When Whit was a cheetah

Some pictures and a memory from the archives.

On December 22nd, 2005, we woke up thinking Whit had chicken pox. I was excited, and had big plans to put Grace and he in bed together so they both got it (I would love to have avoided that vaccination which seems unnecessary to me). I took him to the doctor that morning and was told it was, in fact, an allergic reaction to amoxicillin. Apparently Whit had a textbook presentation of this allergy: second course of amoxicillin, day 8 or 9. Precisely.He was covered in red spots which were rapidly swelling and growing. The doctor switched his antibiotic and sent us home. Friday morning Whit was worse, with well more than half of his body covered in hives. I went back to the doctor who diagnosed Whit with Stephens-Johnson syndrome. My wonderful, calm doctor (who once told me of a 105 degree fever at 11pm to give Tylenol and see how it was in the morning) told me that the syndrome was a spectrum. On one side, he said, is a “mild rash.” “And on the other?” I asked, obviously. “Um, well, death.” Great. Thanks. He sent us to the Children’s Hospital ER.

To make a long story short, Whit and I went to the Children’s ER on the mornings of both the 23rd and the 24th of December. In each case they observed him, took temperatures, and sent us home.When released from Children’s around noon on the 24th I thought Whit was improving. He had shown no appetite at all and had barely taken any formula. He seemed quiet and listless but not unhappy. As I got the children ready for Christmas Eve dinner at my parents, he threw up violently. I paged the pediatrician’s office, nervous about bothering them on December 24th. One of the other two pediatricians in the practice, not my own, called me back. She told me to watch him, to give him pedialyte in whatever way possible (turned out that the baby Motrin syringe was the only way) and to call back immediately if he threw up again. He was at this point running a fever of about 100 and was about 80% covered in raised red welts.

That evening we celebrated Christmas Eve at my parents’ house with my family’s oldest, dearest friends. I was preoccupied and nervous. I kept injecting his mouth with teaspoonsful of pedialyte, one at a time. He was quiet, almost unnervingly so. Around 7, as everyone prepared to sit down, I took him to my parents’ bedroom to change his diaper. He threw up all over me. I called the doctor as advised and she told me to go immediately to the Children’s ER.

Hilary came with me and Matt stayed with Grace. I drove like a bat out of hell. The Children’s Hospital ER on Christmas Eve? Pretty close to how I imagine Calcutta. Let’s just say we were not the only people there. I can say, though, that if you need attention in this kind of setting, just throw out Stephens-Johnson Syndrome. The seas parted and they took us immediately to a room. Whit was put back into his third hospital johnny in two days and they decided to start an IV. No easy feat with a very dehydrated baby.

I consider myself a fairly unsqueamish person, and have watched my children endure all kinds of injuries, have personally held Grace down while she got stitches in her face, etc. But this was too much for me. After they had tried unsuccessfully four times to insert his IV I had to leave the room. Hilary stayed with him. They finally got the IV into him and he spent most of his first Christmas Eve at Children’s Hospital.

Whit did not have to go back to Children’s after that. The rash receeded, though slowly. We stay away from all – cillins. Whit is officially my “allergic” child. While Whit has no memory of this, Grace does, referring to the incident as “when Whitty was a cheetah.” It’s become a humorous part of the family lore, but the memory always tugs at me beneath the laughter.
That Christmas Eve, Whit’s first, will be vivid in my memory forever. Sitting there on a gurney with my johnny-clad son lying listlessly on my chest, I felt aware, suddenly and heavily, of the responsibility of being a parent. I felt like the adult for the first time. This was the first time (and other than Whit’s second nut allergic episode, exactly one year ago, the only) I’ve ever truly feared for my child’s health or well-being. And yes, yes lo what a blessing that is. How lucky I am. I know. I promise, I know.
The fragility of all felt overwhelming, the gossamer sheerness of the normalcy we take for granted every day suddenly impossibly thin. I am ashamed that I cannot translate these experiences into more humility and gratitude every single day. But in remembering them I am spurred, anew, to this gratitude.

17 thoughts on “When Whit was a cheetah”

  1. You’ve said it more than perfectly; my eyes brim moist and memory floods. I know what you mean about words, however, as I struggle to respond to this amidst feelings of deep empathy and flashbulb evocations of our own close calls… that moment the always implacable and seasoned pediatrician looks downright frightened and says, of our toddler who suddenly could no longer walk one day, that we needed to get straight to the ER and wouldn’t even utter what she feared it was… or another time the head ER doc telling me, in a bleary middle of the night moment when I was reluctant to allow them to admit my little son to the full-on hospital for asthma, that his blood oxygen was so low that “he could die.”

    I’m glad your cheetah lost his spots, and I sense we parents all get quite exactly what you mean about our piercing love and sheer vulnerable terror in the face of the potential loss of any of our kids—for me you’ve mingled tears and terror and the recognition of both our unique and powerful love for our kids as well as the collective recognition that we all know right where you’re coming from, all being in our heartbreakingly profound love for our children together.


  2. I don’t even have kids and I got choked up at this post. I admire how your lack of melodrama in the storytelling only underlines how dramatic and scary an experience it must have been. I kept reminding myself that since were writing this post all these years later, he must have turned out ok. Phew.

    Even all cheetah-like, what a handsome little boy!

