Tuesday, February 21, 2012


It's only been three weeks since illness invaded my house and turned it into a forced labor camp, but it feels like it has been months. The drab gray skies, the hours of taking temperatures, passing out medications, and soothing sick children all blur together in a sleepless, weary fog. I feel a bit like I am living out the 1993 comedy "Groundhog Day" in which Bill Murray wakes up to live out the exact same day over and over until he finally learns the life lessons of unselfishness and love.

I wake up and say to myself, "Here we go again." I measure out cups of juice with vitamins and medications. I see that everyone gets dressed and combed. I give nebulizer treatments and spend hours consoling a coughing baby. When I am lucky enough to be able to put Elijah down I get to reward myself by quickly gathering the trash to take out, or the laundry to put in the washer, or the dishes to put in the dishwasher. I make lunch, serve lunch, clean up from lunch, put Toby down for a nap, see that the girls do their schoolwork, and right here is the all-time high-point of my day, if it is a really good day. I settle Elijah once more and carefully slip him into his swing, praying he stays asleep so as not to ruin this moment. I station one of my girls to watch Elijah for me. Then I slip on my shoes and coat and step into the brisk, fresh air. I walk as slowly as possible the twenty yards to my mailbox, absorbing every outdoor sight and sound and smell that I can take in. I pick up the mail then and slowly return to prison. Usually I find Elijah crying when I come back, three minutes later. But for three minutes I was alive.

Then one of my five task-masters cracks the whip and it's back to work: bouncing the baby, more antibiotics, more nebulizers, more laundry, making dinner, serving dinner, cleaning up from dinner while the girls clean up this day's craft schrapnel, putting the kids' pajamas on, brushing teeth, reading stories, and tucking in. After giving Elijah a final nebulizer treatment and dose of antibiotics we bounce up and down on the big red ball one final time for the day, then I quietly trudge up the stairs with the little guy so as not to startle him into coughing again. I lay in bed beside him, praying he will sleep and fighting the urge to turn to a more comfortable position. If it is a good night I will get one or two stretches of uninterrupted sleep for an hour or two before Elijah wakes up drowing in mucous and coughs so hard that he vomits all over me again. Sometime around 8:00am Elijah will open his eyes, see the sunshine, and smile at me as though he's had a good night's sleep, and I will say to myself, "Here we go again."

Don't get me wrong, it's not as though there are no variations to this routine. There is the exciting "bath night," the adventuresome "nail clipping night" in which I get to trim 100 finger and toe nails all in one night, and the exhilirating "bathroom cleaning night," but it's just that every once in a while, when I stop to catch my breath I remember that I used to be human. Do you remember the scene in one of the Star Wars prequils when the teenage Darth Vader has just lost all his limbs and most of his life in a battle with some good guy? (I can't remember names, sorry, I only saw it once when I was formerly alive.) Anyway some other guy says to someone else as Darth Vader is being operated on and replaced by all the machines that have become his body, "He's more machine than man now." Sometimes I feel like that: more machine than human now.

Do you know that Matt and I used to go for long walks at night under the stars? Yep, we used to actually talk to each other, beyond the usual, "So did anyone faint or throw up when you stuck a needle in their arm today?" "Nope, it was a good day. How about you? How many times did Elijah throw up on you?" "Only twice, not too bad." "Huh, well, goodnight."

I used to have an active mind that loved learning foreign languages and puzzling over philosophy. I used to walk the streets of Chicago like I belonged there and sip cappacino at Starbucks while I studied Greek and Hebrew. It's been ages since I've felt smart, or pretty, or thrilled at the prospects of tomorrow's adventures.

But if I am honest with myself I remember more clearly that I was lonely then. I wanted a home to come home to instead of a dorm room. I wanted a family that didn't change with the semesters. I wanted the warmth and stability that college could never offer. It is a season now: I am a middle-aged mother of five young children, fighting to keep them all breathing through the gray days of February. Springtime will come, health will return, the children will grow. And I will do what all mothers do: I will look back on these days with fondness and wish that for a moment I could go back and feel Elijah's warm sleeping body next to mine again, and watch Toby's adorable antics, and hear Hannah's silly new joke just one more time.

