Flu Fret

“If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything.”

Well, then, I am lacking. I am afflicted. But so are many. My conditions are my constant companions. They’ll shuffle along this mortal coil with me for as long as I shuffle along upon it.  But there is a gift in my conditional state: my chronic ailments fortify me against the indignities of aging.

When I was a child–back in the dinosaur age–there was a limited artillery in the asthma fighting arsenal. Compromised since my first wheezy breath, I was a Marax kid. (Marax shouldn’t ring a bell with many – it’s no longer manufactured in the USA because Ephedra, since banned, was an integral part of the formula.)

I was a shaky child. I’m a shaky adult. Everything old is new again. C’est ma vie.

As I type this, there is a 19-year-old cackling with phlegm. He has the flu. A bad, bad case of the flu.  He is quarantined in my guest room where, for the past two days, he has slept. And slept. And emptied his stomach of everything he ate or even thought of eating for the past month. Dehydration. We hydrated him, but his stomach rejected even water.

“If you take him to the ER, all they’re going to do is give him an IV,” says Eleanor, his mother and my oldest and dearest—bestie since nursery school–Washington, DC-based pal.

“That is, if I can even get him to the car.” I reply.

Her son Henry is lithe of build and light of weight. After failing to shake off the flu at school, he came here–gaunt, helpless, small–dependent like he was as a baby when I first cleaned up his body fluids.

“When was the last time you peed?” I ask him.

“About 10 minutes ago. Out of my butt.”

At least Henry’s humor cannot be expelled. He has had a lightness about life from the first. Once, as a toddler–when he was just starting to toddle–he stepped into my shoes and started shuffling around in my loafers.

“Eleanor–come quick!” I shouted.

She raced in from the other room. “What’s wrong?”

“I just wanted you to see this cuteness.” She gave me a look— it wasn’t until I had my own toddler daughter that I viscerally understood why Eleanor’s initial response was panic.

We watched that day as Henry navigated their living room in my loafers as if he was a Mountain King until he fell. We laughed, no one harder than that little boy.

I smile at the memory. Henry is no longer a cutie pie–he is a handsome, chiseled young man. Who at the moment is clearly fluid challenged. Dangerously so. Dehydration can kill.

So, I do what I never thought my privileged self would: I google “portable IV infusion”—Yelp for help–find a nurse from the company with the best reviews, and hire her.

“Will I be able to keep an IV down?” Henry asks.

“IV stands for intravenous which, by definition, doesn’t involve your digestive system.”

“That’s good,” he replies, “because…”  Off to the bathroom he runs.

Which is the real beauty of youth: to be care and malady-free. To be blessed with the ignorance of ailments – mental, physical, chronic or temporary – and all the names of all their needling treatments.

His mother calls again. “I have a reservation on Southwest’s 7am flight.”

“Eleanor, it’s the flu.”

“I should be there.”

“A nurse is on her way over,” I tell her. “Cancel your flight. It’ll be fine,”

Within the hour I am leading a pretty, petite, thirty-ish brunette, her suitcase of supplies and an IV pole, to our guestroom. She is dressed in workout wear–she wasn’t expecting to work that day or else she would’ve been in scrubs. (All non-Angelenos love this detail.)

They say beware of strangers bearing sharp objects—but she is our saline salvation. Within minutes I am no longer staring at a sheet-white soul ghosting our guest room– Henry looks like blood is actually running through his veins again.

The nurse packs up her supplies. “Keep sipping water and try probiotics,” she advises.

I dutifully ply Henry with probiotics, chicken broth and water. He falls asleep. I tip toe out of his room.

 “Two bags of Saline with a Zofran (anti-nausea drug) chaser seems to have done the trick,” I report to a relieved Eleanor.

“Thank you. I am so glad that he has you.”

“I’m so glad Southwest has a good cancellation policy.”

I take a shower and guzzle Emergen C. Comfy in my favorite jammies, I make my nightly rounds to turn off lights (when will my household learn that light switches go up and down?) and lock the doors. The sound of three kids breathing quietly is a lullaby. I return to my room and fall into a deep, self-satisfied sleep.

“Mom, come quickly!”

Why is everything shaking?

“Mommy … Mommy …MOMMY!”

It’s not an earthquake. It’s my daughter shaking me awake. “What is it?”

 “Mommy, Henry needs you!”

“Mommy” the use of that appellation doesn’t bode well. I’m fully awake. I race to the guest room to find a ghost-white Henry complaining of a headache. He is back to his bad flu self, looking worse than ever.

What the hell is wrong with me? Why didn’t I get more calories and liquids into him yesterday?

Turns out Sundays are very popular in IV circles—who knew? No one from my Yelp-vetted-service is available. My kids and I spend the day trying to ply Henry with liquids ranging from chicken broth to tea. Finally, as the sun starts to set, the nurse from another well-Yelped Mobile IV Service rings the bell.

An officious male nurse, in black scrubs, enters the guestroom.

“He had two bags of saline yesterday.”

“Well, that was yesterday,” the nurse explains. “Today, my dear, he is dehydrated.”

“I did try to get liquids and calories into him.”

“I had trouble holding anything down after the medication wore off,” Henry offers in my defense.

“It’s a bad strain of flu,” says the chilly nurse, “I’ve had a couple of repeat customers this year.”

“I’ve got to find something he can keep down.”

The nurse goes through his list and it’s what I’ve already given to Henry–water, chicken broth, toast. Then it hits me:

“What about baby food?!”

The nurse allows that my logic may be sound. Henry needs calories, baby food has them in an easy to digest form.  Henry groans.

Off to Ralphs’ my daughter and I go. My daughter looks askance as I load up the cart. Apple sauce. Chicken. Peas. Everything that the Baby Food Isle has that’s organic, naturally. “You think he’ll actually eat any of this?” 

“We’ve got to get calories into him.”

We return home and I reenter the guestroom with bottles in my hand and notions of grandeur in my head–my out-of-the-box thinking will surely save the day.

Henry looks at me like I’m nuts.

“I’ve fed you baby food.”

“When I was, in fact, a baby!”

“Trust me.”

Henry stares at the apple sauce, then at me. He moans. My daughter laughs.

He wolfs down the baby apple sauce. I am vindicated.

I hand him another: “Chicken pot pie. You love chicken pot pie!”

“Yes, Amy, when it’s a pie.” 

“Just try it.”

He dips the tip of his pinky into the jar then dramatically raises it into the air. He inspects the admittedly gelatinous yellow stuff on his finger, then puts it on his tongue. He gags. “Gross.”

“You need the easy-to-digest calories!”

“Chicken broth – good idea, Amy.” 

“Yeah, Mom, ‘digest’ is the key phrase here,” my daughter chimes in. God help me, she is my mother’s revenge – and a kick ass blessing to me, and hopefully to this world that I know she can improve.

I look at her, look at him, go to the kitchen and return with the chicken broth – and … well, a lot more jars. I line up an organic feast on his nightstand: peas, chicken, butternut squash, etc. etc. etc.

He rolls his eyes. “Great.”

“Just try it!”

He never does. I donate the dozen jars to a food bank.

I’m happy to say that the IV’s — and the antibiotics he gets two days later when he is well enough to go to Urgent Care – work.

Henry is back in class within the week. He has his health back.  Saline, chicken broth and apple sauce – I will forever maintain that baby food would’ve expedited the process – won’t cure my maladies and that’s okay. Asthma and Parkinson’s Disease give me insights and make me bold…. Bold enough to yelp for IV help and preach on the curative power of baby food.

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