Since March 3rd, our daughter has been sick.
Well, not sick-sick, as in sick all the time. But basically since catching a cold she hasn’t recovered completely. Four days of medicine for the cold seemed to work…sort of…except she came down with an ear infection. I recall from my own childhood numerous ear infections and numerous trips to the local health center. Since I come from a big family, we had lots of trips to the doctor (once one brother got sick, we all got sick).
In our case last week, both my wife and I came down with the same cold our daughter had. After a trip to a local jibi-inkouka, she began taking medicine for the ear infection, while my wife started taking medicine for a cold. Being typically pig-head and stubborn, I naturally refused to see the doctor. “It’s just a cold,” I said to my wife. “Colds last seven days without medicine and a week with.” Which is why I am now taking medicine for a cold, overlapping the end of my wife’s cold medicine.
Of course, having asthma I should have paid more attention to various symptoms of illness. But my own experience dealing with Japanese byouin has left me extremely reluctant to rely on Japanese medicine (which is generally lower in dosage than American medicine…and you only get three to four days of it, tops, before you have to go back to the doctor again. No refills.) To control my asthma, I’ve been lucky enough to find a good local naika clinic, run by a doctor who has even had write-ups in the regional newspapers for his modern computerized diagnostic system.
At any rate, I was caring for our daughter alone for two straight days this past week, since my wife had to go to her office to pack up everything (she’s moving to a new department in a new building across campus). My child care leave officially starts in just under two weeks, so these two days were a good way for me to find out what I’d be doing on a daily basis.
Morning laundry was not a problem. Feeding the baby was not a problem, either, although my wife still makes the baby food right now (I’d better learn how to do this). Playing with the baby proved more tiring than I ever imagined, especially since she’s become a lot more mobile recently. Not quite ready to stand up while holding something (unless I support her), but still capable of the occasional burst of speed followed by the inevitable head bonk into random furniture and/or wall. Dealing with sickness, on the other hand, was not something I had planned for.
The second day of my “practice” child care leave was, quite frankly, terrifying. I had followed the daily routine to a T. The baby ate all her breakfast, played by herself and occasionally demanded attention during the morning, then took a nap from 11 to noon while I did the laundry and prepared for the afternoon. Lunch was a breeze, then more playing before a snack at 2:30. While finishing her bottle, she got drowsy and fell asleep. This has happened before, but I thought there would be no problems if I held her for a few minutes, gently patting her back to get her to burp naturally. After a few minutes, I laid her down on her futon, covered her with a baby-sized comforter and hand-knit quilt, and went to finish the dishes.
As I was making a list of items I’d need for dinner, and getting an instant coffee ready for myself, I heard her cough. I set the cup down on the dining table and walked over to the tatami mat room to peek…only to see my daughter suddenly open her eyes and a literal geyser erupt from her mouth. A fountain of vomit-color milk shot across her comforter, the quilt, and herself.
I picked her up and brought her over to the edge of the tatami mat and the paneled corridor, where she wretched and erupted again, this time all over me, with some falling onto the floor. Then she was able to take a breath and cried. So did I.
It was the most frightening moment of child-raising for me so far. She’s been sick before, and my friends have all told me to expect her to be sick again. But I still can’t get the picture out of my head, of my baby lying eyes wide open with a stream of liquid coming uncontrollably out of her mouth. And it was my fault. I was to blame for not holding her long enough after bottle-feeding to make sure that the milk all went down into her stomach and that the gas had escaped.
I wound up stripping both myself and her, quickly changing her clothing while simultaneously trying to remove all the drenched bed covers and clean up the mess on the floor. Fortunately, she didn’t seem inclined to move very much while I did all this. Her little eyes followed my motions back and forth between the kitchen (to get rags for cleaning), the bathroom (to dump everything into the bathtub and sink with soap), and the tatami room.
A half hour later things were somewhat back to normal, with a lot of unexpected extra laundry hanging out on the balcony and fresh covers on the futon. Nap time, however, was off the menu. I tried to apologize to my daughter, for being careless after bottle-feeding. “I’m so sorry,” I said while holding her.
She giggled, clapped her hands, and then poked me in the eye, grabbing my nose for good measure. This, I suppose, is part of what learning to be a parent is all about.