Yesterday, after I had asked Hannah to please lower her shrieks to whisper at least 100 times so as not to wake her sleeping brother, I asked Hannah to pray at bedtime. "I think I'll just pray in my heart," she replied, "I don't want to wear my voice out." After a moment of initial shock, laughter found its way out of my weary bones. It bubbled up and bubbled over, and Matt and I sat laughing together and repeating, "Hannah doesn't want to wear her voice out!" and laughing all over again. It felt like tiny sprouts of green pushing its way out on branches that had stood frozen and bare all winter. Even in the fog, Spring is waking.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Elijah's worsening cough worried me Thursday and Friday. It was nearly constant, he was losing his appetite, and we were both miserable. I wanted to take him back to the doctor, but I convinced myself there was no point to it. I had already been to the ER twice in one week. The ER doctor had assured me it was just a cold virus. There wasn't anything anyone could do to help him get over a cold virus, besides it seemed like I only brought home more diseases every time I ventured into a medical building.

So I sat on the big exercise ball bouncing miserable, coughing Elijah all day Thursday and Friday, and waiting for him to improve. But Friday night neither of us slept much. I think I totaled an hour and a half of sleep. The rest of the long night I held Elijah while he coughed and cried and then just coughed. He couldn't sleep, he couldn't nurse, and eventually he was too exhausted to even cry. I waited and waited for 9:00am. I called the pediatrician at 9:01am and was able to secure one of the coveted Saturday morning sick child appointments.

By 10:15am I held Elijah in the waiting room while my other four kids sat spell-bound by The Little Mermaid playing on the big screen. The other parents eyed me as I walked around and around in a daze while tiny Elijah coughed and coughed and gagged and coughed again. He was pale and limp now, not even opening his eyes, but saving every ounce of energy he had. As I walked and waited I spotted a small poster on the wall which read, "No family is immune from a story like this." It was the story of a 6 week old baby girl whose dry cough had gradually worsened over four days. She stopped breathing while in her mother's arms in the doctor's office and could not be saved. She had died of Pertussis or Whooping Cough, which her unimmunized father had given to her. Suddenly my mind raced, drawing connections. That was exactly the scenario we were in: Matt's persistent cough for the last month and Elijah's worsening incessant cough that was choking him in my arms right that moment.

My other kids had been immunized, I had received a Pertussis booster after giving birth to Elijah, but Matt had never gotten an adult booster shot. I looked down at Elijah, who was gasping and gagging again and suddenly feared for his life. The receptionist sat at her desk, casually typing as my baby suffered, and I couldn't decide if I should wait patiently or ask her to call 911. Finally, at 10:40 the nurse called us back. Not much later the pediatrician walked in the room, listened a moment as Elijah coughed, then furrowed her brow. "That's Whooping Cough," she declared, confirming my fears.

We gave Elijah a nebulizer treatment right away and measured his oxygen level. It dropped and stayed around 80% while he was coughing but quickly rose to 97% when he caught his breath. We discussed the possibility of hospitalizing him, but the doctor advised that there really wasn't anything they could do for Elijah in the hospital that we couldn't do for him at home, and that our whole family would be more comfortable caring for him at home. She left the decision to me. I left with a prescription for an antibiotic for him and instructions to keep him near a vaporizer, give him albuterol nebulizer treatments every four hours around the clock, and not take him out of the house for at least the next two weeks while he was still contagious. I wasn't supposed to expect improvement for the next 48 hours.

My head spun as I drove to the pharmacy while Elijah coughed. I was exhausted from lack of sleep, worried for Elijah's health, and unsure if I could possibly care for him and everyone else through weeks more of sickness. We finally got our prescriptions and settled at home. I was glad that Matt was working an early shift and was home a few hours later. Elijah seemed almost to be in a coma in between coughing fits. He didn't move, didn't cry, didn't open his eyes. Even when he wasn't coughing, he didn't seem to want to nurse much, and I feared he was getting dehydrated. I spent the day holding him, giving him breathing treatments and antibiotics and Tylenol, coaxing him to nurse, and praying for the coughing spasms to end.

