So last night I finished teaching an 1.5-hour-long class on Zoom to find that Little Prince, who had been happily prancing about the house like his royal self when I last left him, was now zonked out in bed with what my husband informed me was a 38.6 degree fever.
Two years ago, this would not have been such a big deal. I would have simply sighed, mourned my to-do-list for next day, and resigned myself to my fate as a 24-hour nurse until further notice. A sick kid used to be just a part of life. Now, however, it feels like the apocalypse. And his fever isn’t even that high.
Before Covid, it was a foregone conclusion that I would be in a constant state of kazegimi from November to until April each year. Indeed, my family spent the colder months juggling colds, coughs, flus (though we always get flu shots) and noroviruses like we were a circus act. I had thought that masks were a useless Japanese quirk, so popular because people here really loved to hide their faces.
How very, very wrong I was.
But we all know that now, so let’s fast forward to the year-of-no-fevers. Actually, it has been closer to two. Thanks to everyone’s precautions against Covid, neither of my children has had so much as a slightly elevated temperature for nearly two years. I had forgotten what it was like. That, and having a sick kid is a very different experience than it was 2 years ago.
First of all, it is not only the sick child who cannot go to school. Nobody can go anywhere. Young Sir, in particular, is not allowed to go back to school until I can get an official diagnosis for Little Prince. Specifically, we need a doctor to confirm that Little Prince has “just a cold.” Yet in my neighborhood, it is difficult to get seen by a doctor when you have actual cold symptoms. The clinic I went to to refill some asthma medicine the other day was screening everyone at the door, so as not to let anyone in who was actually sick.
But all of this I can handle. It’s just another day of parenting, really. The truly challenging territory, was in my own mind last night.
So there I was in the middle of the night, watching over my sleeping 4-year-old as if he were my first child to ever run a fever. Feeding him ice pops as his forehead burned up, I was afraid to take my eyes off of him. And the thought kept going through my head: what if his situation worsens?
Because if it does, what then? Even if we called an ambulance in the middle of the night, there is no guarantee anymore that one would come. And even if one did arrive, there was then the matter of getting accepted into a hospital.
And we’ve all read the news over the last weeks. People are dying from Covid at home because the hospitals refuse them, and people are dying of unrelated illnesses for the same reason, or because the ambulances never come. When I read about all the citizens who have been so coldly turned away, it feels like it just couldn’t be true.
But this is Japan.
I have been in this country for almost 20 years now, and I have encountered some truly wonderful, empathetic people; but at the same time, I know what it feels like to be treated with a certain, almost systematically banal indifference. To deal with authority figures who are completely detached from any sense of moral imperative. On many occasions I’ve known what it feels like to beg for help, for mercy, only to be summarily ignored.
And in that context, a child’s fever is suddenly a whole lot more terrifying. More terrifying than it should be, I can promise you.
Perhaps I should brush up on my first aid skills. Maybe we all should. Anyway, I will be one happy mama when the Covid vaccines finally become available for children. But on the other hand, I will probably just find something else to worry about, to compare hyperbolically to the end of times. Such is #momlife.