I marveled to Eli that I must live such a charmed life because I'm resilient and can find the humor and ridiculous irony in situations. I tried to laugh throughout this experience.
So, here it is, in the biggest nutshell you've ever seen, our awesome vacation (with prologue):
Last fall I was hired to work for the NWP on its E-team for part of the year. The initial commitment is three years, with the perks being a summer job that I can work whenever my schedule permits so long as I put in the requisite hours per week, and a free trip to the Annual Meeting each November where I could attend any of the sessions, but was required to be present for a day-long meeting on the Saturday of the conference. No prob. I immediately started making plans for this year's meeting, which was going to be in Orlando, at Disney World. We were going to leave Elsie with the grandparents and go, just the two of us. And then a month later, we realized that it was going to have to be three of us, not including Elsie. And being a breastfeeding mama, there wasn't really another easy alternative, so Eli would be with 2.0 (as we then referred to O-man) while I went to my sessions. Eli would be the babysitter.
Fast forward eleven months, and it's time to leave for Orlando. I had been very organized and put in my request for professional development leave back in August, and had a couple of weeks ago gotten a sub for the three days I was going to be out. In a twist of nicety-turned-terrible, I ended up letting the math teacher on my team have my sub, who is a retired middle school math teacher, since we would be out simultaneously, and I tried to find another sub. I found a sub for Wednesday and Thursday, but how was I supposed to know that every teacher was going to be out on that Friday?? I left school on Tuesday knowing that I would need a sub for Friday, and that I would be spending part of my time away to find one. I pretty much tried to avoid thinking about it. [I spent part of Wednesday and Thursday calling up random people from the sub list, to no avail. Once I finally found someone, I called to let the school know, and they said, "Oh, we just got an e-mail from central office saying he can't ever sub for us again." Great. I ended up not finding a sub and my team had to split my classes on Friday.]
I took Elsie to the doctor for her 18-months appointment in the a.m. so that I could legitimately use a sick day for travel, and my MIL came and got her to take her back to Mobile for the week. I packed and got things ready at home. Eli came home from work and changed the oil on the car, and then told me that we needed new tires, we needed them now, and we wouldn't be able to make the trip to Orlando without them. My plans of leaving by lunch time were thwarted, but not to worry. We had other errands to run while waiting on the tires. At the appointed "we'll be finished in about an hour" time, I dropped Eli back off at the tire place and headed home to wait for him to come get O and me. And then Eli called. The car was not ready. It would not be ready for another 45 minutes to an hour. Ugh.
Needless to say, I could have saved myself a sick day. We rolled out of town after four o'clock. And we drove into the darkness. Oscar actually did a pretty good job in the car. At one point I did have to climb into the backseat to sit with him to calm him down, but for the most part, he was a good sport (at least that's the way I'm remembering it now--it's much easier this way). In an effort to avoid paying any tolls on the Florida Turnpike, we took a bunch of state and county roads to get into Orlando. At one point, we pulled over to consult the atlas.
We pulled back onto the road, and something happened. I couldn't figure out what it was at first, but then Eli said it. The high beam headlights had turned on all by themselves. Yeah, that was it. However, strangely, they would not turn off. We turned the car off, the headlights off, and put the parking brake on--a sure recipe to be sitting in the dark--yet the high beams stayed on. Having no solution to this problem, we forged on. As we drove on in to The Happiest Place on Earth, we were sure that we would be pulled over for a DUI, driving at two in the morning with our high beams on. I started counting how many people flashed their headlights at us.
Once we got into the Disney Vortex, it became painfully clear that I did not actually have directions to the hotel, as I thought I did. So we drove around for a while, finally stopping to ask for directions. We found the resort, checked in at the hotel, and were unloading the car when Eli popped the hood to inspect the headlights--and they caught fire. Of course, he tells me this nonchalantly, saying something like, "Well, I hope the whole car doesn't explode." I looked at him for a second, and then quickly retrieved Oscar from the backseat just in case.
