Last night we were at some friends’ house for a get-together. I was sitting with a group of women, chatting and contemplating the wisdom of getting up for one more taco, when Raphael came in and clambered his way over to me. He snaked underneath my arm and onto my lap.
“Hi there, honey. What do you need?” I asked. He curled into me and murmured,
“I need a snuggle.” Well, who can resist that? Not I. I held him and rubbed his back. In a few minutes I noticed his breathing had slowed and one hand, then one foot, twitched slightly. I peered down into his face, and he was sound asleep. I slid a hand under his shirt to feel the smooth skin of his back.
“Does he feel warm to you?” I asked my friend Amy. She felt his back too, then his head and neck.
”No…not really.” So I sat with him, enjoying the feel of him so close. But as the minutes passed, it became clear that he was becoming a bit warm. Then more than a bit.
“Huh. He’s sick,” I announced to the group, unnecessarily. They nodded in agreement, as impromptu naps just aren’t Raphael’s style. So Dad herded Tre and Max into the car while I carried Raphi out and buckled him into his car seat.
By the time we got home his temp was 102, and he was limp with the effort of being sick. I slipped his clothes off and his jammies on, gave him some Tylenol, and put him to bed.
He slept fitfully, climbing into my bed before long. Throughout the night he thrashed, muttered, and whimpered. I reached out and ran my fingers over his skin, marveling at the heat. I whispered comfort and drifted in and out of sleep all night. Toward dawn he sat up and said,
”Mama, I have a loose tooth!”
“Uh-huh,” I muttered. He nudged me.
“I do! Feel!” I put my finger where directed, on his remaining upper front tooth. And wiggled.
It was loose.
Content to have shared that with me, he flopped back and fell asleep.
I, on the other hand, was wide awake. See, when he had his other tooth pulled, it was because he had an abscess. The big reason behind removing that tooth was to avoid an infection. An infection that would cause fever, an infection that could easily spread from his upper jaw into his sinus cavity and into his brain. In his other remaining front tooth he had the same sort of filling that had led to the abscess. The dentist had urged me to keep an eye on it.
I stared into the dark, trying to figure out what else it could possibly be.
Morning finally came, and I called the dentist’s office.
“Bring him right in,” they said. I watched him sit at the breakfast table, his eyes glassy, his hands shaky, and allowed as how I’d do just that.
He had an infection, one that had rattled his tooth loose. So the dentist had to pull that tooth too. It was pretty much like last time, except he was so frightened that I lay down in the chair and held him. He started weeping the minute the numbing gel touched his gum. I couldn’t tell if it was because his gum was that tender, or because he knew what was coming.
I cradled his belly with one arm, his hands gripping my forearm like I could save him. My other hand cupped his forehead, holding him still. One small tug, and it was free. I looked at the ceiling and watched black and white stars bloom before my eyes while I said softly,
“What a good job, way to go, you’re all done.” Deep breaths. I did not throw up or pass out.
He sat up and looked at me, his brown eyes cavernous in his pale face. I’m so sorry, I thought, and I kissed one soft hand.
Now I don’t know if it’s a reaction to his trauma, and being complicit in it, or if it’s my worry over the infection that is still causing his head to radiate heat, but I’m numb. I spent the afternoon walking slowly from room to room, leaving tasks half done. I measured out his penicillin, unconvinced that the watery pink liquid was nearly strong enough to help him, and firmly insisted he take it. I broke his food into small bites and poked them into his mouth, between his unhurt back molars.
And when he fell asleep on the couch, his face turned toward the back pillows, I lay down behind him. My body curved around his, mimicking the small brown comma he made among the cushions. I felt the heat rising off his damp neck, and whispered a prayer for mercy.