A couple of weeks ago, Whit had a high fever all weekend. He was listless and not himself, he threw up a couple of times, and his fever just would not come down. Plus for three days in a row he took two-plus hour naps in the afternoon. As delightful as his sleeping and his unusual desire for extra cuddling was, I knew something was wrong.
On Monday we went to see our beloved Dr. Rick. Dr. Rick who is leaving practice in the fall. Sob. Another farewell, another changes, another factor contributing to the earthquake. I am very, very tired of goodbyes, endings, and changes. Have I mentioned that?
Anyway. Whit and I sat in the waiting room. Well, I sat. Whit lay down (see above). He was quiet and subdued and altogether not himself.
“Whit, do you want me to read to you?” (I was sitting in a third chair, by his feet)
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” He sighed heavily and lay there, staring into space. I reached over with my right hand and rubbed his skinny little calves, marveling at how simultaneously tiny-thin they are and how grown-up-long. With my left hand, I read my email on my iPhone.
A few minutes later I felt him sitting up. He curled up in the chair next to me, his legs drawn up under him, and leaned his head over onto my shoulder. I put down my phone and turned to kiss his forehead. Against my lips his skin felt hot.
“Whitty, are you okay, baby?” He took in breath audibly and I pulled my face back so I could study him. I could tell he had something on his mind. “Whit?”
“Mummy,” he began, tentatively. “What if the doctor can’t find anything wrong with me?” He wouldn’t look at me, staring resolutely at the edge of the receptionist’s desk across the room.
“Why does that worry you, Whitty?”
“Well, because if he finds something wrong then I’ll get better faster, right?”
“And if he doesn’t find something wrong maybe this is just how I will feel from now on?”
My eyes filled with tears. Isn’t this the thing we all fear? If we can’t name, and treat, or fix, or medicate the thing that is making us feel bad, then is it simply who we are? I remember when the children were small being very relieved at an ear infection diagnosis, for two reasons—the first being that the antibiotics would quickly kick in, improving the screaming and up-all-night situation, and the second being that if there wasn’t an ear infection then didn’t that just mean that this cranky, yelling, ornery behavior was simply my baby’s personality?
I pulled Whit against me, cupping his bony, bird-like shoulder in my hand, squeezing him, feeling the fever radiate from his forehead and the exhaustion in his sagging body. Of course, a summer fever is not an internal demon. Of course not. But it did remind me of the deep human fear of that which we cannot fully understand or subdue inside us, and of the various ways this makes us act out, seek comfort, dull ourselves. I was reminded of Where the Wild Things Are, of all the ways that we cope with the fearful demons we sometimes feel raging inside of us, and of the Jung quote that “the most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”