My son, Eden, was three years old before he revealed the limits of his lungs (read: allergic asthma.) It happened after what already seemed like a lifetime of severe food allergies. When the Big Kahuna - peanuts, milk, etc. - rode in on his blood work, our allergist warned me, "Keep an eye out for outdoor allergies." Uh, of course.
When Eden turned three, I felt ready to take a significant baby step - local travel. My husband and I wanted both kids to have a broader range of outdoor sensory experiences. (It's tricky traversing Central Park with Epi-pens, Benadryl, topical cream, ice packs and enough food to satisfy a hungry toddler who can't eat in restaurants.) So we rented an "off-season" house in South Hampton to unwind in nature's civilized bounty.
Over those months, weekends became the fulcrum to our weeks. The kids rode bikes and examined leaves while I sniffed the exhaust-free air with self congratulations. When the ice on the pool cover thawed two misguided ducks adapted our yard. It was our Walden Pond, a rich off season.
Our final few days at the house that spring brought premature melancholy and an eyeful of pollen. Back in Manhattan pedestrians were catapulting off the curbs in violent sneezes. Eden had an intermittent cough that I figured was symptom of a slight cold.
Our very last morning at our brown shingled haven was Mothers Day. Now Eden's cough sounded more like a German Shepherd's gruff bark. We packed the car swiftly but upon reaching our exit on the FDR, I knew something was really wrong.
Sure enough, by the time we arrived home, Eden was squeaking long high notes out of his oval mouth. Then he vomited. From car to taxi, I flew down Madison Avenue feeling his heartbeat hammer into my palm. It felt like an itty-bitty heart attack.
Respiratory Distress is the accurate term. I learned as much after the hospital's double glass doors hummed open and I jogged over to a nurse who put a metal clamp on Eden's finger while a machine scolded: "Beepbeepbeepbeep!!" We stepped into a dusky treatment room, received an oxygen mask and watched the other children wheeze in eerie synchronization. Mothers Day, for Eden, was a twenty four hour marathon inhaling cocktails of bronchial dilators, saline and oxygen. For me, it was a fall from my hubris: I had thought I was weathered and I had been known to boast,"Yeah, I have this allergy thing pretty down."
During our final few hours, as we waited for hospital sign-out, we were left to roam the short hallways. Eden pumped on Albuterol, jazzily sang the chorus of his favorite song:"Follow the yellow brick road, follow, follow..."
Quite simply, the memory still takes my breath away.