Our hotel room was okay, nothing fancy (although, I guess if I hadn't lived in Texas for so many years, the Southwest/Incan motif might have been special). We set up the Pack N Play, looked at some of the check-in literature, and then crashed. The next morning I got up early to find out where I was supposed to be. I left Eli and Oscar in the hotel room, out to look for free Internet in the business center or something, since it was $10/day in the room. Turns out the business center was ~$7 for TEN MINUTES!! I told the lady a sob story about our travels into town and how I didn't know where I was supposed to be, so she let me pull up my e-mail and get my itinerary. Turns out all of my meetings were in the other hotel that the NWP/NCTE booked for this conference. Stink.
I went to my morning session and then we went to eat lunch at Wolfgang Puck's restaurant in Downtown Disney. <--Highly Recommended. Eli and Oscar stayed at the hotel for the afternoon session, and when I came back we made a grocery store run to go get bread and peanut butter and jelly for the rest of our trip. We ate our sandwiches and then went for a walk around the resort lake. It was nice. And Oscar actually didn't mind being in the stroller.
The next day, Friday, was a lazy day. We set out right before lunch to go to Sea World since Eli got free military personnel tickets. It was fun watching the shows. I'm still very much in awe of those animals. Amazing. I would go back and do some of the behind the scenes stuff if I could. But, the day was a little tainted by Eli not feeling well. He started the day complaining of a headache. As we strolled around the park, he would stop at intervals to work through a pain in his neck. He would stop suddenly, incline his neck, close his eyes, and breathe. It reminded me vaguely of when I was having contractions with Oscar. It was weird. His pain was ever increasing, so I knew it was time to leave the park. Plus, I really wanted to get back in time to go to the NCTE Expo (read: free books!). At one point, I had asked him about how sick he was feeling, "Sick enough to end up in the emergency room?" His response, "I hope not."
As we got back in the car, Eli put on a fleece jacket. I mentally noted that it was 80 degrees outside. When we got back, Eli told me that he would be okay after he slept, so Oscar and I went to the Expo, where he was a hit with the ladies and scored me some free stuff, just on the cuteness factor alone. :) I also had an aha! moment while walking around, as the word meningitis came to mind. I sure hoped not. When we came back to the room, Eli was piled under all the covers and not looking well. I used an ear thermometer that I just happened to toss in with all of Oscar's stuff, and his temp was 102. We started making phone calls, trying to reach anyone we knew with medical expertise. I wanted to run his symptoms by a medical professional to see if this was something that would warrant a trip to the ER. The first person to call us back was my FIL, a nurse. His advice was basically, "Get thee to an emergency room." He dropped the M word that I had been thinking. I called the consierge to get directions and we were on our way.
On the way over, we talked about what this might mean. Eli said something funny to me (sorry I can't remember what), and my response was "Thanks for that." And then to get back at him, I joked about the long giant needle they would use if they had to do a spinal tap. "Thanks for that," Eli ribbed. Since I had Oscar with me, I didn't want to go into the hospital with Eli, so we sat out in the car until we got an update. They had him back in an observation room, and were going to do a lumbar puncture. At this point, I decided that I did not want to wait in the car, so we went into the spacious waiting room, where there was a kid's area. I watched the entirety of the Hannah Montana movie on the Disney Channel while Oscar slept. No word from Eli. It was getting late. And I was very tired. So I bundled Oscar up and we went and sat in the passenger side of the car and slept, awaiting news.
At one point, I went to go ask questions of the nurse, and they directed me to the business desk, where I paid my emergency copay while I was there. That was when I knew that Eli had meningitis. Why? Because the copay was equal to the "extra" amount of money we had this month that Eli told me just to leave in my account until all the bills were paid before using it to pay down debt. This was where we were supposed to be.
