The Sick Kid: Sleeping with a guilty heart


I walked out of the dentist’s office after getting my teeth cleaned. Because of the pandemic it had been a year or two. Okay, three.

Don’t judge me.

Outside, I could hear children playing. I can’t tell you how sad that made me. You see, for the most part my eight-year-old granddaughter is a typical kid. She lives to play. In fact, we always have to get on her to eat because she’d rather be playing. One time, we stopped at her favorite restaurant, Chick-fil-A. This was before The Great Toilet Paper Shortage when their playgrounds were open. She liked scrambling through their playhouse, making friends. In fact, sometimes she didn’t want to come out at all because she was having so much fun.

“Eat first, play later,” I’d tell her.

“Eating’s not my thing,” she’d answer, matter-of-factly. “Playing’s my thing.”

The funny thing is, when she does eat it takes her forever to finish. She’ll sit there contemplating her next shenanigan. If I tell her to finish her food before it gets cold, she’ll explain, “I have a small mouth. Why are you trying to make me eat so fast?”

There’s a school down the block from my dentist’s office, so when I walked out to the sound of children playing it caught my attention. Healthy kids. Chasing each other. Yelling happily.

Sadly, my granddaughter has had to stay home these last three days because of her asthma. Don’t get on me if I get some details wrong, but her pulmonologist took her off her medication because of a test he wanted to administer. She developed a small cough. When her coughing turned serious, we had to take her back. According to her doctor, she has the coughing kind of asthma. Which means, instead of wheezing, she coughs. The doctor prescribed something in addition to her usual routine and scheduled a chest x-ray.

“Her breathing sounds clear,” he told my eldest daughter, her mother, “but we just want to make sure.”

Who’s this “we” doctors always refer to?

Turns out, one of her lungs is hyper-inflated. Maybe it sounds worse than what it is, I don’t know. Why can’t she just be a healthy little girl enjoying her childhood?

Looking in on her in her bedroom the other night, she was in the middle of a breathing treatment. Bluey was playing on her TV. It breaks my heart seeing her do her breathing treatments. She should be running around, getting into trouble, but instead we have to keep her in when it’s too cold or too dusty.

I brought along a pack of Harry Potter playing cards. When she was done I asked if she wanted to play blackjack. Before you call Child Protective Services, I play blackjack with her because it teaches her to add numbers quickly. She looked through the pack and became upset when she couldn’t find the one with Fang, Hagrid’s lovable boarhound.

“It has to be there,” I assured her.

“It’s not, and that was my lucky card.”

She was on the verge of tears.

“Maybe you kept it the last time we played,” I suggested.

“No, remember you said to keep it here so we wouldn’t lose it.”

I didn’t remember, but it sounded like something I would say.

As she was looking through the cards, I double-checked the ones she discarded. There was no Fang. Where could it be? I looked in the empty box. Just maybe… but it wasn’t there either.

“Maybe it fell under the piano,” my wife suggested. “Remember you had them there?”

That was a lot of remembering I had to do, but it was worth a shot. I walked over to the piano and got down on all fours.

“As long as you’re down there…” my wife said, handing me a duster.

Our piano is an upright, over a 100 years old, and heavy. She wanted me to dust underneath. My wife is not only beautiful, she’s sneaky.

When I got back to my granddaughter’s room, her mother was there putting the breathing treatment equipment away.

“Tomorrow,” she told her, “when we get the prescription, you’ll start the steroids.”

My granddaughter was quiet. Her eyes were moist.

“What’s wrong?” her mother asked.

I was sure I was in trouble. I thought she was going to tattle that I lost her lucky card, but instead she broke down crying. It was never about the missing card. What was really bothering her came out in a rush.

More medicine?” she cried. “I’m tired of being the sick kid. I can’t do anything because I’m always sick.”

When I went into her room later to kiss her goodnight, she was still crying.

“I feel like I’m the worst kid ever,” she told me. “I’m always going to the hospital. To the hospital! To the hospital! To the hospital! The other kids are always hearing me cough at school, and I feel bad for mom. She’s always taking me to the doctor. I wish there was a cure.”

The next day, she felt better.

“Grandpa, Sadie has asthma.”

She was talking about her dog.

“She does?”

“Yeah. She coughed and she sounded just like me.”

My youngest daughter was on her way out, leaving for the gym.

“You want to come with me and work out?” she playfully asked her niece.

“Sure,” my granddaughter said, “but I’ll have to bring my inhaler.”

That was cute, but I feel a heaviness when these exchanges end up in my stories. I sleep with a guilty heart when I hear her coughing in her room and there’s nothing I can do. 

I'd rather have a healthy grandchild than a cute story to tell. 



Every house can use a grandbaby or two.



RaisingDad, Duchene, Desert Exposure 2023