I couldn't prove or disprove it, but in the pit of my stomach I knew. The infection site was the smallest of lacerations, hardly visible. But germs are tricky, devilish little buggers and when they see an in, they take it... and that’s precisely what they did when I accidentally opened the door.
From the moment a child is diagnosed with cancer, cleanliness is emphasized, more than emphasized, really; it’s a tenet, a mandate. It’s one of the commandments of treatment:
Thou shall not recklessly expose your Cancer Child to viruses, bacteria or any other illness-causing microbial.
The others go something like this:
Thou shall not take unnecessary risks.
Thou shall raise your Cancer Child with as much normalcy as humanly possible under the circumstances, including, but not limited to, exhilarating life lessons, loads of love and a sprinkling of discipline when necessary.
To quote Phaedra from the Real Housewives of Atlanta (if you don’t know who she is, look her up), “Everybody knows” you go to the park, you wash your hands. You go to the bathroom, you wash your hands. You sneeze, you wash your hands. These are far from revelations, but for cancer families they are not a “should do” they are a “must do.” Ask any Cancer Parent and they will tell you their battle scars come in the form of dry, cracked, bleeding hands – the result of so much hand washing.
Cancer Parents are schooled on the unsuspecting places germs lurk, like underneath fingernails and behind ears. None of it is classified, top secret information - "everybody knows" that dirt is dirty and riddled with germs - the difference is that healthy kids can fight those germs, whereas Cancer Kids often can’t. The smallest cuts on Atia's body opened her up to the greatest of risks when exposed to those nasty, raunchy germs.
A few nights before Atia was hospitalized, I noticed that her fingernails were getting long, a breeding ground for those indestructible, microscopic organisms that were, well, just that – indestructible, until exposed. So, we had to destroy their protective cover – we had to clip Atia’s nails.
"Everybody knows” when your child cooperates, trimming his/her nails is a piece of cake, but when they don’t it’s an all out battle to get the job done. Atia was typically a good sport – sure she’d squirm a bit here and there, but I’d distract her with a song and before she knew it, we were done.
But that night, oh laud, that night was different. She freaked out! She acted as if I was trying to chop off her fingers. She knew better, but she was in one of those rambunctious moods. I didn’t know if it was from the medication she was taking or simply because she was 3 years old. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that in performing this most basic act, I clipped her nail to the quick. I cut her not only once, but twice.
When she was acting all crazy, I should have stopped and walked away, but I didn’t. I was focused and wanted to get the job done. So, I tried to calm her down, but in her wiggling, I cut a little too low. I felt bad. Really bad. I held a tissue on it and applied pressure to stop the bleeding – it ceased within seconds.
No biggie… But it was.
Now, she was in the hospital. I immediately confessed to the doctors what I’d done. They smiled in their compassionate way and assured me that it was okay. They told me not to be too hard on myself, after all people nip their kids’ fingers all the time when clipping them. And I knew they were right, but those kids, they didn’t have cancer. They didn’t have compromised immune systems because of chemo treatment.
They never confirmed that the small, now scabbed over, openings kissing the tips of Atia’s fingers were the root of the infection, but I knew… (yes, over the course of Atia’s treatment I had become a medical expert, at least in my own mind).
The morning after she was admitted to the hospital, her fever broke. The night had been long, loaded with IV antibiotics and hours of discomfort. Upon waking up, I figured Atia would be dazed and disoriented, but it turned out to be the exact opposite.
After giving her some morning hugs and kisses I whispered in her ear, “Do you know where you are?”
“The magic place” she replied.
“The magic place?” I asked a bit confused.
“Yeah,” she said, “where you get better.”
And with that, we ordered breakfast from Comer's room service.
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