My flight down to Los Angeles at the end of July was nice, because I’d upgraded to first class, enjoying three or four drinks and a lovely nap in the oversized seat. I’d never flown first class before, but for $50, and after my fatphobic encounter the segment before (from Walla Walla to Seattle), I was content to pay a little more. I may have spoiled myself forever.
Flying back to the Pacific Northwest was not as luxurious. Sure, I had an aisle seat, so I could stretch out my wonky legs, but right behind me some white dude coughed the entire 2-hour flight. Every sixteen seconds, cough. Reading a book, consuming the seven tiny pretzels handed out mid-flight, nodding into a microsleep, these were all interrupted with coughing and hacking. I craned my head around but didn’t see so much as a phlegm-moistened tissue in his hand. Middle-aged cough machine there was just spewing his whatever all over the plane.
Turns out, on August 4, flying from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon, I got coughed on by someone who had whooping cough. In all likelihood, anyway. Giving him the stink eye, as I and many of the passengers around me did, failed to silence him or motivate him to request a mask or barrier for his illness. By the next morning I had a tickle in my throat. Two days later I had a fever, and three days later, so did Susanne and Emile. We presumed we’d picked up a head cold or mild flu, and as we’d all been running around far from home, Susanne and I figured we were simply run down a bit. That first weekend back together we settled in and got as much respite as possible for a busy family of three.
And then I got the stomach flu. It was as awful as those things go. Twelve hours later it hit Susanne. Thankfully it spared Emile, but our household was reeling from all of the biology. Even the earliest days of parenting with the sleep deprivation were easier than trying to chase after a sick toddler while also being sick. When week two of our diseased state rolled around, I called the doctor’s office to tell them about Emile, who was still coughing and not eating well. They had their litany of questions, some of which were alarming, like did his lips ever turn blue or had he stopped breathing. Stopped breathing? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be all laissez-faire in this phone call if my child had ceased a critical bodily function. Or at least, I would not have waited two weeks to ask if there was at this point any way to help him.
Turns out the family practice doc had a cancellation, so we went in that morning and Emile turned purple screaming as two nurses held him down and shoved a probe up his nose all science fiction-style. They were looking for whooping cough and a few other things. I had declined one nurse’s offer to stand out in the hallway because I don’t know, I want to be there for him and I blithely figure he won’t associate his grave pain with me. Watch this crap come up in therapy when he’s 15. Next we went to the X-ray in the lab down the hall, and he screamed again as I held him still for two chest films. Daddy loves you, buddy. Now don’t pull so much as I restrain you. Terrific.
I scooped him up and tried to soothe him with a ASK ME ABOUT FLU SHOTS sticker and some pets to his head. We also got a small book about rain and puddles, and then we were back home. Susanne had gone to Chicago for a political science conference, so I wrangled him for the next few days, enjoying our adventures together and whittling down my energy stores. Late at night Susanne and I would catch up with each other, so it was at 11PM or so when she told me that she’d had a 30-minute coughing fit at the conference during the panel she was supposed to lead as discussant. She’d done her duties from the hallway right outside the room. I tried to imagine it. *Cough cough* Okay so how did you use grounded theory *cough cough* in your analysis?
I got a phone call the day after the doctor visit to say that Emile had RSV but no pneumonia. I ran around town with him, picking up a nebulizer and other medication, stifling my own coughs and trying to keep him entertained. No wonder we all felt so awful. Susanne flew back home and we picked her up after watching the plane land. Emile demanded that more planes should land so he could witness them, but this is Walla Walla and there are only three flights a day. Would that we lived at Gravelly Point, kid.
My usual weekday routine is tight but manageable: I work from 7:45-10, come home, do child care for Emile until the nanny show up at 1PM, then go back to work until 5. Sometimes I slip in an hour of writing time. So in my virus-laden brain I left behind my computer at work and took Emile with me to go back to the office to get it. And just as I was leaving my office, where all of the immune system-suppressed people come on a regular basis, my phone rang. The doctor’s office. A week after our visit.
