There is a little known law of the Cosmos that runs thus:
‘If your husband is out of town, your chances of having to deal with a serious medical emergency involving a child, increase significantly’.
So it really should have come as no surprise that whilst my husband watched belly dancers and dug for gold in a desert – or whatever it is that he does – I should wake up to a son who had lost the ability to walk. He was like the drunkest drunk and could only manage three lurching steps before keeling over with a thud.
You know it’s bad when you arrive at the hospital and they whisk you past the queue and ensconce you in a private room. You know things are not good when the junior doctors are crowding into the room and the Consultant can barely contain her excitement at this rare example before her. You know it’s all gone horribly wrong when they tell you it’s viral Meningitis.
You may sit sobbing in the corridor as they perform a lumbar puncture and you might be slightly shaky as you follow the trolley down to the EEG room. When your son starts to vomit violently whenever he’s upright, you may really, really wish that the flight bringing your husband to your side had landed 10 hours earlier.
The admission to hospital was a formality; I’d come prepared with a bag. Yet I wasn’t prepared for the drip, the sensors on his chest and a son who seemed to be travelling off to a land of his own. His eyes stared dully at me and he cried from time to time because of the pain in his head. He drifted off into sleep and didn’t really wake up for a couple of days. When he was wheeled off for tests and scans, the concern and worry written on the faces of strangers in the lift, filled me with dread. Their expressions told me that they were looking at a little boy who was very ill. I just couldn’t believe it was my little boy who was so ill.
The lowest point came – as surely it always does – in the early hours. I was woken by the alarm from the monitor and watched as my son’s heart rate slowed down and then crawled back up again. It did it again. And again. I told a nurse, and her quick trot down the hall to get a doctor didn’t fill me with hope. The doctor stood next to me and we watched together. He left the room and returned with a portable ECG machine. He fixed on the sensors and concentrated for another ten minutes on the printout. The silence was deafening.
I haven’t told you, but our hospital room had a five star view of the Eiffel Tower. I haven’t told you, but my son was admitted on December 20th, and by now it was about December the 23rd. All through the festive period the Eiffel Tower twinkles on the hour for ten minutes; it’s a lovely sight. As the doctor pored over the machine I turned and stared out of the window. The Eiffel Tower was twinkling at me. With my own heart constricted to a tiny ball, I stared at the twinkles and thought very clearly;
‘As I stand here looking at the Eiffel Tower, my son is going to die.’
It was a very low moment.
My son did not die. He was very ill for 9 days. For 9 days of Christmas. The celebrations we had planned were in tatters. We couldn’t all sit on the bed on Christmas morning and squeal with delight at each other’s goodies. We couldn’t go and decorate the tree that was standing forlornly outside the house where were due to spend part of the festive season. We couldn’t drive to England wearing the Christmas hats we’d bought for the occasion. We spent the days and nights doing shifts at the hospital and struggling to muster Christmas cheer for our other children.
He finally came home on December 29th. He was unsteady on his feet, and uncoordinated. It would be weeks before he was back to his usual boisterous self. We did manage a dash to the UK and we eventually decorated, and then planted, our tree. It stands in our garden as a memory of the awful Christmas of 2006.
It was a year ago today that my boy was admitted to hospital. A lot happens in a year, but memories can remain raw. They can haunt you and tinge your life with fear. Yet I’m trying to push them aside and focus on the imminent festive celebrations.
We decorated the house last weekend and we’ll be on our way there in a couple of day’s time. The tree is standing outside; impatiently waiting to be brought in and adorned. If the Cosmos allows, I’m hoping that this Christmas will be happy and healthy. I think it will be all the more precious because of the Christmas that never was.
Dear readers, I shall eat my mince pies, drink to the health of my family, and see you in the New Year. Have a really lovely Christmas!
