashbacks, needing to rationalise over and over why it's not very likely my girl will die in my arms like my husband did. Every time she wakes and has to sit up to breathe, I see him sitting up in the night to quell his racing heart. The harsh rasp of her infected throat is cruelly like his last breaths and always, always, I am doing all that can be done, looking like I am coping admirably. I am tireless in my efforts to save and soothe and yet. And yet I can do nothing. People just die sometimes. That, of course, is life.
The doctor is new and unconfident. She flusters a little at my record of Pickle's temperature, spends a long time feeling and peering and listening to Pickle's body. Pickle is heroic. I can tell she doesn't want to stand, is just too tired, but she stoically stands, lifts clothes, sticks out tongue, bends head, does it all again, then climbs back onto my lap, all hokey-cokey'd out, while the doctor muses aloud about hospital, but probably not necessary, but a very poorly girl. The verdict is a viral infection - just carry on doing what I'm doing and be in touch if I become worried. I gather up my girl and bundle us up against the wind and rain for the journey home - Pickle clinging grimly to the handlebars of her trike and me pushing from behind. It is not a day for pedaling. As I push and cower from the weather, I realise I am reassured by this newby-thorough doctor. She really considered what was best and decided to send us home. I can use that against my fear tonight. A doctor said.
The second night is the same but less so and by the next day we even do a little role play (I am Father Christmas, a baby, a cement mixer in turn) and Pickle can whisper without wincing. She's a little dehydrated, but the doctor said drink, so she does. We spend a lot of time intertwined still, for which I am grateful because as the fear subsides I feel how behind I have fallen with my sleep.
I think we will both sleep better tonight and I'm glad it's half term so we can be slow and easy and together for as long as we want, although my prediction is that tomorrow I'll hear 'Who can we play with today?' and 'Can I have another breakfast?' and then I'll let go of that worry and pretend to myself once again that the plot is firmly within my grasp.
And I am left with this circling my mind: