Alex seemed better over the weekend. Last Wednesday and Thursday the symptoms had been nagging but at least familiar: Ned brings a cold into the house on Tuesday, Alex is lethargic and a little feverish by Wednesday afternoon. Beyond that, Alex can’t tell us how he feels.
This is the second such spell for Alex in as many months. Jill thinks he might need antibiotics. Night by night through the end of the week, as evenings dissolve into certainty that Alex won’t be going to school again the next day, I recall that lately Alex has been the first one back into the stroller on the playground. Alex has been the one who bounces around less. Alex is the one who seems to get tired first. Jill talks about taking him to the doctor, even though without fail Alex seems to get sickest after visiting the doctor. I say we have no symptoms.
“We do have a symptom,” Jill says. “We have fatigue. You can be tired, but in a few hours you get over it. We have fatigue.” He lies on his side, with his T-shirt off, on the cushions on the living room floor, one eye upraised to the TV and Elmo.
He stays home Thursday; he stays home Friday, though late that afternoon he bolts from the playground near our building and makes Jill chase him to the edge of the Harlem Meer, into which he seems intent on jumping. On Saturday, he scrambles up most of the biggest rocks in Central Park, Ned at his heels.
“I’m sick, too,” Ned announces after brushing his teeth Saturday night. He gives a fake cough. Ned will do anything to get cough syrup.
On Sunday, Alex’s low fever returns. He nibbles his chicken, munches pretzels. He takes an hour-long nap — strange for him — but later stays up until past 10, which seems normal for a kid who’s usually asleep by 9 p.m. but who’d had an hour-long nap. Then he seems to come back. At least no antibiotics this time, I think on Monday morning. At least not this time.
My phone rings about 3 p.m. on Monday. “We’ve got trouble,” says Jill, on the other end. “Alex’s teacher called. “She says Alex slept in school all day, fell asleep on the bus, and threw up in school. They say there’s a virus going around. I just don’t know. He wanted to get on the school bus this morning.”
I tell Howard, my boss. “Sometimes when you exercise hard when you’re just getting over something, it can cause a relapse,” he says.
“I like that,” says Jill, when I pass it on. “I like that a lot. It’s a thoughtful thing to say.”
We keep Alex home on Tuesday. He seems perky, so I take him for a walk in the morning. He keeps cutting in front of me and saying, “Shoulder, shoulder.” He wants to ride on my shoulders, instead of walk. We take a bus ride to midtown. He asks for peanut butter granola bars. I don’t have any; I can’t find any in stores. Then we pass a McDonald’s and Alex bolts for it. “Alex, they’re not serving chicken yet,” I warn him. He scampers to the counter. I ask if he wants hash browns. “Hash browns! Hash browns!” he says. When they come, he pitches a McNugget-withdrawal fit. We finally find peanut-butter granola in a drugstore, where he wants the pretzels and cookies. Not too sick, I guess, but cranky, and somehow not himself.
Yet he’s up that evening, waving to me from the living room while I bathe Ned in the bathroom. Soon after, he’s scrambling up the entertainment unit toward the VCR while we all try to watch “The Simpsons.” He tries to pop in Elmo or “There Goes a Police Car.” How can a sick kid move that fast and that often?
He goes back to school on Wednesday. I check in with Alex’s teacher, ask her if he’s having any problem. “Yeah-” she begins, chilling me with the notion that I’ve actually asked about something that’s been on her mind. “-he was a little slow this morning, not quite himself. Then in the afternoon he perked right up!” Ah. At least not this time.
Jeff Stimpson, 49, is a native of Bangor, Maine, and lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at http://jeffslife.tripod.com/alextheboy, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s Digest, Autism Spectrum News, and The Autism Society news blog.