The urgent care doctor said that my boys were having an allergic reaction to something and scribbled out a prescription for an antihistamine. “Take them to your pediatrician on Monday if they don’t improve,” he said. I grilled the kids about what they’d eaten and what they’d touched but couldn’t figure out what had made their faces so pink and puffy. They’d never been allergic to anything before and it wasn’t chicken pox.
I was really worried about them but I was also really worried about something else. Tomorrow was to be my first day at the decent full time job I’d finally landed. “It’ll be better tomorrow,” I kept telling myself. “It has to be.”
On Monday morning Ben’s eyes were tiny slits and his lips had blown up into raw bratwursts. I could see every single pore in the skin on his face and each oozed with sticky yellow puss. Even his ear lobes were seriously pink and inflamed. Big brother Sam’s face looked like a slightly inflated pink balloon but was not anywhere near as distorted as Ben’s.
“Don’t worry,” I said, doing my best to stop the terror in my chest from exploding on my own face. “We’re going to see the doctor right away.”
I left a shaky message for my new boss and waited until Dr. Patel’s office opened at eight. I dialed the phone and in my most powerful voice declared that we were on the way.
Clearly not wanting Ben’s face to frighten the other patients, the receptionist showed us right into an examination room. “What happened?!” asked Doctor Patel. I explained the progression of the boys’ condition.
“You take this one to the hospital right now,” she said, pointing at Ben. The three of us were ushered out the back door.
I had to figure out what to do with Sam. I couldn’t bring him along to the hospital and he needed to be looked after too. My Grandma Miller! We found her in her back yard hanging mint green sheets on the line.
She parted the laundry and gasped. “Who is that?” she said pointing at Ben. “Was there a car accident? Don’t worry, honey, plastic surgeons can do wonderful things.” I pried Sam from my leg and dragged Benny by the hand back to the car.
At the hospital, brisk nurses wearing masks quickly ushered us into a quarantined room. “Bring my school picture here so they know what I’m supposed to look like,” pleaded Ben. I promised that I would and sat by his bed until he was comfortable and fed and almost asleep. I got in the elevator to leave along with a two young nurses. One said to the other, “Did you see that kid in 515?” My heart was breaking in big fat sobs.
Later that night, over a bed time peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Sam was full of questions. “Can the doctor make Ben better?” “Will he have to have plastic surgery?” “Will we ever see him again?”
Sam worked his mouth a little like he was chewing invisible gum and then it all spilled out. “It’s my fault,” he blurted through a storm of tears. “We were playing army by the railroad tracks and I told Ben to eat the berries! Poison berries!” Of course! In spite of the ceaseless sibling fighting, Benny will do whatever Sam asks him to do– like jump off the top bunk or ride his bike into a wall or eat suspicious berries by the railroad tracks where they are forbidden to play.
On Tuesday, at the first light of day, I climbed the hill to the tracks and found the source of the misery–raspberry bushes growing in the midst of a dense patch of poison ivy. I could just see them, crawling on their bellies through the vines like GI Joes.
I took Sam to the sitter and went to my new job and explained the situation to my sympathetic boss. At lunch time, I went to the hospital to be with Ben leaving his school picture on the table beside his bed. His eyes were open again and he was starting to improve but the doctor warned that a case of poison ivy this bad could take many more days of treatments. I had to be careful with Sam too–smearing a battery of ointments on his face and changing his sheets every time he lay down so he wouldn’t get re-infected.
Later that night, I was washing another load of sheets in the basement, a good place to cry in private, and wondering what I was going to do when Ben was released from the hospital, when my other grandmother, Grandma Maly, called. She ordered me to bring the boys to her house in a nearby town and said that she would look after them until the weekend. She didn’t want me to jeopardize my new job.
I finished my first week at the job as kind of an embarrassed celebrity (the poor new girl with the really sick kids—“probably cancer,” they whispered) and headed out to get the boys on Saturday morning. Sam flew out the door to greet me. Almost normal looking Ben was right behind him. Grandma Maly watched as we all three embraced and tears of relief flowed from our eyes.
Note: Ben was 7 when this story happened. He’s 40 now and happens to have a horrible case of poison ivy on his legs right now. Thank you Wendy W. for coming to the rescue and caring for him.