Hey there, lovely reader,
I was having lunch with a friend last week and we were talking about how, twenty years ago, when we were raising very young children, computers for kids were still in their infancy. We discussed how lucky we were that our children loved books and that we were able to share that love with them.
It reminded me of a story I wrote waaayyy before I was an author – on a blog I used to write called The Secret Life of a Warrior Woman. It was about my life raising twins. This particular post was about my son and how a Dora The Explorer book helped us on one very difficult day. I've reproduced it below. Please know as you read it that my son is now a strapping six-footer none the worse for the experience I write about.
Later in this newsletter, I have announcements for German readers and audiobook listeners.
How Dora helped
They diagnosed my son with meningitis at our local hospital. Following him in my car as he was spirited away in an ambulance was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I had barely been apart from him during the three short years of his life and now, as he lay seriously ill I'd had to hand him over to a team of paramedics and pediatric nurses who had been sent to accompany him in this charging metal womb, sirens blaring and lights flashing, back to the children's hospital in which he had been born.
When I got there and had been reunited with my son, the calm, efficient, pediatric medical staff calmed me. I had hope that the situation would resolve positively, even if it took some time. And I resolved that whatever I had to do, I would do.
Most children who catch meningitis are babies or older children. My son, at three and very verbal, was an unusual case and as such, got scrutinized intensely by the students of this university hospital.
We were in an infectious unit. Only I and the medical staff were allowed in. Only I was allowed to wear normal clothes. Everyone else wore personal protection equipment. Behind masks, gowns, and hats, they were faceless ghosts and must have seemed quite alien to my young son.
A constant stream of doctors from juniors to the heads of departments came by in their fancy dress to investigate this little medical curiosity who could articulate his serious symptoms while incongruously staring at The Wiggles singing “Fruit Salad” on the TV screen mounted on the opposite wall. We answered the same questions over and over in a way that made us feel the center of attention, if, for all the wrong, undesirable reasons.
From the moment of diagnosis, my son had been tied to his bed by an IV pole weighed down with antibiotics. The medicine was essential to control the infection – seizures and brain swelling being the immediate concerns. Before one bag had emptied into his arm, it was necessary to rig up another.
But the process of getting the needle into his small body was excruciating. He was a little guy, his veins were tiny, and rarely were pediatric IV teams available at just the time we needed them.
Repeatedly it was necessary to find a new insertion site. And sometimes by nurses who were only slightly more experienced than I. And that was, for my son, literally torture.
Two nurses would come in, one to hold his arm, the other to insert the needle, and he very quickly sussed that the preliminaries of laying out the apparatus would be followed by pain. On sight, he would start to panic. He would repeatedly shout, ‘I want to go home, NOW!’ at the top of his voice as he kicked and flailed.
Things got so bad that before one session that promised to be particularly grueling for all of us, I was given the choice of leaving the room, standing back and watching, or helping to restrain him by holding him down to make the process go quicker.
This was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I thought about how my son would view it: I could be a torturer, watch other people torture him, or abandon him to torturers. I chose to hold him down.
I cringe at the memory as I write that. I still don’t know if I did the right thing. The experience was desperate.
I wrestled him to keep him still while they found and then aimed for a vein. I begged him to stop screaming as I leaned over and used the weight of my body to prevent him from moving while I pressed my face into the bed sobbing as we endeavored to give him the medication that could save his life.
It was a miserable, depressing, exhausting experience. He was a child too old to be unaware of my role and yet not old enough to understand why I was playing it. But sometimes there is no good answer. You have to play the best hand you've been dealt. I felt sure my son would hold this role in his torment against me at some primal level for the rest of his life. And I felt like a terrible mother.
After the IV was inserted, antibiotics dripping into his veins, Sebastian fell asleep. I sat in the window seat some feet from where he lay on bed arrest and decompressed after this awful experience. When he woke up, he wouldn't look at me. We were like that for some time. Just quiet, still.
In my bag, I had a Dora The Explorer book. I don't remember if it was new or a favorite, but after ignoring me, a nurse came into the room and asked my son if he wanted to sit with me. He looked at the book in my lap and nodded.
The nurse helped bring him and his IV pole over so he could sit on my lap. I read him the book six times. On the seventh, he wordlessly put his little chubby hands over mine and closed the book. He made me put the book down and wriggled around so that we were chest-to-chest. He put his head on my shoulder. Took a deep sigh. And went to sleep.
We sat there like that for hours, the room getting darker and darker as the sun went down. I was loathe to disturb him. I never felt more necessary. Or more pivotal. I felt sure of myself and my place in the world.
And since then, I have never doubted the power of books to bridge the gap between people. Like babies and pets, they are equalizers, and talking points. They allow us to reach over and make connections even with those we might otherwise not. You simply can't go wrong with a book.
In that hospital unit, with its sterile, clinical ambience, and my son sleeping in my arms, I relaxed completely. I knew I was experiencing something profound.
Those few days in the hospital were among the most difficult of my life.
But they also contained moments of such intense closeness and healing, it almost seemed like the experience was worth it.
My son has no conscious memory of this time. And I like to think that along with the illness it has been wiped completely from his being. But if that’s not true, and he does remember at some deep level the pain, the ‘torture’ and fear, I hope he also has some memory of the forgiveness and the trust he placed in me. That was facilitated by a Dora The Explorer picture book.
Forsaken Child out in audio
We're banging them out now. 😁 The Case of the Forsaken Child is now available from Amazon/Audible. Shortly we will release the audio set of books 5-7 (Missing Letter, Pretty Lady, and Forsaken Child) if you'd prefer to wait and use your credit in that way.
Another German title
As part of my next stage strategy to spread out beyond the English-speaking market, The Case of the Hidden Flame is now available in German. The Case of the Screaming Beauty is already available, and The Case of Fallen Hero will be shortly.
You can also get them in your local Amazon store if you, or someone you know, would prefer to read the German version.
I'm off to get a passport photo in preparation for my trip to the UK in the summer. In an attempt not to have a photo that I regret for ten years, my hair is all done lovely and now it is bucketing rain outside. I am not hopeful. LOL.
Have a lovely week. Happy reading!