Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On Motherhood: How much info is too much?

My mother tells this story of a time when I was “sick” – from what I can ascertain, I probably just had a bad cold. Of course, to hear Mom tell it, I was languishing, knocking on Death’s door pale-faced and clammy.

Our memories of a particular doctor whose care I was in only briefly when I was very young is subjective and suspect at best: my only memory of this doctor’s office is of sitting on an examination table, trembling, as a nurse with the long red nails and gravelly voice of a storybook stepmother gripped my wrist in one fist and used the other to walk her fingers, spider-like, up my forearm and bicep.

This is where my writer’s imagination kicks in, my mother always says at this point of the story, although she’s never flat-out denied this happened.

Here comes the kitty cat,” the nurse growled, and slammed the needle – easily the length of a ruler, shining and dripping before it pierced my skin – into the pliant peach flesh of my toddler arm.

That’s my one story from this particular doctor. My mother’s is quite different.

She had brought me to the doctor with, as I said, what I assume was a cold. She was frantic about my fever, nearly comatose concerning my chills. After examining me and (I can only assume) dispensing the witch-nurse to give me a shot of sudden cure (penicillin, which I was later diagnosed as allergic to, which could explain the severe reaction memory), the doctor walked my mother down the hall, and they peeked into the open doors, glimpsing pieces of the lives of sick children.

According to my mother, there was one child that had been recently diagnosed with cancer but was in that day to treat a cold; one child lay shivering beneath a blanket on an exam table, staring at the wall with clouded hot eyes, who was about to be admitted into the hospital to be treated for pneumonia; another child was inconsolable, racked with a cough you could hear in the waiting room, pink phlegm spraying his lap and hands, his mother a sunken heap in a corner chair, haggard and helpless.

“These,” the doctor told my mother, “are sick children. Your child has a cold.”

I hear these words any time my son gets sick – even if, as in the past few days, he has been vomiting without warning, sobbing on the toilet with diarrhea, listless and silent with fever. I took him to the doctor after a night of this, after running through every piece of linen in my house – from towel paths on the floor from each room to the bathroom, because he couldn’t control his vomiting, to sheets and pillowcases, washcloths and dishtowels, anything to wipe up the sick and replace what had just been replaced and he had soiled. Pajamas, underwear, my sleep shirts and hands, hair, and feet – all bile-slicked and stinking. It didn’t help that the last meal he had before the virus set in was fried shrimp, coleslaw, chips and salsa.

The doctor, who seemed more removed and distracted than usual, which I didn’t especially appreciate, diagnosed my son with a stomach virus. I continued to list everything my son had eaten the day before, in case it was food poisoning or too much candy at the funeral home (my aunt passed last week, and the funeral home is lousy with mints and candy vending machines) the fact that he’d been congested and maybe it was sinus drainage into his stomach and making him sick, it could be anything.

It wasn’t anything. It was a stomach virus, and he’d be over it in a few days. The main concern was keeping him hydrated, which would be a slow and persistent process. If he didn’t “tolerate” fluids consistently by yesterday afternoon, my son would need to be hospitalized.

Once he was home and in bed, he slept nearly the rest of the day. Almost as soon as he was settled and sleeping, my body decided to let go and succumb to the virus as well – I hadn’t felt so hot myself all night but had concentrated so fully on him (and cleaning up after him) that I had barely noticed.

In these days of constant status updates, Twitter feeds and texting, there was many time that I wanted to update my Facebook status about my son’s health: that he was so lethargic and quiet, the consistent giggling, muttering and thumping as he leaps off his bed or swings into action as Spiderman was non-existent noise from his bedroom, and it worried me. He had to tire of me popping my head in and squinting at his lifeless lump beneath the red comforter on the bottom bunk, my palm against his forehead, my knuckles on his cheek as he tried to sleep.

But I found myself hesitating and often not updating my status because I immediately thought of a friend who’s son has cancer and who’s daughter has donated her own bone marrow to help save him. The thought of her reading my update about being worried that my son was still sleeping, or wasn’t laughing with me at The Simpsons, or vomited again after several calm hours, shamed me, made my fears seem gratuitous and silly.

I thought of when I worked in Mt. Juliet at the newspaper and there were (still are) at least a half dozen children under the age of 12 who are either currently battling cancer or have succumbed to it in recent years – a rather high number, in my opinion, in such a small square area, but that’s another story for another journalist. I never had the courage or tough heart enough to take it on. I simply told their stories – both encouraging and of dwindling health – and went about my way, telling myself I was grateful for a healthy son, and any little cold or sickness he came down with I’d keep to myself as much as possible.

But is that any way to live a life? If I can’t share my concerns and worries, no matter on what scale they compare to someone else’s, with my friends and family, who could possibly have tips or advice for me during my own trying time, what good is social media and networking, anyway?

Should I feel bad about worrying over my son, who is sick, although not as sick as other children – those with cancer, or genetic diseases, or any other debilitating situation spiraling their lives out of their control? I’m profoundly grateful that my son is in overall wonderful health, but when that does falter should I constantly keep the problems of other children in mind and my fingertips silent?

Basically, how much information shared on social networks is too much?

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