My daughter was recently down with one of those never-ending viral fevers. Initially, I tried to play it cool. After all, I was now a couple of years into this motherhood thing and had braved my share of illnesses. But parental panic, that pal who’s never too far away, arrived soon enough, as the fever soared and wouldn’t come under control. My usually cheerful, independent baby was whimpering from headache and clinging to me, and my composure was disintegrating rapidly. We got ready for the doctor’s clinic, and arrived panting, me with my hair uncombed and dupatta flapping wildly. I told the nurse the child’s history, the story of the fever-that-wouldn’t-go-down. And as I was describing in detail just how ill my baby was, she began to sing. (My daughter, that is, not the nurse. That would just be weird.) I turned around in shock, and yes, there she was, singing clear and strong “Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb…” It wasn’t delirium. No, you see, for the first time in 48 hours, the temperature had gone below 100 degreesF and my daughter was in her element, holding her audience spellbound with her nursery rhyme renditions (“Rock a bye baby”, “Twinkle twinkle”). And the nurses were giving me that look every parent dreads, that deadpan look which says, “You’re a bit of a drama queen, aren’t you? Your child is obviously perfectly well.” My daughter gave a repeat performance in the doctor’s room – well, she didn’t sing, but she played with the toys on the doctor’s desk, she smiled, and chatted and generally acted like she’d never been sick a day in her life. I left the clinic feeling foolish. Had I really gotten too worked up and overreacted?
Apparently not. Because halfway home, the little singer was whining again, and by afternoon the fever was sky-high once more. My daughter was merely doing what children the world over have done for eons, i.e. having miraculous recoveries the moment they step into clinics and hospitals, making their parents look like over-anxious dolts, and then having immediate relapses once they get home. It’s part of the special toddler edition of Murphy’s Law: Your child will appear to be magically better the moment you’re in the vicinity of a medical practitioner.
It isn’t just doctors and nurses who bring about this effect. All you need to do is finish telling anyone how ill your child is, and she’ll go out of her way to prove you wrong (a well-known corollary to the above stated law). For instance, just as I was pouring my heart out to a friend on the phone about how scary this bout of illness had been, and how weak the child was, my daughter chose to burst into high-pitched giggles while watching her cartoons. (To put this in perspective, until that moment, she had been listlessly lying on the couch, staring at the screen zombie-like.) And let’s not even talk about the remarkable recoveries that children have the moment daddy comes home from work, squealing and running around the room in excitement while you look at him and say brokenly, “She was sick all day, I swear!”
Towards the end of this week, however, it looked like the virus had managed to trump even Murphy’s Law. When we visited the doctor, my daughter wasn’t singing or playing. She cried and fretted the whole time, and I had to walk her up and down, soothing her, singing to her. The other parents in the waiting room watched us with that mix of pity and fear, and I knew that they were thinking, “There but by the grace of God, go I.” I’d been in their position before, watching that obviously ill child cry as my own played and ran about the clinic happily. And I realised then and there that I’d rather have it that way than this. Let her sing and laugh and prove me wrong. Maybe it’s just her way of saying, “Relax mom. I’m doing okay” (even if the timing’s a little off). I won’t even complain. Too much.
Tips: “Watch the child, not the fever.” Pay more attention to how cheerful/comfortable your child seems than a degree or two variation on the thermometer
Avoid too much Googling of symptoms (check this space for more next week!)
Have a clear plan in case of an emergency