Gradually the time between spasms lengthened, Elijah rested and ate more, and I began to breathe a little easier too. I can't say why Elijah improved so quickly. It may have been the nebulizer treatments, but perhaps it was God's grace in response to the prayers of many on our behalf. It's funny how we ask everyone to pray, and yet I find myself surprised when God intervenes as we have asked him. We pray for healing, but don't really expect to see improvement until the antibiotics can take effect two days later. How gracious that God intervenes anyway.

Saturday night was a little better, with 20 minute breaks or so between fits when we were able to rest. On Sunday morning Elijah opened his eyes, blinked, and then smiled when he saw my face. That just melted my heart. He continued to improve Sunday, with times of happy play interrupted by heart-wrenching coughing spasms. During one spasm he began to turn blue, and during two others he vomited. Last night we had our first real rest with hour or so stretches between coughing. Today Elijah has only had five or six bad spasms. He vomited once, but has spent a good deal of the day smiling and playing. This is far better than we expected two days ago, and I am thankful.

Below is a video I took today of the middle of one of Elijah's coughing fits. The fit lasted 11 minutes total, this is just three and a half minutes long, but it is heart-breaking enough. I'm sharing it so that those who are not familiar with Pertussis can understand better what we are going through right now. Thank you for upholding us in prayer. It may still be a long road ahead for Elijah.

Friday, February 10, 2012


I didn't knock on wood after publishing my last post on Monday in which I bragged that Elijah had "sailed through these disease-laden seas without even a sniffle." Tuesday Elijah was fussy. He took a six hour nap with only one short feeding in the middle. When he finally awoke he had a nasty cough and low grade fever. According to the nurse on call any fever in a 2 month old warrants a trip to the ER, especially when he's been exposed to strep. So back I went, just two days after taking Toby, and yes, at least one nurse recognized me. It was busier without the Super Bowl to keep the crowds away, but at least I had the entertainment of watching a handcuffed man in a triage room being treated for pepper spray exposure.

All I wanted was for Elijah to be tested for strep throat, but of course the ER doctors felt it necessary to treat his fever with full doses of Tylenol and Motrin, so after the nurse choked a huge syringe-full of red-dye-laden medication down Elijah's throat he was more miserable than ever, gagging on the syrupy mix, and I wished I had refused the unecessary medication. Next time I will. I'm so tired of every hospital serving up enormous amounts of petroleum based dyes to every child that walks in its doors.  Anyway, both the tests for strep and RSV came back negative and we were sent home with orders to use a vaporizer and Tylenol to keep him comfortable while he got over his cold.

Toby also had a rough day Tuesday. The antibiotic had gotten rid of his fever, but the sore throat and fatigue lingered several days more. He would lay on the couch, then get up and attempt to play, then return himself to the couch, which, if you know Toby, means he's really feeling crumby.

On Wednesday I found Emma wandering slowly around the house with a blanket over her head. When I asked her what she was doing she said, "I go."

"Oh, you're a ghost?" I guessed.

"No! I GO!" she yelled back at me.

I thought a moment then asked, "You're cold?"

"Yeah," she agreed. "I go."

"You're cold, so you're walking around with a blanked on your head? Oh, Emma, you're so silly," I laughed as I leaned over to kiss her forehead. But as soon as I kissed her I realized she wasn't so silly after all. She was burning up. Her temperature was 103.3. I gave her Tylenol and put her to sleep on the couch.

On Thursday, Emma's fever lingered, but lower-grade and slowly improving. She never got a sore throat. Elijah developed a crusty eye, but it never turned really pink. His cough got worse. It seemed he was constantly coughing and gagging on the thick mucus that filled his nose and throat. I spent the entire day tending Emma's requests and bouncing Elijah up and down on an exercise ball, which seemed to be the only place he could tolerate life.

Last night Elijah's coughing fits kept him up for awhile at 1:30 and 4:30am. I brought the ball up to our room and sat in the dark, silently bouncing the poor, whimpering baby and wondering when this was all going to end. Apparently not any time soon.

Today Emma and Toby are feeling mostly back to normal, but Elijah continues to cough and gag. Then Naomi complained just after lunch, "Burrr! I'm cold!"

"No!" I said, "No, no, no, no, NO! Will you guys stop getting sick?!"

