As I begin this tale, I’m having a “reverse Merlin Mann moment”, tapping away at an iPad on the sorry-ass end of a GPRS link in a somewhat dilapidated but humane wing of a pediatric hospital, watching my eldest kid sleep on a steel frame bed with the aforehinted cranks as a battered-looking CRT TV the size of a desktop fridge shows Postman Pat running alongside what I (squinting) currently believe to be a rather fuzzy dog whilst attempting to lasso a lawnmower.
Or something. The details are not important, and 24 hours’ worth of zig-zagging inside a pastiche of 19th century hospital with layer upon layer of architectural and technical accretion persuading the kid to supply various kinds of biological samples, a 2AM ambulance trip to another hospital for a (thankfully) negative exam and various inconclusive toing and froing amidst practitioners of modern medicine make it seem even less so.
He had been feverish for a few days, but an overnight nose bleed and recurring fever made it plain that something else was afoot. We spend hours in triage, cooling, exams, standing around helpless while fever ran its course. It’s the 21st century, and tricorders aren’t here yet. I accepted that a while back for me, but I see no reason not to demand them for him.
A day passes. Exams are inconclusive. The fever, however, remains, and so do we, over the next few days.
Life becomes a 3, 4-hour cycle of wakefulness, weary cheeriness, attempts to imbibe fluids and chew something, grumpiness, tantrums, drowsiness, fitful sleep, the emotional pendulum of his feverish, unwound clock. I while away “free” time at the hospital trying to catch up on my reading and failing utterly, unable to concentrate, irate at the lack of escapist connectivity.
The straw I give him to sip is an order of magnitude faster than my impatience towards seeing him cured and the feeble link to the outside world, and I soon resort to attending to e-mail and other batch-oriented pursuits when he’s asleep.
I leave after dinner for home, to mind his little brother and savor the relative comfort of trying to fall asleep faster so I can return the next day and temporarily relieve his mother, three children and singleton parents to a room.
Life becomes too large for such a confined space. The tinny-sounding TV hangs above the doorframe on a piece of steel as if waiting to pounce on a Nostromo crewmember. I’m the only parent in the three-bed room tall enough to reach it and change channels without a prop.
I read tinny echoes of outside news about the idiocy of our current non-government - levies on hard disks due to copyright protection (even if all they will hold is private data or code), further bastardization of the Portuguese language that makes me long for the days I didn’t care about it at all, the intention to close the virtually brand new maternity ward on the very same hospital we’re staying.
When the fever abates, we go for a walk. The corridor is full of beautiful, whimsical paintings at adult waist-height depicting small animals in rockets, pirate ships and other staples of the imaginary. One of them is reading a book through a golden-chained monocle as its rocket departs to a planet made entirely of jester hats.
You hear children crying, laughing, having Happy Birthday sung to them, clapping, sobbing. I get mine to hold his lunch in by the unsubtle hack of cranking the bed until he’s reclined and with a good view towards Postman Pat.
I return home to the younger kid, who is fast asleep when I arrive and who clings to me like a needy octopus during a rushed breakfast. He’s too young to understand what is going on and why he only sees any of us a few hours at a time.
Three days into this, there’s a diagnosis: adenovirus - no sequels, but the fever warrants close monitoring. Optimism returns.
I help move one of the beds to another room by unhinging room doors to allow it to roll through. The door paint sticks to my fingers, and I pick it off while attending to the small coterie of personal digital agents that potter around aimlessly amidst my news feeds.
Nearly a week after it all began, I have to go back to work, following up on stuff I only had a tangential grip on during those uneven intervals. I feel like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, talking to volley balls and nursing my own sore throat. They still won’t let the kid leave, though, since he’s still feverish.
Instead of going from point A to point B every day and back again, I end up spending a lot of my free time at point H. I hop over before going to work, go over for lunch and dinner in the cafeteria.
A few days later, I need to see a doctor myself. The sore throat has taken over my nasal cavities and is glancing at my sinuses with sultry looks, so I need to drop by a hospital myself. Later, I traipse around the city in the dusk looking for a pharmacy, a MacBook and assorted attachments dragging at my shoulder.
A meeting I can’t miss has been scheduled for the following morning, but I sleep poorly, drenched in chilly sweat and with a sore back. I rise to shave and give myself a haircut. The kid’s coming back home today, and it’s Children’s Day.
The early morning meeting doesn’t happen. Or, rather, it’s postponed for 7PM. There’s no point in going home for lunch (nobody there yet), so I wait out the day keeping fever at bay and trying to get some things together. Chills pay me another visit, and I consider leaving for the day.
I end up staying, out of whatever idiotic professional loyalty principles I have. I end up arriving home at 9PM and spending all of 30 minutes with the kid before his bedtime.
He beamed at me when he saw me, then coughed, and I instantly knew I had done the wrong thing by staying at work.
There was more to this tale, but I’d really rather not go there.