I have used the term “hospital hangover” before. It’s a feeling of being worn down, a little depressed, completely frazzled, and unreasonably exhausted. It takes days to shake the hangover after a hospital stay. The longer and more stressful the stay, the worse the hangover.
Having a sick child is incredibly stressful. It is terrible to know your child is very, very sick and be unable to help. When Gracie was in the hospital last week, she was very, very sick. She spent the first three days of our hospital stay experiencing high fevers that made her miserable. Even though she doesn’t feel pain in the normal sense, she aches when she’s fevering. She says her neck hurts, her arms hurt, her legs hurt, her feet hurt, even her eyes hurt. These descriptions of the body aches that accompany fevers are familiar to us all. Additionally, she moans and writhes while the fever is climbing. I know now to medicate her as soon as she starts moaning, but there is still usually at least an hour of moaning and writhing uncomfortably before the fever spikes and she stops moaning. This is the hardest hour—for both of us. I hold her and comfort her as best I can while she moans and writhes, but there is nothing I can do to really help. It takes longer for the medicine to take effect than for the fever to climb, so unfortunately she must spend an uncomfortable hour aching and writhing before she gets any relief at all.
It hurts my heart to see her like that. It is scary and stressful and horrible, and there is nothing I can do to make it better for her. Then, there is the knowledge that these rigors (a/k/a fever shakes) indicate a severe infection—how bad is it? How long will it take to get the infection under control? Will she get through it and be okay on the other side?
In the case of this most recent infection, it took three days of the wrong medication, arguing with doctors, and an eventual switch to a stronger antibiotic before the fevers subsided. This adds the worry of whether the infection will worsen until it’s out of control, and the worry of how to get my child the care she needs when the doctors won’t listen.
It’s all very stressful.
Days of a flight-or-fight response, a/k/a the stress of having a kid in the hospital, leave a mark. THAT is the hospital hangover. I am one frayed nerve away from completely losing it. I could use a vacation, except it was cancelled so we could stay in the hospital. I could use a hug from my guru, Amma, except apparently she didn’t want to see me this year. (At least, that’s how it feels.) I could use at least a day off work, but instead of getting a break I’m working extra to make up for time out of the office, and taking lots of flak from people who don’t realize how very fragile I feel. They have no idea that one snarky comment could send me over the edge.
This all sounds like a lot of whining, and for that I am sorry. It should be about Gracie, and it is, but it’s about all of us, too. After the heat of the moment passes, the emotions hit. When we are in the fire we simply act—we get through the flames as best we can. But the embers smolder still after the flames subside. The emotions continue to burn even though her physical problems are under control. In fact, the emotional damage only flares after the fact. THAT is the hospital hangover.
Gracie is doing better now. Her knee is still warm but not hot. There is still some swelling, but the redness is gone. The medicine is working. The fiery fevers are long gone; she has not had a fever since she switched medicines. The crisis is over; the flames have been put out.
And now is the time that our emotional damage surfaces. This is the hospital hangover. Like a traditional hangover, it won’t last forever, but it sure is hard to deal with when we’re in the throes of it all.
So, if you see me or Chad, say a kind word. Save your complaints about our work product until next week. Understand that we’ll get through this, but for now, we’re fragile. We’re hungover.