Naomi laughed at me. After a long sigh I took her temperature. It was 101. To the couch she went and there she stays. I gave her some Tylenol for her headache, which seems to have helped a little, but she is complaining of feeling dizzy now.

And how am I? I have a little sore throat and cough, but I feel like I am living in a fog. Gray day follows gray day of taking temperatures, doling out medications, and soothing coughs. I feel as if I've been placed under house arrest for two weeks now, and it doesn't look like I'm eligible for parole any time soon. I'd like to get to the store, but with Matt working 56 hours per week, he's not providing much respite care here. My shopping list reads: "Children's Tylenol, Kleenex, VIC's Vapor Rub, Vitamin D supplements, Culturelle, and Lysol Wipes." That pretty much sums up this week.

If you've ever read "Dr. Seuss' Sleep Book" you know about the machine that sits in a plexi-glass dome half-way between Reno and Rome which listens and looks into every one's home. You know that whenever it sees a new sleeper go flop it jiggles and lets a new biggle ball drop. Some chap counts them up as they plup in a cup and that's how they know who is down and who's up. Well, I feel a bit like the Internet serves that purpose for you all. It listens and looks into my home, and people all across the country can tell which Eby members are currently down and who's up. I imagine dinner conversations which go something like this:

"So, did you read up on the Eby's today?"

"Yep, one got up, but two more are down today."

"Again? That's incredible! How long can this possibly go on?"

"I don't know. But at least it give us something to talk about at dinner. That poor mom deserves a medal!"

Oh, sorry, just daydreaming there. Anyway, so now you know today's current score: "Hannah is up, Elijah and Naomi are down, and Matt, Toby, Emma, and I are somewhere in between." Tune in next time to find out what flavor virus Hannah catches tomorrow.

Monday, February 6, 2012

And a Side of Strep

In the last week we have cultured an impressive collection of illnesses in the Eby House Petri Dish: pink eye, sore throats, runny noses, coughs, fevers, and vomiting. But now Toby has come down with the all-time winner: strep throat.

He'd been walking around the house with green ooze dripping from his nose for two weeks, so when he came down with a high fever Friday afternoon I figured he might have a sinus or ear infection. I would have taken him to the doctor sooner, but it was Friday afternoon, and I didn't want to be the paranoid mom who rushes her kids to the ER for every fever. I talked myself back down to earth: it could just be a viral fever, or a little infection his body will handle soon on it's own. It won't hurt to wait until Monday.

Toby was miserable Friday evening and Saturday. He coughed incessantly, lost his appetite, and walked around with dark, puffy, blank eyes. His fever went up and down between 100 and 103, sometimes responding and lowering with Tylenol and sometimes not. He put himself to bed early, but wouldn't drink the cup of milk he requested.

Sunday morning, however, he appeared so much improved with no fever and bright eyes again that we figured he'd turned the corner on some nasty virus and it wouldn't hurt to take him to church with us. We kept him out of the nursery just to be safe. But by the late afternoon the dark, bleary eyes returned, then the refusing to drink, then the horrific coughing fits. His breathing became rapid, his fever spiked up to 103 and refused to come down with Tylenol, and he was becoming dehydrated. He cried and cried but wouldn't tell me why. "I just feel so sad," he said. I called the on-call nurse and she advised us to head to the ER.

I've made a lot of ER runs before and I have decided that the three hours during the Super Bowl are the best hours to head to the ER out of the entire year. The place was deserted, except for two couples glued to the big-screen TV in the waiting area. We walked in, signed two forms and went straight back to triage. The triage nurse wanted to take Toby's temperature in his mouth. This was a new experience for Toby (I always use the armpit), and he wasn't in the mood to cooperate. He held his mouth open and still got a reading of 103 degrees. His oxygen saturation was also down to 95%. The nurse led us straight back to a room where Toby sat on my lap listening to me read Curious George stories. As we went I heard another nurse call one of the ladies from the waiting room. Reluctant to leave her big-screen entertainment during the last quarter of the game she asked, "Do they have TVs back there?" When the nurse assured her that they did, she responded, "Oh good, otherwise I'd be staying right here!"

