11: Healing Toxin

11: Healing Toxin

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

Healing Toxin

We have no right to ask when sorrow comes,
“Why did this happen to me?” unless we ask the same question
for every moment of happiness that comes our way.

~Author Unknown

When she was four months old, our daughter Eva got sick for the first time. The doctor thought that it was just a cold. But Eva became more silent and still as the hours passed. We called another doctor and he told us it was probably a bad virus and that she would be fine. “That’s how babies fight these things,” he said. “They just shut down until they fix the problem.”

Two days later, our baby was not only “shut down” but almost gone.

Running to the ER wasn’t easy. It was late at night, and one of us had to stay with our two-year-old son. We decided that my husband would go with Eva. I am from Argentina and moved to the U.S. when I was twenty-eight. English is not my first language, and it was important that every word in that exchange with doctors was understood right away. After the longest hour of my life, my husband called. “You should come right away. This is serious.” My knees were weak, but in a flash I left my son in the care of good neighbors and rushed to the ER.

When I got there, I saw my baby daughter lying on a stretcher, now completely limp and barely conscious. She was making a soft, weak sound. I didn’t cry or ask many questions; I was shocked. I just watched as if standing in the eye of a hurricane of white and blue scrubs.

During our first night at the hospital, my husband and I looked into each other’s eyes in silence while holding this limp little baby. That night I memorized every single feature of her face. I would have given my own life in a second to secure hers. That night, my husband’s hug felt like a life preserver.

The next day we were transferred to a bigger hospital where they hoped doctors could figure out what was happening to her. She was steadily getting worse. Eventually she was completely paralyzed. Gradually, inexplicably, she was fading away.

We decided to call family, and from all of those phone calls I only remember the voices of my parents asking, “How serious is this?” and my response, “You might not see her ever again.”

Two days later, my mother came from across the world. She and a good friend took care of our son, Martín, while we were at the hospital. I always tried to make it home for Martín’s bedtime and after kissing him good night, headed back to the intensive care unit.

We felt Eva’s life slipping through our fingers. Would she survive? And if she survived, would there be disabilities?

Eventually somebody had an idea: botulism. Infant botulism, called an “orphan disease,” is a rare paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. All forms of botulism can be fatal and are considered medical emergencies. Botulism is very rare in infants; there are around eighty cases each year in the whole U.S. Even though botulism could be lethal, it doesn’t have any long-term effects if it is overcome.

Given the other possible diagnoses, botulism was our best-case scenario. It was impossible for me to believe that she had botulism since she was exclusively breastfed. However, I was told later that the bacterium is in the air and soil, and medical science does not yet understand the factors that make one baby more susceptible than others to botulism spore germination.

There was no time to lose. Doctors decided to treat Eva for botulism even before the final results came back from the lab.

In the hallways of that hospital, I met other parents. From them I heard about transplants, neurological impediments, cancer, and post-surgery complications. I heard about parents’ plans for organ donation if the worst happened.

Some of these children had been in intensive care for a long time. Others were “frequent flyers”—as their parents call them. They spend weeks at a time in the hospital and go home hoping that the next time they come for a checkup they won’t end up staying.

My husband and I stood by Eva’s sleeping body day and night, waiting for a sign of recovery. Days later, Eva started to react. One day she moved her fingers and toes. The next day she opened her eyes. In time, over many days of waiting and then receiving the confirmation that she did indeed have botulism, life clearly began to circulate through her whole body again. Eventually her eyes could fix on mine. She was holding on to life. She managed to smile, and that was when we knew she would return to normal. Some days later, her smiles brought life back to our hearts and for the first time I was able to sleep.

I still find an inexplicable peace when holding Eva. We still almost burst into tears when Martín kisses her forehead.

One friend whose daughter is a “frequent flyer” supported me greatly when Eva’s hospitalization started. When I asked, “Why is this happening to us?” she replied, “Why wouldn’t it happen to you? There are lots of people out there to whom these things happen all the time.”

Some people live long lives, some don’t. Instead of asking why, we are grateful for what we have. We also notice the good things that come to us during, and even because of, the worst of situations.

~Maria Victoria Espinosa-Peterson

More stories from our partners