I don't know how long I was there before Eli called to tell me that it was indeed meningitis and that they were admitting him to the hospital. I went in and talked with the doctor about what this meant for us and our vacation. "He's not very good with needles," she says. (At some point in the evening they put the spinal tap kit in the room with Eli and left it there for him to look at for about two hours, building up his anxiety, before they actually used it, so that by the time they did the tap, he pretty much had an anxiety attack.) She told me they would have to keep him for at least 48 hours until they got their cultures back.
With nothing more for us to do, O and I went back to the hotel and slept.
At some point in the evening, I realized that I was going to have to miss my Saturday meeting, the whole reason we even made this stupid trip to Orlando anyway. I looked in my phone, and sure enough, I had saved the phone number of my group leader back when he called me in June, so I called MR (who, mind you, I had never met) and apprised him of my situation. He told me that I shouldn't worry about the meeting and that I should just take care of my family, that he would inform everyone what was going on. I insisted on coming at least for breakfast in the morning to put faces with these names that I had been seeing for the better part of a year. MR called me again on Saturday morning and wanted to know what kind of help I needed. I told him that ideally, I needed someone to watch Oscar while I was getting everything together to check out of the hotel by 11 (since we originally were going to leave on Saturday after my meeting, we had to be out). He told me that his wife could probably help me.
I made it to my meeting, had breakfast, met everyone and told them the same story I'm telling now, and then Mrs. MR came back to the hotel with me to watch O while I packed and loaded up the car. She was a blessing, a true angel. I would have managed, but it was so much easier to have another set of hands. People who think the kindness of strangers is a thing of the past are so terribly pessimistic! We made it out of the hotel, went to visit Eli at the hospital--he was still in the ER until they got him a room and the nurse held Oscar while Eli and I conversed--and then I took O to the airport to pick up my mom. Another godsend. We found a hotel to hole up in and then waited, making trips back and forth to the hospital to check on Eli, who was bored and tired, and headache-y.
During all this, I realized that we would be missing the long-awaited Thanksgiving lunch at church, and that I would not be making it back to school on Monday, at least, and maybe Tuesday. What a mess. I don't have any sick days, so the days I was taking off were unpaid days. I thought over the sequence of events that brought us here. I only haphazardly brought the thermometer and had it in the hotel room with me. We left the ibuprofen at home. Had we had it, Eli would have taken one and gone back to bed, and who knows what would have happened?
To make this long story longer, Mom flew back to TX on Monday p.m. About two hours later, Eli was discharged from the hospital with a diagnosis of viral meningitis. I brought him back to the hotel room where he slept hard. We got up bright and squirrely to drive home. And on the way Oscar started running a fever. He was very hot to the touch. I didn't know what to do, given all we had gone through with Eli.
We got into the town of Moultrie, GA, and I tried to go to an Urgent Care place, but since he was so young, they would not see him and directed us to the ER at Colquitt Regional Medical Center. They ran Oscar through the rigamarole, and several hours later told us that yes, he has a virus, and that it didn't take a doctor to tell us that he got it from Eli. And that there was no telling what this virus would do, and no indication as to why it had decided to attack Eli's brain. So, we were sent on our way with the most expensive dose of Tylenol ever, an infant-come-pin cushion, but at least with a peace of mind. The ride home took forever, with O screaming every hour or so, and we had to stop frequently. But last night, at 8-ish, we got home. Fourteen hours. (Orlando is 7.5 hours from here on a good day.)
Then today, we drove to Mobile to retrieve Elsie and to spend Thanksgiving with the entire Beaver clan tomorrow--the first time this many Beavers have been together since Eli's grandmother died some fifteen (?) years ago. I'm here. Ready for bed. And ready to NEVER go back to Florida. "Florida hates us," Eli said. [And remember, we've been trying to laugh at all of this when we can...there was a lot of funny in the midst of the stress.]
And somehow in all of this, my watch now beeps at the top of the hour. I have no idea why it started doing that and I have no idea how to stop it. So, every hour is yet another reminder of the vacation that was not meant to be. Awesome.
(And if you made it to the end, bless you!)