Thursday, October 23, 2014

Preparing to Be a Help Meet: Debi's Massive Overreaction

This story from Debi's life is horrible...just horrible.  

The Death Angel
Most people that hear this story think it was just my imagination playing tricks on me.  It happened more than thirty-five years ago.  I was just a young wife when the Death Angel visited, but I am convinced today, as I was then, that this truly happened just as I relate it.

Personally, I think she had a panic attack.

I lived in a small community of mostly young military couples.  All of the families were expecting, or had a baby or two already.  The girl directly across the street was nineteen years old and was married to a soldier of the same age who was in training to go to Vietnam.  Her baby was born a few days before mine.  One cold morning she came over to tell me the military authorities had called her, reminding her that the Health Department had issued a requirement that babies two-and-a-half months old should get started on their vaccinations.  This was a new mandate, starting the baby shots earlier than ever before.  Somewhere I had that there were problems with these vaccinations, especially for such young babies, but who was I to question the Department of Health?  Besides, the shots were free and we could afford that!  My best friend, Carla, who lived next door, also had a two-month-old son, but when I invited her to ride along, she wasn't interested in getting her baby a shot.  Mrs. Soldier Girl and I took our babies and stood in the cold in a line outside a small trailer that served as the local Health Department, waiting for our babies to get their shots.  We chatted and visited with not a care in the world except to stay warm.  I think back to that day and ask myself, how were we to know what was to come?  Then I wondered, why didn't we take the time to ask questions, demand information, or seek out advice?  I know the answer.  We were young; we believed that everyone else knew better than we did.  Until that moment neither of us had ever had been put in a position to know just how terribly a thing could go wrong due to a lack of knowledge.

Points worth pondering:

  • Debi's first child is a daughter.  Since this story is about her baby SON, this had to be her second or third child.  Debi could be as young as 22 (if she had Rebekah and Nathan back-to-back immediately after marrying Michael) OR as old as 25(ish) with three children.    She may well be a role-model to "Mrs. Soldier Girl"

  • Mrs. Soldier Girl went out of her way to help Debi.  She passed on information she got from the army and went with Debi.  And yet, Debi doesn't give her a real name - she gets a epithet. For anyone new to PearlSpeak, an epithet means that character is going to be thrown under the bus.

  • Debi - the older, experienced mother - should be excused for her "lack of knowledge".  Mrs.  Soldier Girl - who is 19 and facing an extended absence of her husband - well....Debi's gonna throw her under the bus.

Mrs. Soldier Girl called that evening to ask if my baby had a big red hot spot where the shot was administered.  He did.  Both of the babies had high fevers.  I knew this was going to be a long night.  As I rocked my son, trying to soothe him, I began to wonder why Carla had resisted getting her son a shot, and I sincerely wished I had listened to her when she tried to explain what she had read concerning the shots.  Finally, the medicine I have my son caused him to sleep.  It was cold in our old farm house, so I nestled my baby boy up to my body and fell asleep.  He cried off and on all night.

New points:
  • Mrs. Soldier Girl called Debi for advice.  She trusted Debi. 

  • Carla told Debi her fears about getting the vaccination.  Debi ignored her.  Did Debi pass that info back to Mrs. Soldier Girl?  (For the record, I am rabidly PRO-vaccination.  I'm just pointing out Debi's raging hypocrisy in this story.)

  • I get a flu shot every year.  I get a giant red welt and a 102 degree fever like clockwork and I am in my thirties.  Why do I get the shot?  Better a 24 hour period where I take a heap of Benedryl and Motrin and sleep until my immune system finishes getting ready than a potentially life-threatening case of influenza since I have asthma.  Why were they immunizing children younger?  Because babies were dying or having severe injuries from measles.  Imagine the same symptoms the little boys were having but for over a week - that's the measles.
I awoke sometime in the predawn hours, the blackest part of the night.  Other than my newborn's soft groans and my husband's light snores, the night was deadly quiet, like when there is a heavy snow that blankets the sound.  I couldn't say why, but I lay tense and fearful, waiting...for what, I knew not. I was afraid.  I moved ever so gently to lay my hand on my son's head.  It was burning hot.  I moved my head to his tiny chest and heard a strange, rasping sound.  Profound terror gripped me, causing my whole body to sweat.  Then, as if I could see the shadowy figure, I knew that the Death Angel stood there at the end of the bed.  My body was rigid, my mouth dry; I tried to control my breathing, but could only manage great gasps. I reasoned with myself that I was just an emotional female, and that nothing was really there.  Yet conviction held ground in my mind and soul...I knew what I knew, and I knew that the Death Angel had come to our house.

