Tempest Rising… Paisley, Part 2

Pink Bundle

Paisley arrived in late January, during that time of year when the Texas air feels most out of character. She completed our quartet of children, a collated symmetry of boy, girl, boy, and girl. Being indifferent to sports but fond of cultural idiom, I dubbed her, “the final four.” She did seem to complete us as a family. But owing to events that transpired not long after her birth, she came to occupy a special place in our hearts and memories.

I find it becoming difficult to write already. Eyes moisten; breath comes up short; fingers quaver over the keys. Still yesterday.

Life has a way of trespassing its own character. Just as with the dissonance that Texas winter embodies, there was something about Paisley’s hale and golden dawning that makes befuddlement of that which followed shortly after. Just before her gentle rise pulled free of the rim.


When she was 12 days old, she manifested a low temperature. Just ninety-nine, perhaps touching a hundred. No higher. She lost her appetite and declined to nurse. My wife had grown weary and anxious, and with the loss of sleep, she was weeping and distraught, pleading that she really felt something was wrong. But… Well, Paisley was our fourth. We’d been through all sorts of things with our kids. A low temperature and loss of appetite. A reflexive shrug was ready to hand: she would undoubtedly be better tomorrow.

Though I honestly had no concerns over Paisley, in the end, it was my wife’s tears that turned me. I encouraged her to call the after-hours number at our pediatrician, just to get the nurse’s opinion. Unnecessary though it may be, it would quiet her nerves and give her sleepless mind some ease. And so, when my wife hung up the phone and relayed the nurse’s counsel, I stood dumbstruck:

You need to take her to the children’s hospital right away. Don’t bring her to the clinic, because with her symptoms, we would have to send you there anyway. It may be nothing serious – but at her age, those two symptoms can be indicative of something very dangerous. Tell the ER desk what her symptoms are and how old she is, and you will not have to wait in line. But you need to take her now.

For a fever and loss of appetite? I voiced a disbelieving protest at such obvious overreaction, striding the floor and brushing aside the suggestion. My monologue eventually ebbed. The room fell to that sort of silence that one can hear. The difference engine behind my eyes spun for a full minute. Disbelief contended against motherly tears and medical warning. It was a moment pregnant with the haunt: what if? The specter of doubt, and a low tremor, jogged a switch on the spinning flywheel. Click. We would go.

Lying Eyes

You can’t lie to children. My wife’s mother had come to watch the other kids so that we could go, and I explained to our 10 year old son and 8 year old daughter that we needed to take Paisley to the hospital. Although she was probably fine, they needed to run some tests to be sure. But they saw the flickering doubt behind my words. They could see the clear distress of their mother, and they felt the tempo change in how things were moving. Wordless tears welled in the four eyes looking up at me. That eyeline between us rippled the moment. They didn’t believe me, and I knew why.

In the year or two preceding, two other babies at our church had passed away. One was a finger-snap SIDS death. The other was a protracted struggle over several months of decline. My children knew this, as did we. Against the doctors and against our prayers, they had both died. It brought no assurance to tell them, in the face of such history, that everything would all turn out alright. My son bore the fear stoically. My daughter more openly wept. It was no good telling them that Paisley would be OK – they knew that we did not know.

Darkness Gathers

We got as far as the driveway. Then Paisley’s eyes rolled back. Her arms raised before her. She clutched and arched, as if locked in a struggle against the invisible. The fingers of panic began to close.

We steadied, loaded, and drove. My wife rode in the back with Paisley, and the seizure-like episode continued. Hands at ten and two, eyes on the road.

Traffic was thickening, and the children’s hospital was some distance ahead. As she worsened, I called 911 from the highway. They gave us the choice to pull over and await an ambulance. Or we could drive on. The operator clearly wanted to forestall a distracted-driving collision. In the end, I just drove. But at those moments, even mundane judgments feel like some sort of gamble.


True to the nurses foretelling, we did not wait in line. We were shown to a waiting room, where a serious but kindly woman doctor in blue scrubs sat before us to explain:

When a baby of Paisley’s age shows these symptoms, it can indicate a range of possible problems. It could be nothing, or it could be something as serious as meningitis. That means that we have to be very proactive.

We have a playbook for her sort of situation. We are going to run a number of tests on Paisley. We will draw some blood. Testing for meningitis also requires that we perform a lumbar puncture to take a sample of the fluid in the meninges around her brain and spinal cord.

Because the more serious outcomes are time-critical, we cannot afford to wait for test results to come back. So when we get done taking our test samples, we’re going to start giving her a strong antibiotic regimen straightaway. We will have to do this intravenously. If her tests come back negative, then we will stop the treatment. But we have to be proactive, because conditions like meningitis do not allow us time to wait for the cultures.

I’m explaining this to you now, because I want you to understand what is involved, and once we begin, things will start moving very quickly.

The air in the room had thinned. Meningitis was a word that I knew vaguely. Shadows of college students and tragedy flitted on the edge of memory. I signed the consent form. When the doctor left to get the nurse, my wife and I clutched each other, heads buried into shoulders, and we prayed.

[To be continued]

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  1. *hugs*

    I can sense the tension and emotion in the writing. Tears welled up in my own eyes.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Cody says:

    I don’t know if I’m going to be able to finish this series. I’m glad you are telling it a piece at a time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was tough to read, I can only imagine how difficult it was to write.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, that was moving. Words fail me.

    But I am on the edge of my seat with suspense.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Matt, what an incredibly visual, talented writer you are. My body reacted as though I was there. Thank you for sharing something so personal with us — for letting us in. My daughter almost died when she was 18 months old, and as I read your story I wept tears of empathy and compassion for you, your wife, and children. I admire your courage to write about this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh really? What happened to her? And is she OK?


      • Hi Matt. Kristin had double pneumonia and was in ICU for about a week in an oxygen tent. Her temperature had risen to 106 by the time I got her to the hospital. They immediately put her in an ice bath. I had taken her 3 times over the course of 2 weeks to see her pediatrician, and each time he said she was fine. Her temp was spiking, and he claimed he couldn’t hear congestion in her lungs. But he was sorely wrong. A mother’s instinct should be given more attention by physicians.

        She came down with pneumonia due to extreme climate temperatures. We were going to take a direct hit by a Cat. 3 hurricane. At that time my step-dad worked for Stennis Space Center, so we evacuated there. It was very cold in the area we were hunkered down because it was the technology center. When the power went out they were running on generators. After the storm, we went back home but were without power for 2 weeks. We experienced temps in the upper 90’s along with high humidity.

        She did recover, but the emergency physician told me that had I not gotten her to the hospital when I did she would most likely died within the hour.

        Matt, I believe I understand how hard this is for you to write about. It’s been over 20 years since this happened to Kristin and I still have a hard time talking about it. I had nightmares of her dying for a couple of years afterwords. Thank you for your concern.

        Liked by 2 people


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