Sick days: When our children show us the way

I had an unexpected gift this week: a not-so-sick sick day with my 5 year-old. And it really couldn’t have come at a better time.

We’ve never had a sick day like this before and he’s off to Kindergarten in September so the days were running out for preschool stolen-away sick leave.

In the past when he’s been ill he’s been well enough for me to head off to clinic or work and he’s been home with my mom or his nanny. I’ve ached in the absence but pushed through knowing it really wasn’t me he needed but rest and time away from school. Previously I knew that my patients needed me more.

This time he spooked me. Late Sunday night he developed a booming fever and complained about significant abdominal pain. He skipped dinner, plodded off to bed, and made a series of sweat circles on the sheets. My husband and I were both sitting on the edge of his bed hovering near midnight negotiating the logistics of heading to the ER. I went through the lists of the different diagnoses I imagined could cause his symptoms. I worried. We made plans for his brother, figured out who would go to the ER, and started solidifying next steps. Just then, he stopped complaining of pain and went back to sleep.

I didn’t lose my worry. I tossed and turned. I got up and organized my closet late into the night and tidied little piles repeatedly. I didn’t really sleep.

By morning, the fever was gone. The pain had improved and he joined us at the breakfast table. He downed his breakfast so we took his brother to school. And me? I got the day with my boy all to myself, I got to be home with him–worry changes everything.

The not so sick sick day

Turned out he wasn’t so sick. In the morning he watched TV while I answered emails and requests. I cancelled a few meetings. I stared at him while he played with Legos. We circled up at the kitchen table and decided a bowl of Pho would settle his tummy. We jumped in the car, held hands walking down University Avenue in the middle of the day and slurped noodles until our bellies filled. He made sure I knew his belly wasn’t yet normal, but better. “I’m not yet ready for school.” This I knew.

On the way back to the car we peeled off into a used book store in search of Comet in Moominland, a book he’d been looking for and wanted to hear us read aloud. Although they didn’t have it, they did have an old copy of book 6 in the series so we scooped it up. That’s when we found the alley.

We turned right and headed up that alley (above) for the University Bookstore. There they had our book. We jumped when we saw it, giggling as we paid for it, and re-entered the alley.

Yes, my 5 year-old milked his sick leave. What an utter privilege. Take a look at that photo? A popped collar (by him), two new books tucked under his arm, a day with his mom, an uncovered alley, and the return of health. For me, a dream come true: stolen, precious time with the love of my life.

Worry can overwhelm us. Yet it can shake us into some of the right decisions. Sometimes it’s our children that show us the way.

Our sick day served up a number of great reminders for me as a mom and also for me as a pediatrician. More than anything, I want all sick days to end up this way and will keep praying for all of us that they do.

Wendy Sue Swanson is a pediatrician who blogs at Seattle Mama Doc.

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