Meningitis Mince Pies (makes at least 12)
This year I made my own mincemeat (get me, I'm so perfect) partly 'coz it's not easy to get here in France, and partly to be a domestic goddess. However, bearing in mind that Christmas is only 5 days away (inhale, exhale) it's probably best to rush out and buy some gluten free stuff in a jar.
For the Mincemeat:
My first two daughters gasped - and one gagged - when they tried this in a pie...you probably want to reduce the alcohol content if serving to small children. The baby couldn't get enough of the pies though, I'm not sure that's a good thing...)
4 medium eating apples
4 tbsps Calvados (or apple juice)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla pod
200g muscovado sugar
150g chopped dates
150g dried cranberries and blueberries (or just cranberries)
2-4tbsps chopped ginger in syrup (or about a 1cm cube of fresh ginger)
1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg (or a good grating of fresh nutmeg)
the zest, juice and pulp of one orange
100ml of brandy (or you could try orange juice, although I haven't given that a whirl yet)
- Peel, core and finely chop the apple. Put the apple, Calvados (or apple juice), cinammon and vanilla pod into a saucepan. Over a low heat, gently bring it to the boil. Let it simmer for a couple of minutes then remove the vanilla pod, split it down its length, and scrape the innards into the pan
- Add the sugar, and stir until it has dissolved. Remove from the heat
- Add the rest of the ingredients and stir thoroughly. Leave to cool completely, then place into clean jars that you have briefly heated in a low oven (to sterilise)
- Place a disc of baking parchment over the top of the mincemeat in the jar, then set aside in a cool dark place for, well as long as you have. Mine snoozed for about three months
For Dairy free pastry:
300g wheat flour
150g dairy free spread
cold water to bind
- Put the flour into a large mixing bowl
- Add the dairy free spread and rub it into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs
- Make a well in the centre, and add 2 tbsps of water. Mix with a metal spoon. Add another 2 tbsps water and repeat until you have a smooth, pliable dough
- Follow the steps outlined below* for rolling out and assembling the pies
For gluten free, dairy free Pastry:
200g sweet potato, (peeled, cooked, cooled and mashed)
200g sweet potato, (peeled, cooked, cooled and mashed)
100g dairy-free spread
Icing sugar to decorate
Icing sugar to decorate
- At least 4 hours, and up to 24 hours, before you're ready to start your mince pies, cook the sweet potato, let it get completely cold and put it in the fridge
- Heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius
- Put the rice flour, xanthan gum and baking powder into a large mixing bowl
- Add the dairy free spread and rub it into the flour. It won't look like fine breadcrumbs, it'll end up fairly lumpy
- Add the sweet potato to the bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon. After a bit abandon the spoon and start to squidge it together with your hands until you have a smooth dough
- *Flour your work surface with rice flour and roll out the dough. If it's too sticky add extra rice flour, it doesn't seem to make the pastry tough or dry
- *Roll out to a thickness of 2-3mm, and stamp out a large round with a pastry cutter, and then a slightly smaller round for the top
- *Grease a mince pie tin lightly with dairy free spread, then press the larger round into the tin. Dollop on some mincemeat (just over a teaspoon), then use the smaller round to make a lid
- *Press the edges together, plead with them, mould them with the end of a teaspoon and try and stick them together with a bit of water. Hope for the best
- *In a bid to get my pies to go golden, I smeared them with my daughter's 'allergy milk' (Nutramigen). You couldn't taste it in the final product, but alas, it didn't really make them very golden. I covered this fact up with sprinkled icing sugar
- *Prick the top of each pie with the point of a sharp knife and place the tin into the oven
- *Bake for 12-15 minutes, the tops will go slightly golden and some of the cheeky mincemeat will try to ooze out
- *Allow to cool for a bit in the tins, then ease them out and place them on a cooling rack to cool. When ready to serve, sprinkle with icing sugar
- *Eat with gay abandon, repent in January
The pies shown are egg free, dairy free and gluten free© Pig in the Kitchen 2007