My thumb stroked her chubby cheek as she suckled, her cloudy eyes fixed on mine. She felt warm to the touch. Had I overdressed her? Was her bath too warm? How would I figure this mothering thing out? Like a moth’s wings her eyes fluttered open and shut, growing heavier with each gulp of my milk she swallowed.
Her breathing sounded labored. I removed her pajamas and her skin felt on fire. I may have been a new mother, but something was not right. I grabbed my manual and found the section on how to take a temperature. Please don’t let me push it in too far. I watched the numbers settle at 102.1. My book instructed me to go to call the pediatrician immediately for anything over 101.
“Do you have any Tylenol?” Dr. Chamblee asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“Give her a dose now. Call me back in 90 minutes. Don’t worry. It’s probably nothing,” Dr. Chamblee reassured me.
I followed her orders and cradled my little princess in my arms, praying without ceasing. An hour later, the shrill ring of the phone startled me.
“Hello, Mrs. Palmer. How’s Juliette?” I heard Dr. Chamblee’s voice over the background noise.
“I think she’s getting better.” Juliette let out a slight moan.
“Was that her moaning? I’m not feeling right about this.”
“Yes. But, I do think she’s doing better.”
“Check her belly for any rash.”
I fumbled with her clothes. How did she know?
“Yes, she has a splotchy rash.” I responded like an automaton.
“I’m at a party near the hospital. Meet me at the emergency room right away.”
She hung up. I felt the panic swelling, trying to inflate me like a balloon. I breathed in and out, trying to exhale the mounting fear and dread growing within. I busied myself with bundling her up for the short jaunt to the hospital. I threw the diaper bag over my shoulder and called Sam. His first trip back to the gym. No answer.
“Honey, Juliette has a fever and rash. Meet me at the ER.”
Please let him check his messages.
Dr. Chamblee stood outside the doors of the ER. She pulled back Juliette’s cap and studied her bald head. She rushed us inside and signaled to the waiting nurse.
“After I insert her I.V. and start antibiotics, we’re going to the roof to medivac her to Children’s. It could be meningitis and we don’t have the capacity here at General to care for an infant. Drive and meet us there. It’s only 50 minutes.”
I kissed Juliette’s scorching forehead and turned around in obedience. I bumped into Sam. He swallowed me into his arms.
“Go! Both of you. You’ll be there soon after she arrives.”
Sam drove in silence and broke every speed limit on the highways. My arms ached and my heart felt ripped to shreds. “What if…?”
I couldn’t finish my sentence. Neither could Sam.
Sam curled a protective arm around my shoulders and practically carried me in to the emergency entrance. A chatty receptionist directed us to the elevator and explained the complicated route to the neonatal intensive care. By the time the elevator doors closed out the buzz of the ER, I had forgotten her instructions. My mind repeatedly launched a rocket prayer toward Heaven, “God save Juliette.”
Sam squeezed my hand as we scurried through the maze of hallways until we reached a secure area. Upon hearing whose parents we were, the nurse escorted us to a tiny waiting room with three chairs and sterile white walls. “Wait here. The doctor will be here in a moment.”
Not a minute later I heard a light rapping on the door and a doctor slid through the door opening.
“Hello. I’m Dr. Philips. I worked on Juliette when she arrived. The bacteria moved through her tiny system faster than the medication could take effect. I’m sorry. We did everything we could. Would you like to hold her and say good-bye?”
Shock must have taken over. We both nodded. My legs felt numb and I felt a scream welling inside that would take months to find its way out.
The nurse lay our bundled princess in my arms. She looked at peace. We held her and prayed over her for hours. The nurse returned. I stroked her cold cheek with my thumb and handed her over to the nurse and in my heart, released Juliette to her Father.
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