Eira was using her two new eyes to play with the fish that were plastered to the pediatrician’s wall, so she didn’t see the nurse’s needle coming.
I winced at the sight of the pin prick as Eira's gaze was suddenly averted from the colored coral reefs. Her face lit up with shock. Then, wrapping her head around the pain, she grew red and used all the might in her tiny lungs to SHRIEK.
Before Eira could be comforted, there were two more shots to go on her opposite thigh and a bitter liquid to be swallowed. By the time her two-month vaccinations were through, I was silently writhing in sympathetic pain.
“You’re so strong, snowpea!” I soothed her as I scooped her into my arms.
One appointment down. One more to go today. But I didn't dare to tell her that yet.
The nurse explained that it’s normal for babies to be feverish and fussy after vaccines. But "fussy" was an understatement as the ophthalmologist’s cold fingers firmly gripped Eira’s eyes to pop her baby contacts out for cleaning. The beam of light that was shone into Eira’s pupils threw her hopelessly over the edge with no promise of returning to normalcy – at least, not today. If she were old enough to form tears, the contacts would have been lost in the aqueous seas under her artificial lenses.
"Next time, see me before the pediatrician," the ophthalmologist pronounced, half-joking.
That night was uneventful aside from Eira's mild fever. I thought she must have forgotten the double whammy of health appointments when she woke up cooing the next morning. Thank goodness.
“Ehooooou,” she loves to say, mirroring my lips that mouth, “I love you.” She wiggles her arms and legs wildly, excited at the new-found sounds her vocal cords can create.
But that night – precisely 58 hours after her shots that started all this chaos – there were no more coos or happy dances; there were only red-faced wails for hours on end.
None of the usual tricks seemed to work. Snuggling, singing, swaying, and suckling did nothing but make our snowpea more and more exasperated. At midnight, we began to wonder if something was wrong. Not just baby-cries-wrong, but I mean really, truly wrong.
Before her cataracts were removed, temper tantrums occurred each night like clockwork at 10 pm. I now know that she was blind as a bat without the sun, and artificial lighting was too harsh for her sensitive eyes. But since the clouds of her cataracts have gone away, she’s been generally care-free. So, as a first-time parent, five hours of crying was a rare and alarming occurrence.
Quickly running out of options, we looked at her diaper but found it to be clean. We examined her eyes but found them unclouded. We had expelled the demons of her gas, so that couldn’t be the cause of her crying.
I looked at the red-hot welt where the needles had pierced her thigh and felt fear creep into my chest. Suddenly, her cries turned to coughs. Then hacking. Then choking!
After catching her breath, Eira paused briefly, also looking slightly frightened, before resuming her fiery sobs. At this, even Blue was disturbed.
The choking started a second time, this time violently. And then a third.
“I think she’s struggling to breathe,” I gasped to find my own breath as I told Daniel.
“Her tongue feels like sandpaper,” he said.
“Oh my God. Is her throat swelling?”
“Put your clothes on. We’re going to the hospital,” he responded, all lightness leaving his tone.
My tired eyes suddenly widened. Adrenaline shot through my veins, and I raced to throw a dirty dress over my shorts and nursing bra.
Before we made it out the door, Eira’s crying abruptly stopped. She was pale, cold, and clammy and felt as though she had lightened in weight.
“Hurry!” Daniel said, placing the tiny body like a football under his left arm.
In the Tesla, I peered through the windows at the night. It was dark but vivid, like a dream. Daniel told me to make sure her airway stayed open. As Daniel sped down the empty moonlit roads, Eira closed her eyes and suckled my pointer finger.
“Is she responsive?” He asked as he pulled into the hospital parking lot.
“Hey, snowpea?” I said softly to my sleeping baby.
Daniel didn’t hear a reply.
The entryway was empty except for a security guard who waved his finger in the direction of the ER, generously allowing us to bypass COVID-19 screening. We were bustled into a room by a woman at the reception, and a team of medics plastered cords onto my baby’s silky skin.
“Heart rate and oxygen are normal. Temperature is normal,” I heard, and my heightened senses started to soften.
Eira sat wrapped in a blanket on a hospital bed about 20 times too big. Her face was now bright, and her wide eyes twinkled as she looked around the room, seemingly entertained by the scene. She gazed up sweetly at the man with cords on her who looked quizzically at us.
“So… what’s wrong?” he asked.
“She…stopped crying,” Daniel said, his throat welling with emotion.
We couldn’t quite articulate what had happened. I offered, “I thought she might be having an allergic reaction to the shots or the baby Tylenol or… the pizza grease on Daniel’s hand?”
“Doesn’t seem like it,” he reassured us.
To that, Eira began animatedly sucking her whole fist.
“We’ll get the doctor in here, so he can… uh, figure out what to do,” the man said, trying to choke back a grin.
I looked at Daniel, smiling under my mask.
“Babies can have breath-holding spells when they cry. They will pass, and they typically outgrow them,” the doctor said to what was probably his easiest case of the coming night shift. It seemed this wasn’t the first time he had eased the nerves of first-time parents who found themselves in the ER.
We didn’t know if we were supposed to wait to be discharged, but the receptionist’s puzzled expression suggested we were in the wrong. This was a small detail we chose to ignore as we ducked out of the fluorescent-lit building with a bounce in our step. Eira was back in her car seat no longer than 15 minutes since she had left it.
“So… Snowpea’s temper tantrum may have cost us $300 – maybe more,” I said, nearly giggling in a moment that should have brought me frustration.
“Yeah,” Daniel said, his voice filled with equal parts relief and humiliation.
Eira gripped her soft, strawberry-sized hand around my finger, and we steered toward the glistening streetlamps and fallen stardust that lit the coal-colored night.