I've gotta give Debi credit: That's the best description of a panic attack I've ever read.

If Debi was honestly worried about her son being dangerously ill, she should have called 911 or an emergency line.  I doubt he was, but at least she would have gotten treatment for her panic attack.

I gave up trying to convince myself that it wasn't real and I began to pray as I never prayed before.  I pulled my baby up tight to my chest, defying the figure at the end of the bed that dared to enter this room. Time passed as I begged for God's mercy.  I began to pray aloud,  getting louder and louder as my panic grew.

Panic attacks suck - and apparently freaking out doesn't stop the attack.  Good to know.  The next bit always makes me laugh.

Finally I jerked the covers off of Mike and shouted, "Wake up now and pray!  The Death Angel is in this room!  Pray for our son!"  My startled husband sat up, confused and alarmed. Then he grabbed the covers away from me, mumbling that I had lost my mind.  I jerked his covers off and smacked him on the back as I screeched, "Get up and pray for your son!" By this time he was awake and truly concerned with my sanity. 

I'm guessing that if the Death Angel was in the room, Michael would have seen him(her? it?), too.  

 He tried to comfort me, but I cared nothing for comfort; I only wanted to hear him pray, asking God for mercy and commanding the Death Angel to leave the room.  I told my husband what to pray. He reminded me that I could pray just like he could pray, so why did I wake him up?

I never thought I would say this, but Michael Pearl makes a good point.  Debi doesn't want comfort; she wants him to pray - but she can do that as well as he can....

But he was my spiritual head and I knew that was now was the time for the top command to pray.  Thoroughly chilled, he grabbed the covers to lay back down but this time his normally obedient wife  shouted, "You will never sleep again unless you pray for your son!"
He turned over and tried to see me through the darkness, trying to perceive what had provoked such a passion.  What I was doing was so out of character that he was genuinely mystified and somewhat intrigued.  He wondered if maybe I was right, and the Death Angel was indeed standing there in the room.

See, hysteria can be passed from person to person - especially in the middle of the night.

 He reached over me and laid his hand on our son's head.  He prayed.  As he prayed, I sensed the Death Angel leave the room.  For the first time in several minutes, the constriction in my chest released; I could breathe again.

 Interestingly, even without doing anything, panic attacks eventually stop.

Our baby fell into an exhausted slumber.  We lay there wide awake , man and wife in the dark, staring at the ceiling, whispering about what happened.  He believed me.  We watched the early morning light slowly begin to lighten our bedroom. 
Suddenly, red and yellow lights darted across our ceiling. I sat up and pushed the curtains open, peering across the street.  The cold thin window pane frosted over and I rubbed it clear to see better. Then I saw the ambulance.  It was parked at Mrs. Soldier Girl's house.  I still remember the feeling of profound relief that enveloped me.  I still remember the shame that followed.  My son was spared....but hers was taken? I watched as a police car arrived.  Why police?

If Debi stopped here, I'd have a shred of respect for her.

We quickly dressed and Michael rushed over to see what was wrong and was told the following story:  The baby cried all night.  The young parents only had a couple nights left together before the soldiers was shipped off to war.  When they awoke in the morning the baby was no longer breathing. 

How is any of that different from Debi and Michael?  

  • Both babies were fussy and feverish after shots. 
  • Both babies cried all night.  
  • Debi and Michael both fell asleep for at least some portion of the night as did the parents across the street.  

Debi likes rubbing her mothering skills in people's faces, but she didn't do anything different from the younger woman across the street.    But if she admitted - really admitted  - that Debi would have to accept that her baby could have died.  That really bad things could happen to her family as easily as it happened to her neighbors.  

Debi can't accept that.  She retroactively blames Mrs. Soldier Girl - a young mother who trusted Debi.

At first the poor stricken couple was charged with neglect because the authorities assumed the baby died of cold.  Later, it was determined that it was the common three month crib death that had taken the child.  No one dared blame the vaccination that our babies were given the day before.

Well, except Debi - the Bible college drop-out.  She's got the skills to put professional epidemiologists to shame in her mind.  

