The ex wife called mid-morning Monday and told me she was picking up our daughter from school and bringing her to my house. The daughter was sick. I figured she had gotten what I had last week; what I had given to my son. The son must have given it to her during one of their face to face torment combats – the ones I have learned to tune out, unless I hear the butcher knife unsheathe. Either that or they are each sharing my toothbrush again. Little do they know I’ve switched to using a tooth pumice stone, which I keep in a hollowed out rolling pin stashed beneath the stairs.
The ex arrived bearing our ailing daughter and some provisions of salubrity – a gallon of grape juice and a package of kid friendly, fever reducing, blah inhibiting, cough and cold über gumdrops. Apparently the weasel cod liver snake milk of rancidity I bought from the Wal-Mart outlet store was not appealing enough for my daughter’s tastes to save her life. I reviewed her symptoms: headache, fever, sore throat, whooping cough, loogie ridden sinuses, lethargy, ornery disposition. Welcome to adulthood, honey. My weasel cod liver snake milk of rancidity would work on these ailments – I was sure of it, and it might even produce her first ever hallucinations. OK, we’ll try the über gumdrops first.
We got the daughter all set up in bed, with a glass of grape juice on her night stand, a belly full of roiling medication and a dvd set on repeat on the television set. Before she left, the ex wife prescribed me with a list of medical maintenance instructions. I was too busy mentally preparing myself for a few days of nursing and wondering where I left my scrubs, nurse hat and support hose to pay attention to her. That’s right, beneath the stairs next to the rolling pin. I didn’t need instructions. I knew how to take care of an ailing child – make sure they are not whining, burning, starving, orally expelling and not unresponsive to simple stimuli like finger pokes and massive tickle attacks. And, above all, make sure their blood stays on the inside. Most of the time, a sick child will abide by these rules if properly tended. All the father nurse needs to do is check on her periodically, keep up on the meds and touch her face.
Face touching is a well known procedure in measuring a child’s infirmity, and it is a little known measure of a child’s maturity. Babies will let you touch their face all day. You could stick your hand on a baby’s face and leave it there until they are about three or four years old, if you wanted to. They don’t know any better, and they really have nothing better to do. "Sure, you feed me and touch my shit so I’ll serve as your hand rest. It’s the least I can do." When they get a little older, they will still accept your hand on their face but will turn away eventually after they figure out they can’t move around and break stuff with somebody else’s hand on their face. As they age you run through the nose button pushing, nose snatching, cheek tweaking, face wiping, face squeezing (they’re all so cute you wanna eat ‘em up!) and whatever other hand to face communication you can get away with. Each year they’ll accept less and less facial manipulation. Eventually, by the time they are pre-teens, a gentle caress to the cheek is met with a slap, head turn and the ignorant look, and the parent realizes the child’s face is no longer part of xe’s domain. That is, until the child gets sick. Then they welcome that hand. They know it’s there to confirm that their malaise is substantiated by the sweltering the hand detects. The hand soothes them, while it soothes the parent as the parent tries to conduct some Mr. Miyagi magic and draw out the pathogens afflicting xe’s baby. The sicker the child is, the longer you can keep your hand on xe’s face. I go with the forehead to cheek to other cheek method. Even if you can’t feel the fever (I don’t know, maybe you high-fived a hot iron once in college), you can judge how they are feeling by how long they’ll allow you to grope their face. As soon as the hand slap, head turn and ignorant look comes back, you know they have recovered.
Most of my nursing effort was to leave her alone to sleep off her affliction. That’s my preferred method of ailing, after all. Occasionally, I would visit her to conduct the face touching, to see if she needed anything and, in some cases, to see if she was still alive. There’s always a chance that she didn’t have what I had had. Even though you may think you have a handle on what is ailing them, as a parent, that death thing is always in the back of your mind. In case the grim reaper shows up and wants to rumble you want to have your parental nun chucks ready. She was sleeping so deeply at times I had to pinch her nose just to get a response out of her. It can be a little scary. The annoyed snarl the pinching evokes can be the most beautiful thing you ever saw in those situations.
After about a day and a half of enduring my nursing, the daughter started to come around. She chose to sit in bed instead of lie down, would no longer accept the dvd player set to repeat, returned to her usual level of hunger, would come out of her room to see what I was doing (pretending to work) and basically took over my nursing duties. Except for the face touching. She indulged me and let me do that until the next day when she returned to school.