  3. You said it very well I think. My oldest had a case of mono at age 3 which for a few days had the drs. thinking she might possibly have a genetic liver disorder. Turns out it was indeed mono but I could so relate to the fear and panic beneath the calm that you were feeling. Trying to reel in all the crazy thoughts and be in the moment.

    So glad you got a happy ending!

  4. Oh, poor little Cheetah and poor Cheetah’s mommy!

    The I.V. experience, while harrowing, brought a smile to my face. When Miss D. was almost 2, she came down with a hideous RotaVirus. She threw up for 2 straight days. We couldn’t keep any liquid in her, and she became really lethargic, so we were sent to the ER. Well, when they tried to get that I.V. in, she was having none of it.

    They tried…God, I don’t even remember how many times. Even with both my husband and myself holding her down, she fought like a tiger.

    They finally put that feisty kid in a little STRAIGHTJACKET. Who knew they made tiny white straighjackets? I was beyond mortified. But now, it’s one of my favorite memories of that little pistol.

  5. I am so glad Whit is better. I have never heard of Stephens-Johnson Syndrome before.

    Oh, that -cillin thing! We had it happen to #4 – on picture day at preschool. I had that child – as her hives were truly only on the trunk part of her body – in a turtleneck with long sleeves and tights to get her picture taken. Thankfully, in her case it was just the amoxicillin.

  6. I can only imagine that “when Whitty was a cheetah” ahd to have been the absolute scarriest in your life. So glad he is ok now, and he has a funny side to the story to pass down to his own kids some day!

  7. Oh my! I just found your post and so felt your pain that Christmas Eve a few years ago. It is all so scary. Things feel so fragile. My 13-year-old is home today with a head cold. And I still worry!

    My 16-year-old drives now. You bet I worry.

    Worry seems to be my middle name. Correction my first and last name as well.

  8. This may be exactly why God never chose for me to have children.

    Those who can endure these ups and downs are special and blessed in ways I am not.

    Thanks for sharing, and give the cheetah a kiss form me!

  9. “The fragility of all felt overwhelming, the gossamer sheerness of the normalcy we take for granted every day suddenly impossibly thin… in remembering them I am spurred, anew, to this gratitude.” Love this (it so resonates.)
    Wow, what a harrowing experience that must have been. Glad your little Cheetah was okay!

  10. I had the same reaction to this post that I did when I read about Claire’s meningitis hospitalization in ‘Lift'(yes, I read it the same day I told you I bought it). I have no idea how it feels to fear for my child’s life. I can only slightly identify with the ache that comes with witnessing, or assisting in, procedures that are necessary but painful for our children.

    Recently, baby got a huge (relatively speaking) splinter in her little 12-month-old thumb. I begged my brother to assist with getting it out since her was there- one holds her the other holds the tweezers. No luck. Daddy came home the next day and pulled that sucker right out in half a second. As if this isn’t ridiculous, it is even sillier when compared to your situation. A little perpective goes a long way.

    What a terrifying experience you went through. I am so glad everything turned out okay.

  11. This post brought tears to my eyes. My own son carries an Epipen because of a severe allergic reaction to fire ants and bees. He has asthma anyway and immediately cannot breath when bitten….not to mention the full body swelling and all the rest. It’s heartbreaking to know your child is teetering on the brink and really all you can do is pray. I know that’s best, but as a mom I like to fix things for my kids and make everyone immediately better. It’s tough to see them suffer. I’m glad your little guy is ok. He’s a doll.

  12. It always astonishes me that somehow we find the strength within ourselves to make it through things like this. And never more than with our children do we really feel the fragility of life. So glad you can “flash back” to this and find the meaning, the humor, the gratitude.

  13. Thank you! Yes, it’s really kind of scary. Whit added a tree nut allergy to his list after the -cillin episode, so I know the Epi Pen well. Alas. Nothing we can do but pray and control what we can control (which isn’t everything).

  14. What a scary memory. We’ve been down the blood draw path, but not the IV – I can only imagine what that was like for both of you. I’m so sorry you and Whit had to go through that. You know I understand about the allergy… so I won’t even go there, but my heart aches just thinking about it all.

  15. I’ve never been able to stay in the room when an IV was inserted. Far too painful for me and I can’t imagine for our little guys. I’m so glad all turned out ok and it’s now only a memory. I deal with the allergies with Hannah day in and out because of her allergies to eggs and nuts. It’s so hard not to constantly worry, to trust that hannah is aware and careful and trust that I will catch it in time if god forbid she does eat something she shouldn’t. But as moms, I guess it’s also our job to worry because if we don’t, who will?

    You wrote this so well Lindsey. And again, I’m just happy it all turned out well with your Cheetah!

  16. Oh, what a bittersweet story. Clearly Whit’s tale of woe stirred similar memories in so many of us. I love what you say here about how becoming parents makes us feel like grown-ups for the first time. When Tiny Baby was hospitalized at five weeks, I kept hoping my mom would show up to help me make the decisions.

    I just adore that HWM – I would want her by my side in such a situation. No doubt about it.

    Hugs to you and your little spot-free cheetah.

  17. Oh, I can so relate. At 6 months old my daughter almost died of septecemea. The resulting resussitation and hospital stay are etched in my brain, every time she develops a fever and like the other night, when I can’t get the temp down my hands start shaking slightly.

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