I know I have not posted anything for more than a month, and I'm quite shocked myself that there was nothing at all on the bar's notice board all of June. I didn't think I could go a month without blogging. I meant to write a post on 30th June, but guess what? We are back in the hospital again, and Xena's warded on oxygen. We came here on the morning of the 30th and have been here since. This is the fourth time in four months that we have had to bring her to the hospital for breathlessness. The cycle is exactly the same. It starts with fever, then a cough that doesn't go away, and then her blood oxygen level starts dipping (yes, we have an oximeter at home to track her blood oxygen levels; after two rounds of hospital visits, we decided we needed it) and we rush to the hospital. So here we are, back in the hospital where Xena was born and I was reborn. It's been two days and she seems to be okay when awake, but when asleep she's unable to breathe normally without oxygen support. Her doctors say she can go home as soon as she can do a full night without oxygen support. They can't say yet if these recurrences indicate the beginnings of asthma or it's just that her lungs are still too weak to handle any kind of trigger.
And what a trigger we had last week. You might have read about it -- forest fires in Indonesia caused a thick blanket of haze on Singapore and the psi was close to 500 at one point. 300 is already considered hazardous and anything above 400 can be life-threatening for the elderly and ill. Singapore is one of the cleanest and greenest places in the world and yet, we were so helpless when the haze hit. Even though we had her on full house arrest with all windows and doors shut tightly and the air purifier and air-conditioner running overtime, it didn't feel enough. We were especially worried as Xena has weak lungs and is more susceptible to such things. But the haze passed and I thought that was it. Well, I'm still not sure if it was the haze that caused her hospitalization or some other trigger, but she's here and we gotta get past this.
She's taking a nap now and as I move my eyes away from her face behind that oxygen mask and look around, my mind is filled with so many thoughts. One, to always be thankful for what I have, because many others have it much worse. There's a kid in the bed opposite Xena's, and he has cerebral palsy. He is also here for some respiratory issue, and nothing can compare to what he and his parents are going through. When the doctors do their rounds and discuss him, I hear words like 'morphine', 'palliative', and I feel so heartbroken for him and his parents. I'm not sure if he is aware of pain, but from the sounds he makes all day and all night, I really do hope he can't feel the pain associated with them. Every few hours, the nurses use a tube and suction to make him a little more comfortable. Compared to him, Xena, who when not coughing or trying to pull the oxygen mask off, is generally chirpy and happy, seems like she doesn't even belong here. I don't know why it always takes someone else's misery to trump ours before we come to our senses (actually sometimes we don't) and stop ranting about our lives.
The other thing I notice is how articulate and patient the doctors and nurses are. I don't know why I expect them to be rude and snappy. Maybe it's because this is a government hospital. Maybe it's because they have been dealing with sickness all day and night. But they totally surprise me. I am especially amazed at the nurses' dedication. Doing your job is one thing, doing it with passion and feeling, is another. Of course, I deeply admire the doctors for their knowledge and skill, and how patient and clear they are when explaining things to me or answering my questions, but I admire the nurses more because they don't even get the credit and recognition the doctors get. And they do the 'dirty work' day after day after day. How do they remain so polite and cheerful after having a full work day that involves putting tubes down throats and cleaning up perfect strangers' waste? Xena coughed so violently once, she threw up in her oxygen mask. I could not believe the speed with which the nurses managed to get the mask off, clean her up and get her new clothes and a new mask, reassuring her all the time that it was okay, and that it was actually good that she managed to get rid of the phlegm. The very next second, housekeeping had already changed her bedsheet too. It felt like I was watching things in fast-forward mode. 15 years of living in Singapore and I still stand amazed at the level of efficiency here.
Yet another thing I notice is how the doctors and nurses do manage to catch a moment of respite from their gruelling work. One of the Filipino nurses came over when all was quiet in the ward and asked Xena to teach her some Hindi in exchange for some stickers. "Baby, I don't understand what you are saying, but I find it very very cute," she said. She's now armed with some Hindi, courtesy Xena and her translator (me). When she comes over to bathe Xena, she says, "Baby, nahana nahana?" Then there were these two junior doctors who came over with a small box of toys and played with Xena for half an hour. I don't know if it was part of their medical training as pediatricians to get to know their patients more, or just them looking for some light moments to include in their tiring day. But I do know that all three of them had an absolute blast together. Xena kept asking me, "Doctor klangya? Doctor coming soon?" after they had left. For Xena, harder than staying in the mask is staying inside the cot, considering how jail-like it is and how jumpy and outdoorsy she is. So one of my main struggles is keeping her occupied and happy and so I get Viv to bring me a few of her toys and books each morning. (I really don't want to plonk the iPad in front of her just to relieve her boredom.) I'm eternally grateful to my friend N, who has brought me lunch every one of these days and helped to keep Xena entertained too.
I have stayed here with Xena for two nights now and am gearing up for a few more. Viv has offered to swap with me so I can go home and get some rest, but he's too tall for the parent bed they provide and I know he will have a horrible work day if he's not well-rested. Besides, last night one of the kind nurses who saw me sleeping like a horse aka sleeping standing up with one hand holding Xena's (she wakes up very often and asks to hold my hand so I just decided to stand next to her cot and sleep), she asked me to hop into Xena's cot so I could be next to her and still get some sleep. "Is that allowed? And more importantly, can this take my weight?" I pointed to the cot, looking for a 'maximum weight limit' sign. She made a "Tchah, it doesn't matter." face, so I lowered the side of the cot and curled up next to my baby, hoping that the cot wouldn't give way in the middle of the night! I must say both Xena and I managed to get some good sleep this way, and the cot didn't break either. But I'm pretty sure Viv won't fit if he replaces me tonight, even if he curls himself into a ball. So his job is still to fetch things for Xena and me in the mornings, and take back stuff in the evenings. This has also made me realise the importance of keeping a tidy house. On the first day, I sent him a list of some 40 items that we (mostly Xena) would need during our stay and though I had written down their exact locations, it still took him an hour to get everything together. So I have made a mental note to keep our home tidier than it is. I've noticed that when I am away on stuff that is out of the ordinary routine, such as holidays or hospitalization, it always makes me think of things that I generally don't think of, such as how to live a better life.
So there. While the doctors discuss whether this is just a viral infection of Xena's weak lungs or whether she is likely to develop asthma in the future, we're here, wishing and hoping that we can go home soon.
On a final note, I have some life-altering philosophical advice for you - tidy up your home. And oh, lose weight. So that if needed one day, you can sleep in a hospital toddler cot without breaking it.