The doctors exam of Toby didn't take long: one look in his throat and she said, "Whoa! He's got strep throat! That looks pretty bad. Yep, his lymph nodes are swollen too." I asked if she was going to do a rapid strep test, but she said she didn't need to with a throat that looked like that. I asked about a chest x-ray to look for pneumonia, and she said it would be pointless since the antibiotic to treat the pneumonia would be the same for the strep. So we were in and out of the ER in less than an hour--an all-time record for us.

"Toby," I asked, when she had left the room, "does your throat hurt you?"

"Um," Toby thought, "no. It doesn't." Right, he won't eat or drink, his throat is pocked with pus and blood, and he's sick as a dog, but he's not going to call it painful. That kid is made of nails. After a minute he did concede weekly, "Mommy, I'm a little bit sick. Put me in bed."

He cried as we waited at the pharmacy for his antibiotic and gladly snuggled up in bed once we got home. Today he is feeling brighter, drinking some water, and he ate a little rice pudding. He still refused his cup of milk before nap, but happily greeted his pillow and blanket. His fever is around 100 and disappears with Tylenol now. Hopefully he'll be more himself by tomorrow.

What am I doing today? Washing everything I can in hot water, wiping everything I can with Lysol, passing out blops of hand sanitizer like it's candy, reminding Toby to cover his mouth every time he coughs (which is about every 10 seconds), and lecturing the girls about the dangers of touching Toby's sippy cup. I also sent out an apology e-mail to the other families in our church with small children warning them that they were exposed to strep yesterday. Yes, I feel guilty, but I really didn't know it was that bad. Matt was supposed to have the day off of work today (after logging 56 hours last week), but he was called in to work again today. Feeling a little disappointed as he got dressed, I asked him where he'd really rather be today: at work or at home disinfecting the entire house and caring for sick kids. "Well, I guess I have less of a chance of getting sick at work," he agreed. That's right Matt: run, save yourself.

On the bright side, a friend from church just dropped off some take-n-bake gluten free pizza for us (made in a place that's careful about cross-contamination), so I can cross two hours of dinner prep off of my "to-do" list. And little, Elijah, bless his sweet, smiling face, has sailed through all of these disease-laden seas without even a sniffle, one of those amazing benefits of breastfeeding. There's always something to be thankful for: pizza and a smiling baby happen to be two of my favorites.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Catching, Isn't It?

I hate waking up to splattering noises. Of all the awful things to wake up to, splattering noises has to be one of the all-time worst, and that was my good morning wake-up call this morning.

Toby's been walking around for a week now with green ooze leaking from his nose and ears (he has ear tubes and they're doing what they're supposed to do: draining fluid that backs up to his ears). Matt's had a cough that he can't shake for three weeks now. So I thought things were bad when Emma came down with pink-eye two days ago. That evening Hannah had a stomach ache and a low fever. Last night Toby was running a low fever and Naomi had an awful headache I thought that might have had something to do with the five sprays of my perfume she doused herself with, but her headache persists today and is now accompanied by the infamous joint pain that sometimes still plagues her.

But all of that pales in comparison to the splatters. I heard them at 7:00am and lept from bed, which of course woke Elijah. I found Emma trying desperately to make her way up the stairs to tell me that she was throwing up, only she had trouble getting the words out in between blurps.

"Emma! Just stay right there! Don't move!" I ordered. After waking Matt to take care of Elijah I attempted, unsucessfully, to pick my way down the stairs without getting my feet wet. The route to the kitchen for the papertowels and disinfectant was like a mine field. Finally getting my supplies, I stripped Emma, who was an eerie shade of green, and put her in a warm bath while I scrubbed floors. I heard Naomi clomping down the stairs and shouted out a warning, but it was too late: another pair of slippers joined Emma's pajamas and the bathroom rug in the laundry.

The house is relatively clean now, but I feel like germs are on everything I touch: colds, fevers, stomach flu, pink-eye, and sinus infections threaten me on every doorknob and lightswitch. I am now turning over my computer to the kids so they can watch cartoons today. We don't own a TV and I rarely let my kids watch cartoons, but some days you make exceptions, and today is an exceptional day. While the children are in a cartoon-induced coma I will be waging war on germs, not that it will stop their spread, but it will make me feel better. Come by and visit us...if you dare.