On Saturday it was a biting and windy 16 degrees above zero. The sun was bright, and Vermont has snow again. I love living in a place that welcomes the weather and complains when Boston gets more snow than we do during the latest “blizzard” named Nemo. Years ago, I would have been packing up my snowshoes to climb up a mountain in weather like this, but instead, I was humming the legendary Eagles’ tune “Hotel California” and packing my bags for another type of trip. I pack light and bring only the bare necessities, including a toothbrush, a few oranges and an apple, a pair of slippers and cozy socks. My beautiful daughter has hit the February blues, and we’re going back to the hospital to meet up with our doctor at the ER. It’s not a frenzied rush to the hospital this time. We know Sylvie is parched; we cannot get enough drink in her and her body has become limp and her mouth and eyes dry. I feel like I’m waterboarding her trying to get liquids into her—it’s a quiet drowning torture I imagine inflicting on her as she struggles with her latest bout of pneumonia. I guess this is the time when parents know it’s time to throw in the towel and admit defeat: “Get the damn g-tube installed in your kid so she won’t die of dehydration!” Admittedly I’m a little edgier about Sylvie’s upper respiratory infection this week since our far flung Krabbe community has lost 4 little people to the disease this week alone.
Even while U2s “Beautiful Day” blares on the radio as I pack the car, the resounding theme of this journey continues to be the well-worn Eagles’ tune: “You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave.” Yes my child, once again, we’re packing up to head to the hospital. And it’s a nice hospital as far as hospitals go, but I was hoping to do something a little different this Valentine’s week. As much as I’d like to check out from this role of parenting a medically fragile child, I cannot leave. When they took Sylvie’s x-rays last night, it was noted that she was at the hospital the same time last year for similar conditions. Maybe if I imagine I’m packing for a weekend get away in the Vermont Mountains, things will be okay. The Vermont Children’s Hospital is my allegorical version of Hotel California—the underbelly of living with a terminally ill kid. While my neighbors and friends share fabulous pictures of their winter adventures skating, skiing out in the woods, or making cute snow forts with their children, I’m preparing for an endless and sleepless trip to the medical world via my version of a Hotel Vermont.
Sylvie is now camped out in the executive suite of the PICU. The big south facing windows have an amazing view of the Champlain Valley: Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to the left and Mount Mansfield to the right. The pillows are soft, the nurses are hospitable, and the menu includes a variety of local meats, cheeses, yogurts and produce. The Children’s Hospital mascot is Monty the Moose, and I do love my Vermont wildlife. The nurse told me last night around 3 a.m. that when Bill Clinton came to campaign in Vermont some years back, they used this very PICU room for medical preparations should the president have gotten shot. Honestly, I’d rather be in some historical bed and breakfast in the Green Mountains, but for now, this will do.
I’m not bitter that others are enjoying the winter in ways I can only now imagine. I still like to sled down hills and cross-country ski and camp out in subzero temperatures, and I can only hope there will be a day when I can once again enjoy the cold and snow as much as I used to. But right now, the snow season is a sign that it’s pneumonia season. And while I would rather be romping out in the snow with my kids and friends, I’m glad Sylvie is still around to love and hug in the warmth of Hotel Vermont.
When Kirsten Isgro isn’t vacationing at the relaxing Vermont Children's Hospital--Hotel Vermont, she is a professor of Communication Studies at the State University of New York and the mother of 7-year old twin girls.