Paying it forward

The dry, ratchety coughs continue as I search for the light switch. In the darkness my hand hits what seems like a thousand pieces of paraphernalia on the bedside table. Our weapons against the war on my child’s health. We’ve seen the signs early and tried our best to fortify the ramparts, dig moats, double the guard. But it’s no use. A child’s defenses stand little chance against these fucking marauders so endemic to their tender age. I believe children put up a good fight but are always the first to get hit. Like a warrior sans his army.

More coughing. The bout lasts five minutes this time. I switch on the light and look upon his face. It’s troubled, desperate, exhausted. My sleep-deprived brain screams obscenities. Illogical, irrational gusts of rage directed at nothing in particular, best limited within the confines of my skull lest they physically harm something or someone. I rage against the malady, calling it names. Futile, because it continues to ravage my child’s health, jeering at my helplessness. I rage against that helplessness. My inability to tear my child’s discomfort out of him one cell at a time. I wish I could. If it could assume physical form I would torture it, tearing it asunder and burning it in a pile that would spit, hiss and crackle with satisfying intensity. But these are mere fantasies. His suffering isn’t. This is real, visceral misery. It’s 3 am. Why do these fucking diseases become the most exuberant when the world craves rest?

More coughs. His little body heaves, wrested from its state of rest by an unseen force. He turns to one side to help breathe better. I lie next to him and hold him tight making sure I massage his chest whenever the spasms hit. That seems to help. At least I think so. I try to contain his involuntary movements as safely as I can manage. He gets two minutes of respite. That’s 20 minutes of respite to me. I think of taking the easy way out and blocking it out of my ears, closing my eyes. After all, I know the medicines will take effect by tomorrow morning and he’ll feel better. I can’t bring myself to. My wife takes turns letting me catch up on some sleep but with every coughing bout I lie awake listening to and hoping for signs of abatement. Literally, just lying awake in the other room listening to his breath, the activity in the room and if there’s any hope of peace on the horizon. Eventually I complete my shift of 30 mins and head back to give the missus a breather. She’s tired and frustrated.

Fuck this feeling of frustration. In the middle of the night it’s like bombs going off inside your head coloring your vision a bright orange everytime you blink. There’s a lot of anger to deal with and at times I get angry with him. For a while I’m short with my temper, barking instructions at him, telling him to sleep one way, then the next, to keep his head up, take his medicine. He’s even more confused with this violent oscillation and reacts with sadness. Eyes half bleary from the coughing and lack of sleep but emotive enough to convey their hurt. I feel like an asshole. I am one. I get up, walk around for a minute composing myself. A drink of cool water would help but I’m unwell too. My throat hurts. It’s a fucking package deal. (WE HAVE INCONVENIENCES TO SUIT ALL IMMUNITIES AND AGES! SATISFACTION GUARANTEED!)

I slowly rub my temples humming a song but I don’t listen to anything with lyrics anymore. Electronic music can’t be hummed. Perhaps I can beatbox. I laugh at this fleeting, ridiculous thought. There is only insanity at 3am. My mind suddenly races back a few years to a service marketing class. I can hear the professor speaking softly to us, bending slightly which he did when he thought he was telling us something interesting. “A minute between 2-5am is the equivalent of 3 minutes in the day. That is why your hotel checkin at these hours is designed to be the fastest. A 20 minute check-in at night robs you of an hour of productive time in the day.”

A hollow laugh. Sorry professor, I guess I stopped keeping track of lost hours the day I became a dad. I head to the bathroom and switch on the shower full-blast. The hot water creates a sauna-like atmosphere in no time. Works a million times better than those piddly, useless humidifiers that are supposed to help clear the chest of mucus. I haul him into my arms and walk into the bathroom. It’s 5am. We sit inhaling the steam. It’s suffocating but I hope it’s helping him. I can hear his breathing labor and I clean his airways. It’s a brief respite. For a miniscule sliver of time he can breathe perfectly and he fills his lungs. We head out after 10-15 minutes. It seems like an hour and everything’s in slow motion. In a short while the sounds of purpose will mutely waft in through the closed windows. America gets ready for work. Cars will start, doors will open and shut. I have to join that stream heading downtown soon.