“You all have whooping cough. You need to go home right now. You are under a 5-day quarantine. The health department will be calling you.” Whooping cough, despite our vaccinations, despite the fact that Emile only sees one other kid on a daily basis. I sighed.
Emile clung to my trousers, which is his new thing when he sees strangers close by, or like, 100 feet away. I tried to answer all of her questions that she had for me, and then a dump truck rolled up next to us and I couldn’t hear her. I yelled into the phone to give me a minute so I could get us in the car.
I stopped by the pharmacy to pick up our prescriptions, which hadn’t been ordered yet. Damn. God knew who else I was infecting just like, breathing in the same room with them. I gave them my credit card information so they could deliver the drugs to us. Yay for small town pharmacies who enjoy memoirs by fat transsexuals. (True story.) I scooped up Emile and we got back in our infested car. I called Susanne and told her she had to join us at home. She dashed off a few emails, wondered how many political scientists she’d passed whooping cough on to, and grabbed a bunch of books. I called my office and made arrangements for coverage.
But this was not the worst part of the week. So okay, we’d had a stomach bug, RSV, and also pertussis. We were supposed to stay home from Wednesday until Monday morning. We were told that the antibiotics would make us not contagious but would also not help us feel better. Friends heard about our quarantine and brought over food. Thank you, friends. Really. Thank you so much.
On Thursday we were watching television—what else does one do in quarantine—when a weather alert flashed across the screen. Walla Walla hasn’t had any major major storms since I’ve lived here, although I’ve heard several mentions about a huge thunderstorm in 2007. It did have that month-long snow, now that I think of it, but damn it, that was different. I considered the storm warning for a full six seconds after it left the screen, and then moved on. But at 5:30, a strong wind pushed out of the south, not the usual direction for wind in this area, and an 80-foot pine tree in the side yard fell down, snapping our power line in a bright flash and landing on our car. The lights went out as I was changing Emile’s diaper. Everything in the house was silent, after the echoing boom of a multi-ton tree falling, that is.
We walked out to the front lawn looked at the downed lines and the car. Oh my stars, the car. It was swamped in pine branches. All of our neighbors had their lights on. So it was just us? Susanne walked a little closer to a neighbor who’d come out to see what had happened, and stepped on a bee, which stung her in its death throes.
Someone has got to be kidding, I thought. I need a redo on this terrible week.
She limped inside, and I used my iPhone’s camera light to see well enough to get the stinger out. After sprinkling on baking soda, we picked up our phones again to tell the world that our power was out, because of course the world wanted to know this. One of Susanne’s colleagues came by with pizza (their power was out too, but not from our tree). Neighbors two doors down brought us fresh baked cookies. I mean, they were still warm. It was hard to tell what they looked like in the candlelight, but they tasted great.
Cookies in the dark, with pertussis. That was our Thursday night.
On Friday morning we could assess the car. It looked like the tree branches had hit the roof and then rolled the tree away. The scratches all along the driver’s side were also only mainly in the clear coat. After a series of phone calls and tweets to Pacific Power, a couple of trucks bobbled along into our driveway, along with an electrician, and about a day later, our power lines were reconnected. We coughed our way through the power outage, and we coughed during its restoration. I ordered in a boatload of Thai food, and the spice level didn’t phase us because we couldn’t taste much. We played with Emile’s toys and surfed the Web, and I picked up 60 levels in Candy Crunch Saga, a truly horrible, evil game.
On Saturday some friends showed up with a couple of chainsaws and hacked at the top of the tree nearest the car. They cleared away some of the branches and I moved the car out of the driveway, into the street. I will never again entertain the notion of buying one of those little pine-scented trees for the rear view mirror.
On Sunday I tried not to pace. I took the last of the antibiotics and waited to feel better. They call pertussis the “Hundred Day Cough” because even though the pills stop one’s ability to infect others, the bacterium continues to be active. Coughing has not left us. We have gone through something like 16,780 tissues. But our car drives, our refrigerator hums, and our kid is back to taking walks down the block in which he picks up and hands us every single twig and leaf he sees.