Outbreak: Croup!

Nate woke up six days before Halloween with a cough. A nasty cough, unable to breathe. It scared him, and he scurried to our bedroom in the dark, crying and gasping for air, like Jim Webb gasping for more time in the first Democratic debate. Tighe carried him into the bathroom and turned on the shower to steam the congestion out of him, and it helped.


That night before bed, we got out a vaporizer and some over-the-counter mucus reducer. Cherry flavored. Red. But Nate refused. “It’ll make you feel better,” we pleaded, desperate for a full night’s rest.


“Nah, my body’s fighting the germs already,” he countered.


The next morning he was worse, so we went to the pediatrician. We were pretty certain it was croup at that point, but I wanted to make sure there was no fluid in his lungs. Or that it wasn’t strep. Or an ear infection. Or black lung. Better do a fully comprehensive MRI while we’re there, just in case. I don’t know, Ebola’s been in the news recently.


A little backstory: aside from the time he was two weeks old and I was convinced he had pink eye—he didn’t, I overreacted, and the pediatrician laughed at me—this was Nate’s first sick visit to the doctor. Not bad considering he’s three months shy of his fourth birthday! But it also means that he has no experience taking medicine. A medicine virgin.


Anyway, back to our contamination du jour. The nurse practitioner cheerfully confirmed that Nate had croup and prescribed three days worth of prednisone, praising his agreeableness and encouraging him to take his medicine. We all practically high-fived after her pep talk.


Great! I thought: he’ll be healthy for his Halloween parade at school on Thursday and for trick-or-treating on Saturday. So easy, I thought.


I was so naïve.


At lunchtime I decided to administer his first dose. I had asked the nurse if it was ok to mix his medicine into juice since he’s reluctant to take medicine. “Sure,” she said, “that’s a great idea.”


I’m so clever, I thought. I poured some Gatorade into a cup for Nate, and using a medicine dropper, stirred in one of his six prescribed doses.


“This is naaasty!” Nate’s no fool. Sometimes I wish he was.


I was honest. “Oh, that must be because I put your medicine in there.”


“Well, I don’t want it.”


“Just sip it. Small sips, you can do it. And it’ll make you feel soooo much better. “




He’ll crack, I thought. He’ll get thirsty enough, desperate enough, and he’ll drink it.


I was wrong, of course. Otherwise this wouldn’t be a very interesting story.


I’ll skip over some of my other attempts: the physical battles that ended in draws, the chocolate bribes and fruit snack chasers I offered, the Curious George drinking game I invented. Nothing worked.


The Gatorade sat on the table all afternoon. Every time he coughed or sneezed or wheezed or looked slightly uncomfortable, I suggested he sip his Gatorade. And each time, he declined. I can wait this out, I thought. I am in control.


Around 3:30 I realized I had no control. And he knew it. I started to get angry. Not just that he was dominating me, but also that we had just wasted one-sixth of his prescription.


By the time Tighe came home for dinner, the closest thing to medicine Nate had ingested was a cough drop. And sadly, I was thrilled with that. Baby steps.


But I was also ashamed to admit that I couldn’t get Nate to take anything.


Dinner was already waiting on the table. Sam was whining about his hunger. Or maybe his sock was “hurting” his toe. Sometimes that happens.


But Tighe was ready to battle. “Nate!” he called, grabbing the medicine dropper and filling it to the prescribed line, “You’re taking your medicine.”


“I’ll hold him down,” I offered. I was beaten, but not totally defeated. The thought of keeping him home from school all week was terrifying.


We cornered the little guy, who’s surprisingly strong by the way. It’s like old man strength.


I knelt down on the kitchen floor and cradled Nate in my lap, pinning his arms to his side while Tighe squeezed his cheeks together and jammed the dropper in between his lips.


“Done!” Tighe shouted triumphantly.


Nope. Nate hadn’t swallowed yet. He spit out the red medicine-saliva cocktail all over both of his parents, somehow missing himself. What an ass.


I laughed. Tighe was innocent and determined. He still thought we had a chance.


“We’re doing it again!” he announced.


“Wait! Give me five minutes!” Nate pleaded.


So he can regain some strength? Bad idea, I thought.


But Tighe consented. He set the timer on his phone for five minutes.


Dinner was getting cold. Sam was getting hungrier.


For five minutes we sat on the floor in the kitchen while Tighe lectured us all on the benefits of modern medicine. He sounded like a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry.


When the timer beeped, I grabbed Nate and restrained him again. This time, he clenched his jaw, like a pitbull, squeezing his teeth together to the point that we couldn’t even get the dropper past them. He’s learning. Evolving. You win, Charles Darwin.


Tighe shifted his grip to Nate’s chin, trying to pry the bottom teeth apart.


Again, medicine everywhere. For those of you keeping score at home, the bottle is how half empty. Or half full. But I think half empty is the better description.


“Again!” Tighe shouted.


“Wait! Wait, wait, wait, Dad. I have an idea, I have an idea!


“Great. What’s your idea, Nate?” Tighe was still hopeful.


“Just give me five minutes.”


“But what’s your idea?”


“Five minutes.”


I glanced around, suddenly remembering that we had a second child. “Sam?”


Sam was standing on a chair at the table, using tongs to load food on and off everyone’s plates. It was Polish night: kielbasa, pierogi, and asparagus. I watched as he tried to cut the meat on Tighe’s plate with the dull side of a steak knife. And by “watched,” I mean that I took video on my phone. He was just so focused!


Meanwhile, Tighe and Nate were still in the kitchen, negotiating the five-minute delay and searching for this very elusive “idea.” And yes, you can hear these negotiations in the video of Sam experimenting with utensils.


“Ok, he’s stalling,” I whispered, setting my phone down. “Let’s just do this.”


We went through the routine three more times. Three. more. times. We were like actors with scripted marks and lines. We rehearsed until the kitchen floor was sticky, our clothes were stained pink, and the bottle sat empty on the counter.


And one of the attempts, perhaps the fourth or fifth, Nate actually asked to administer the medicine himself. And Tighe permitted it.


He gripped the dropper, quickly examining it’s plastic essence and grasping how it functioned, and promptly shot the medicine away from his mouth and across the kitchen floor.


“Are you serious?!” All four of us said that in unison, each to a different person.


Tighe to Nate, incredulous that he had just wasted yet another dose. Nate to Tighe, unbelieving that he had actually handed over the liquid gold. Me to myself, realizing that I was going to have to mop the kitchen floor after this escapade. And Sam to me, angry that I hadn’t put any chicken nuggets out on the table.


We were all physically exhausted. After the final attempt, all three of us were cast apart as though an explosion had flung us to opposite sides of the kitchen, where we rested limply, collapsed against the cabinets.


Tighe was exasperated.


Nate was drained. But smirking.


I was laughing. How did this happen? We just wasted an entire prescription, unless you count the one-sixth that still floated in the cup of Gatorade. 


From the dining room, Sam asked for ketchup.


“Ok, let’s just eat. Please?” I was hungry at this point, needed to refuel.


Dinner was silent, aside from Sam’s factual narrations and Nate’s sudden good mood. I think he was showing off his victory. Tighe and I brooded. Shut up, Nate.