Debi's got more to say on the subject of health care in general and birth control in particular, but I'm done for today.

AntiPearl: Make no judgments where you have no compassion.” Anne McCaffrey.


  1. Couple of things jump out at me -

    1) Debi says that they stood in line outside in the cold to wait to get shots. I am no medical professional, but it seems intuitive to me that if you force a young baby's immune system to do too much work at once (i.e. fight off an infection at the same time it's working through the vaccine), something could easily go wrong. I do know for a fact there are certain shots they won't give if the kids are sick; they'll wait. This doesn't mean that I blame the vaccine, though - vaccines are SO important.

    2) If Debi thinks she saw the Angel of Death, I'm not inclined to completely dismiss her perception as merely a panic attack. I couldn't answer why their baby was spared and the other baby wasn't, but I certainly wouldn't blame the other mother.

    3) I do think the idea of a spiritual head of the household is a bunch of baloney, so I definitely don't buy the idea that the prayers of the spiritual head would necessarily do anything that the wife's prayers wouldn't do, but we Catholics do tacitly buy into the idea that things worth praying for are worth everyone praying for (or at least as many people as possible). We do this every time the whole Church prays for anything, or when we ask the intercession of Mary and various saints. So reading it from that perspective, Michael sounds like a real jerk in this story. Dude, if your wife tells you to get up and pray for the life of your son, YOU GET THE F UP AND PRAY FOR YOUR SON.

  2. I hear your point on the first thing about immunizations, but that's not really the way the immune system works. Most of the side-effects that Debi saw in her son - fever, localized swelling and general fussiness - are part of the non-specific immune response. This is an all-or-nothing reaction by the body to a foreign object. That part of the system can go badly wrong in case of an anaphylactic shock reaction, but her son didn't have that. In terms of overloading the immune system, humans have spent thousands of years living in extremely close contact with other humans, livestock and soil-based pathogens with far less attention to cleanliness and access to clean water than we have in the USA right now, so I've yet to hear an immunologist who believes that kids are in much danger of being overloaded.

    Even in the 70's, an unexplained infant death would have triggered an autopsy especially when the parents were originally suspected of neglect. If the little one had been ill prior to death, the doctors would have noticed something during the autopsy. Heartbreakingly, most of the children who die of SIDS - or of a previously undetected metabolic disorder - die between 2 and 4 months of age.

    If Debi saw the Angel of Death, then started having symptoms of fear, I'd be more inclined to believe her. As someone who has struggled with panic attacks for years, I worry that Debi is dealing with an anxiety disorder and is not being treated. I can remember as an adult being terrified because I KNEW there was someone waiting outside of my bedroom during a panic attack. (That sucked because the medication I needed to calm down was in the kitchen.) My sister once called home in the middle of the night because she KNEW something horrible had happened to one of us. (We were all fine.)

    I will agree that Mike could have handled the situation a lot better. First, if the baby was that sick, he could have taken part of the night shift and let Debi get some sleep. Second, Debi wasn't asking him to do anything particularly crazy by praying, so he should have just manned up and prayed the first time she asked him. Thirdly, if he honestly thought Debi was having a mental breakdown, that doesn't mean he should go back to sleep - she still needed him.

  3. "I hear your point on the first thing about immunizations, but that's not really the way the immune system works."

    Well that's really good to know, because I've always worried about that when my doc wants to know if my baby is sick before giving one or more shots.

    "Heartbreakingly, most of the children who die of SIDS - or of a previously undetected metabolic disorder - die between 2 and 4 months of age."

    And I did read some good news about that not TOO too long ago - they think that babies who die of SIDS have a brain stem abnormality that doesn't trigger the instinctual "I can't breathe" response that I've always seen in my own babies. If we know which babies are at risk of SIDS, then we can watch THOSE babies more carefully rather than indiscriminately scare everyone.

    "If Debi saw the Angel of Death, then started having symptoms of fear, I'd be more inclined to believe her."

    I see what you're saying. For me, there's so much that's unexplained that I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt when they say they experienced something outside the realm of normal physical reality. From re-reading the above, she doesn't appear to say that she actually physically saw Death, but she is very certain of her perception that Death was there. I had assumed that her general feeling of unease when she first woke up was her sensing Death at a distance / approaching / passing by / whatever. Anyway, like I said I don't have any sort of explanation to offer.

    "I will agree that Mike could have handled the situation a lot better."

    Agree on all points.