[When last we left Quinn, our feeble-minded heroine, she had just discovered the cat scratch on her daughter’s arm appeared to be developing blood poisoning.]
I let her finish her art project, which seemed to take longer than any artwork she had done before. It came out beautifully but I was starting to have horrible visions of myself standing in a hallway in Pediatric ICU wailing, “If only she hadn’t needed the cadmium yellow!”
I carried the still-drying masterpiece flat, like a pizza, as I steered her gently towards the gallery where Consort had gone to take in the main exhibit. We found him quickly and he began to extol the virtues of Daughter’s artwork within the broader context of post-modernism.
Without preamble, I leaned close and whispered in his ear, “She has blood poisoning. We’re going to the Emergency Room. Now.”
We walked casually but with purpose towards the car. Daughter skipped ahead and I restrained myself from screaming “DON’T SKIP! It riles up the circulation!” Consort and I discussed emergency room options, settling on the small hospital where I had taken my eye infection. As we settled into the car I turned around and said enthusiastically to Daughter “Guess what? We’re going someplace you’ve never been before! Someplace with band-aids…and a television!”
As I have always said, know your audience.
I called Kate at the rescue facility and alerted her to the situation. She was sick at the thought of her kitten causing so much mayhem, and promptly quarantined him. Three days before, this cat had been living with his littermates under a building; the odds of him being free from disease weren’t great. I tried very hard not to think about rabies and the multiple shots to the abdomen Daughter would have to endure if she was exposed.
Of course, the television in the ER’s waiting room was tuned to CNN so Daughter was treated to a live news conference detailing the death of a state trooper. She watched for a few minutes ignoring my entreaties to come look at the fascinating pamphlets on diabetes management. Finally, a mattress commercial interrupted the proceedings enough for her to realize we were in a holding pattern of some sort.
“Why am I here again?”
“Because the scratch on your hand got infected and the doctor needs to take a look at …”
“NOT A SHOT!”
“We’ll try to avoid…”
“NOT A SHOT!”
That’s Daughter’s other rule: no shots. Ever. When confronted with a needle, Daughter develops the strength of ten men dusted up on PCP while making the sound of the world’s largest crow.
“Oh, look,” I interjected. “A vending machine!”
Because if you can’t win the argument, change the argument. CNN continued unwatched as Daughter and I stared into the candy machine. I hinted there might be a candy bar thumping down the receiving tray into her future.
I must say, in the ensuing half hour, her manners were nearly flawless for a small child with a bloated and leaking hand. She gave much of her own information to the admitting nurse and made small talk with the orderly who escorted us to the examination room. By the time the doctor came in, her description of the event had all the polish of a novelist spinning anecdotes in the third week of a book tour.
The doctor looked at the hand, turned it over, and looked at the line. He took a pen out of his pocket and traced around the redness, which now comprised about half of her hand, and around the line, which ran down to the horizontal hinge lines at her wrist.
“I’m going to start her on antibiotics now,” he said, finishing the tracing around her wrist. “And send you home with some to follow up. If the line moves beyond this pen mark, bring her back in and we’ll probably have to admit her”
I looked at Consort, who was looking appropriately concerned. I started thinking in the very slow and careful way I do when I don’t want to scream out loud. Daughter, mercifully oblivious, was now enjoying the exam room television where Huell Howser was bellowing with joy over some tree in Yucaipa.
Admit her? Hospitalize Daughter? Do you know what this means? It means I broke the kid. Because I was talking with my friend and I wasn’t doing my job, I put my only precious child in harm’s way. Now she’s going to go into the hospital and be hooked up to an IV drip for days and days, only it won’t work. And she’ll die of some previously undiscovered strain of cat-borne bacteria, and I will walk the earth alone for decades, and people will point at me furtively and whisper to each other, “Didn’t you know? She broke her child. She just had to talk to her friend.” That’s what I was thinking.
What I said out loud was, “The antibiotics you’re going to start now…are they…oral?”
The doctor looked at me as if I was the dumbest woman he’d ever met who wasn’t comatose.
“No,” he said, adding as many O’s to the word as you can.
She was going to get an antibiotic shot. I’ve had an antibiotic shot. It was the single most painful medical thing I’ve ever done which didn’t result in an infant.
Son of a…
“Someone’s getting Skittles!” I sang out, and ran from the room back toward the vending machine before the nurse showed up with the works.
During the shot, Consort took the back end where he lay on top of her legs to keep them from giving the nurse a nice roundhouse kick. I took the front end, which was screaming, sobbing, and accepting the odd Skittle. This was not an irrational reaction on Daughter’s part in that the business end of the hypodermic was the size of a broom handle. It seemed to take half an hour to get the honey-thick serum installed deep in my baby’s right glute. When the nurse finally finished, she came around front to talk to Daughter, to try to get her calmed down a bit.
Her first conversational forays went nowhere, until the nurse asked “Do you know what you want to be when you grow up?”
Daughter, a river of tears, snot, and Skittle drool, looked up from under her bangs and narrowed her eyes.
“I’m going to be a doctor,” she hissed. “And you’re going to come to me, and I am going to give you a shot!”
That’s my girl; skip self-pity and go directly to revenge.
[Here's a fact I offer to those people who are inclined to pet unknown cats: I thought we had avoided the worst possibilities because she had been scratched and not bitten, and the mouth of the cat is where I've been told the big problems are. But, as the doctor explained, cats groom constantly (some might say obsessively); everything in their mouth is going to end up on their body, including the nails.]
She slept that night, but not easily. Her hand hurt and her butt hurt. Even with the pillow bolsters Consort had rigged up she woke up several times. Also, the follow-up doses had to be taken every eight hours, which meant waking her up at three AM. She has been on antibiotics only twice before in her life. The other two times it was an antibiotic made for children that came in a friendly pink color and tasted like bubble-gum. This antibiotic is far more serious. It has a flavor which makes her start wincing an hour before her next dosage is due.
She has another five days on the stuff.
But her hand? Her hand is good. Her hand is no longer swollen. Her hand is the same color as the other hand. The two punctures are nothing more than tiny red scabs. She made it through the week without a second trip to the ER or a stay in the hospital. And so far the kitten shows no sign of rabies, and his blood work came back normal for the major diseases.
I can only hope Daughter will remember all this next time she’s about to stick her hand into a box of kittens, but somehow I doubt it.
I’d like to end this saga with some sweeping statement about appreciating life for its awful and wonderful fragility and brevity, but if my thoughts start heading that way again, I’ll have to type while breathing into a paper bag.