Tuesday, 10 December 2013


I was in a bad way and my six-month-old son knew it. I wasn’t dismissive or angry, just distracted. He could sense the pain in the illness. He was sympathetic. He wore compassion in his eyes, and empathy on his shoulders. He stared at me from the bedroom doorway, perched on his mother’s hip, knowing something was wrong. He searched Anna for an explanation, tightly gripping her blouse.

“Daddy’s sick,” she assured him, upon which he returned his gaze to me lying in agony and in cold sweats on the bed.

The natural light was blinding and every blink sent shockwaves through my head. Standing up, I felt like I was carrying a heavy block of rough granite on my shoulders. Lying down, it was as though I had no skull – I had never noticed how hard and sharp the feathers of a pillow could be.

I have viral meningitis. It began with a terrible migraine-type headache and stiff neck and shoulders. Now, I feel like I’m living underwater. Sounds are muffled and my brain feels like it’s trying to expand. But I am more upbeat, and so is Freddy.

While Anna’s noticed Freddy’s mood reflect her health before, I hadn’t been as aware. Now I am under no doubt he has been born with an innate ability to empathise. The day I went into hospital he was forlorn. He wanted to be excitable, but cautiously denied himself the pleasure. He lacked his usual gusto, with which he’d normally play with his toys, and wouldn’t kick aimlessly any more (a sure sign of his happiness and playfulness).

It was during my lumbar puncture when I best sensed his awareness of the situation and his ability for compassion.

I sat on the side of the bed in the emergency department of a local hospital, the surgeon operating on my lower back behind me, and Freddy facing me as he straddled Anna’s legs. As the doctor drilled a needle into my spine, bumping some nerves on his way through that made my legs jolt, I grimaced and looked down to my boy. His eyes were locked onto mine. They didn’t waver. I think he sensed I was nervous and he was right.

The following day, as I recovered on the ward, I was in better spirits. My head felt lighter, my shoulders and neck looser and my hunger was back. My mood was uplifted, despite my playfulness still being at large. Freddy was happy, smiling and laughing; I hadn’t heard his laugh for a few days. His mood had shifted. He was less clingy and more exuberant. He may not have known my pain, but he knew I was suffering. And he was concerned about that. We’re all born with that ability.

1 comment :

  1. Beautifully written, Dan, beautifully written.