When the fever doesn’t end

A week ago Monday, my husband left for two weeks of job interviewing in California, but this posting isn’t about that.

When we knew that J was heading to the States, I was both supportive and a bit whiny about the whole thing. Yes, of course he needed to take this interview and see our families, but two whole weeks taking care of G by myself in Italy — and especially those two weekends of just her and I alone together — I just wasn’t looking forward to it.

Have I mentioned that G is two? She’s sweet and cute, but recently she’s also been very two: the tantrums, the saying no just because she’s decided to say no for awhile, throwing food across the table just to check out mom’s reaction of the day. I wasn’t looking forward to it, and I let J know.

I said, “I’m not looking forward to it.”

And then, a day before he left, G came down with a fever that quickly rose to 104F, even 105F. Assuming that this was a recurrence of a Urinary Tract Infection from May, we started her on antibiotics right away rather than waiting for a doctor’s visit on Monday (why do children always get sick on the weekends?). In any case, the amoxicillin should kick in and G would be back in asilo nido by Tuesday or Wednesday. No problem. Just a slight glitch in the plan.

So J left on his plane, and G woke up still feverish Monday morning. And Tuesday morning. And Wednesday.

On Wednesday afternoon when G’s fever spiked close to 106F (41C), the doctor sent me to pronto soccorso at the local hospital so that she could have blood drawn right away, be examined by a pediatric urologist (as we were still suspecting UTI), and hopefully get a diagnosis. Pronto soccorso is similar to the emergency room or urgent care in the United States with one major exception:  in Italy, it’s free. After four hours at pronto soccorso, the pediatric unit sent us home. After some paracetamol drops, G’s fever had declined to 101F, and although the bloods tests showed an infection, the doctor thought it best to give the amoxicillin another day or so to work. I was told to return on Friday if she still had a fever and then they might take a chest x-ray or do an echo of her bowels.

If you’re still following all the boring details, you’ve noticed that G had been spiking fevers to 105F for FOUR DAYS despite also being on an antibiotic for FOUR DAYS and the local hospital sent her home with just a few drops of aspirin.

When the pediatrician saw the blood test results the following morning, she was livid. Apparently they showed a very high level of infection. She said G should have been admitted right away and started on a new antibiotic. She said more tests should have been done. She said that if G had a UTI, there could be kidney damage after so many days without improvement. She told me to drive immediately to the pronto soccorso at the Ospedale di Bolzano, about 45 minutes north in Alto Adige. “They have an excellent pediatric department,” she said, “and I’ve called, so they’re expecting you.”

A drive, more blood tests, a urine sample and an x-ray later, G was formally admitted to the pediatric unit at Bolzano Hospital with an IV for fluids and a new antibiotic. The next day we had a diagnosis:  pneumonia. The chest x-ray had been key in diagnosing the pneumonia, since fever was truly her only outward symptom.

There are no “Child Life Specialists” in Italy, nor other programs that I could tell for hospitalized children. A parent is required to stay with the child at all times. With J in the States, this meant that G and I were together in a hospital room in Bolzano (an hour from friends or a change of underwear) for five days. The nursing staff and a complete stranger conspired to give me four hours leave to come back to Trento on Friday for clothes, toys and a shower, and one Trento friend actually took a train and a taxi to come visit us on Saturday for a few hours. We also had many long phone calls with J in California. So I can’t say we were alone, and yet we were very much alone.

I keep thinking about the food, which was wonderful, or the odd schedule we kept of early waking and long naps, of puzzles suitable for much older children and the Lego house that was brought to our room for G’s endless enjoyment. Outside our window, there was a tree with dark leaves lined in bright pink and G would squeal when she saw a bird take off. There was a doctor who told me I shouldn’t have questions and another doctor with kind blue eyes. Everyone spoke German and Italian, though Italian only with us, and they giggled when I slipped and said “ja” instead of “si,” but mostly they were exasperated, I think, by the interloper American who needed more help than she could ask for and didn’t have enough words for thank you.

We were released on Monday evening and at G’s insistence made ourselves a feast of chocolate chip pancakes, which we ate via Skype in front of my mother and several nieces. I miss having healthy 3-course meals brought to me, and I hate coaxing the new oral medicine into G’s twisting, protesting body, but I don’t miss anything else, and I’m pleased that she’s strong enough to push me away.

J returns on Sunday morning, so we’ve got five days to go of just G and I alone together. This wasn’t what I expected it to be, not at all, but I think I can handle it now.

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About JGR

I'm a writer and college instructor traveling the world with my husband and two young daughters. After eight moves in eleven years, in 2014 we decided to plant new roots in Fort Collins, Colorado. Time to buy bicycles and teach the girls how to ride!
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