I didn’t sleep. I kept turning over the possibilities. The angst mounted. The baby bag was packed and waiting. The clothes for the next morning were laid out. It was an early start the next day and I wanted to be ready, in control.
The Royal Children’s Hospital was a labyrinth of intimidation. Finding the right department and then the right room required GPS navigation. It felt like there was no air as we walked the halls. Each step we took made me feel more suffocated.
We were there for AJ. At six months old, he was attending the eczema clinic.
The office we were ushered into was very small. The walls were lined with posters of children; swollen, red, disfigured from eczema reactions. Part of me couldn’t look. The other couldn’t turn away. AJ was red, raw and itching. But at the same time, he was excited about crawling on a new floor, in a new place.
The doctor who helped us was a thin, young, frail woman. Yet, her presence was only a shadow of her knowledge, conviction and confidence. Very quickly into the consult, I realised that this was more about us, than it was about AJ. Yes, she looked AJ over. Yes, she asked lots of questions. But this was about how we could help him. How we could change our ways to make this better for him.
Our appointment at the allergy clinic was in two weeks’ time. So she was happy to leave that part of his diagnosis to them. Then it began. The training. The advice. The do’s and do not’s. It was a barrage. I didn’t dare breathe. We had stepped onto a spinning merry-go-round and she was spinning it faster and faster.
We had to dress him in less. Eczema babies were always hot. He needs to wear much less.
He can only wear cotton. Only cotton! Other fibres irritate the skin.
He can only use skin products that are fragrance free and natural. No soap.
He needs to be moisturised from head to toe, as often as we can, all day.
He cannot be dried after a bath, his skin needs all that moisture.
He will need steroids to call down the eczema.
He will need antibiotics to calm down the infection that has come from the eczema.
The list was endless.
“He’s not sleeping,” I muttered somewhere along the way.
“Of course he’s not,” she replied, smiling. “He is in pain and uncomfortable and going crazy from the itch.”
Then she stripped him. She asked me for another set of clothes, a romper if I had one. I pulled one out of the baby bag and handed it to her. With horror I watched. I watched her soak the romper in warm water and QV oil. Wring it out only a little, and promptly dress AJ. My jaw hit the floor! “What are you doing??!”
She almost laughed at my shock. “Once upon a time,” she said to me, “right here in this hospital the treatment for children with eczema was to tie their hands down so they wouldn’t itch. This is not as bad as that.”
There was method behind her madness. AJ’s skin needed to be moist and cool and this was the best way to go about it. She expected us to keep doing this at home.
So as quickly as we came, we left. I wanted to find a toilet and throw up. Instead, we needed to find the Equipment Distribution Centre, somewhere in the basement of this labyrinth. The list of supplies we needed was long. My mind was in overload.
He is so wet.
He is going to catch a cold.
I am so wet.
How are we going to put him in the car?
How on earth was all this going to work?
There we were, hubby carrying the baby bag and me carrying AJ. It was as if a bucket of water had been thrown over the three of us. There we stood dripping wet.
How do you cope with hospitals?