Rite of passage

Most parents go through it with their children sooner or later.

In our case, it’s happened in the week leading up to Isaac’s first birthday.

I’m talking about your child’s first hospital stay.

After a restless night – nothing unusual there – Zac woke up on Tuesday morning with what was quickly diagnosed over the phone as ballonitis. (I won’t go into the gruesome detail here, but let’s just say it’s an infection which only males can have. You fill in the gaps.)

Our GP then confirmed it as the worst case she had ever seen – whatever happened to having a reassuring bedside manner? – and sent Heather and Zac off to the Royal Berks to be seen by a specialist. After the customary several hours of to-ing and fro-ing, Zac was admitted and put on intravenous antibiotics.

And that’s where both he and Heather have been ever since – 48 hours and counting – with me shuffling backwards and forwards mornings and evenings between work (Bracknell), home (Thatcham) and hospital (Reading) with a constant supply of clothes, toys, books and cheerful supportiveness (except for the bit where I whinge about the traffic).

Actually, it’s been a rite of passage for Heather in more than one way, as she herself had never spent a night in hospital either. (Zac was born at home.) Of course, it’s all old hat to me; as either an in-patient or out-patient I go to hospital in the same way that other people go on holidays. (Come to think of it, I’m surprised I don’t have a commemorative bed named after me somewhere.)

Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to have been overly traumatic. He wasn’t admitted with a broken leg, respiratory problems or something life-threatening, which is a good starting point. Sure, he found it very unsettling at first, and even though he was better yesterday Heather still ended up resorting to driving him around in the middle of the night to stop him crying and waking up everyone else on the ward, but since those first few hours he’s shown much more of his happy self: smiling at the nurses (it’s more like flirting, really), watching TV, playing with toys and crawling around getting in everyone’s way. And staring out of the window going “Whee!” or “Rah-a-rah” (“round and round”) as cars go past on the road. (Well, he is a boy, after all.)

With a bit of luck he’ll be discharged later today, as the inflammation has now subsided significantly. It will be good to have them both back home, where they belong and can feel comfortable.

From my perspective, it’s been a bit tricky. I want to be there and help as much as I can, but you can’t be there 24/7 or else you end up stepping on each other’s toes.

And then there’s always the small matter of the real world (i.e. work).

One thing I can say for sure is that my priorities have definitely changed. There was never any question this week that I was going to put my family first and work commitments second. That’s not to say that I would have prioritised work over a personal or family crisis before Zac came along, more that nowadays there is no need to even make a conscious decision about it, or any guilt about whatever loose threads I may have to tie up later.

Work to live, not live to work: it may be a bit of a cliché, but it’s more relevant – and true – than ever these days.