I contemplate a few minutes of sleep but I know what lies at the other end. Disorientation (is this what military training is like?). As I wrestle with the decision to allow myself rest, my sluggish mind suddenly detects a continuous period of pin-drop silence. He hasn’t coughed. I look over at him and see that he has settled into his pillow, eyes shut, hands above his head in his trademark “I don’t give a fuck about nothing” pose. He’s breathing softly and there’s just sweet, terrific peace. I sigh and I’m actually able to hear it. Lovely.

Perhaps thirty minutes of shut-eye will help un-muddle my head. Heck, I’ll call it a “power nap” and feel all capitalist-y, ready to take on the world with an extra large coffee.

As I settle in, I think of a time many, many years ago when I was struck with a horrible bout of bronchitis. I coughed for a week straight, day and night. I vaguely remember my parents tirelessly hovering over me and I suddenly feel like thanking them. Properly. Then I realize, in parenting, the best way to pay them back is to pay it forward.

I hope I do so, unselfishly.

(Good night)


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19 responses to “Paying it forward”

  1. Anirban says :

    I read this post 10 days ago.

    I read it again 2 days after becoming a father up and night wondering why my baby boy is crying. Why isn’t he eating? Why isn’t he sleeping?

    It turned out to be nothing, but I felt a gnawing need that we’d have to go to the pediatrician in the middle of the night. This kind of feeling cannot be fully expressed to anyone who has not been a parent.

    Brilliant, brilliant post. I understand now.

    • daddysan says :

      Thanks Anirban, glad you liked it. Not happy you had to experience the same feelings, but it’s inevitable I guess.

      I remember our first conversation with our pediatrician when we were paranoid about infant Tyke not keeping well – he just laughed and said as cheerfully as 1.30am would let him be “relax, this is nothing. There are more exciting things in store for you” :)

  2. Gargi Mehra says :

    I’ve just faced this last night so I totally understand the feeling. Nicely written, as usual.

  3. Archana says :

    Nicely put, and thankfully, you didn’t mince words on the frustration (and later truckloads of guilt on seeing his/her eyes) all parents have faced.

  4. shenoyn says :

    You said it for me! Beautifully written!

  5. Himanshu Nautiyal says :

    Sounds like the croup. Will occur multiple times until your kid is five then it won’t. Recognise its patterns. For my kid, it always started mild on day 1, giving a day of notice for the peak on night 2, always peaking at 2am. Cold air bursts help more than steam. Try to live in a treeless, hot dry (yes, dry) place. It can be really serious to have LTB, but the day of notice helps.

    • daddysan says :

      Thanks for that Himanshu and I really, really hope it disappears after five! The city we live in has quite a tree cover and unfortunately the pollen is of a particularly inflammatory variety.

      Curious about the cold air burst suggestion. How do you carry those out?

      • Andrew says :

        Put him in front of the air conditioner? I vaguely remember when I was really young and down with jaundice (I think) and my body would develop itches that would keep me up all night. My mom and dad would take turns to take me to the garage and put me in the car and turn the AC on full blast (we didn’t have ACs in the house then) to assauge the irritations. Really worked.

        Lovely article too.

      • Andrew says :

        First world problems.

  6. Robi says :

    You should read the Road by Cormac McCarthy. Having a son, I think you’d really appreciate the book. It’s haunting.

  7. Vjsub says :

    The sincerity with which you admit to your frustrations is commendable. You’ve written what most of us parents have felt, at some stage or another. At a philosophical level, illness, especially of a loved one, reminds us of the true helplessness of all men. Over time, I have come to understand and respect the Circle of Life better. Here’s wishing your son a speedy recovery. I know he will. He has you by his side.

  8. Nidhi Dorairaj says :

    What a beautiful description of the angst that all of us parents have gone through at some point of time.

    • daddysan says :

      Thanks Nidhi. That was exactly the intent. I was frustrated with the way things were and wondered if it would ever seem anything more than drudgery. Then I thought of my parents and shut up. :)

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