Triple Threat


It’s hard enough trying to diagnose the reason for a baby’s crying when there’s only one. But with multiple possible causes happening at the same time, I felt at a loss of what to do — I couldn’t tell if any action I took addressed a problem sufficiently. Was Timmy crying because I hadn’t fixed the problem my action had been meant to? Or because he just needed time to settle after having been distressed for so long? Or because, now that Problem A was resolved, he was now crying about Problem B or C?

After being so outspoken about how wondrous life was (both day and night) now that Timmy was exclusively on formula, I felt a little embarrassed at this rampant display of unhappiness. He was making a liar out of me! Everything had being going so well in the ensuing days after switching to formula, I couldn’t believe his present unsettledness meant it had been a bad decision after all.

He could be backed up, I thought. Apparently that’s a common problem when a baby is switched to formula. He usually had a parcel for me in every nappy, but now it had been several days since I’d been presented with one. His doctor said his belly was still nice and soft so there wasn’t a constipation problem, but his sleeping backside still left me with paranoid questions.

He could be reacting to his immunisations. If I’d had both thighs harpooned with a cocktail of dead diseases, I probably wouldn’t be too happy either. He’d reacted with a fever to his last immunisations, so I anticipated the same this time. If this was the cause of his crying, there wasn’t much I could do.

Then a third option presented itself: a hair tourniquet on his right foot, impressively weaved around all toes.

Despite my best efforts I couldn’t free them all. Most of his toes got clear of the suffocation, but his second toe still looked obstinately throttled and red, with the flesh pillowed on either side of the hair that circled it twice, making it impossible for me to get a pin underneath the hair to pull it outward. (Approaching a kicking screamer with a pin was no inspired idea to begin with.) The hair cut in so deeply that a thin red blood line was underneath it.

Unable to find an end to unweave, or to get anything underneath it for leverage, I turned to the oracle Google for answers. Usually Google’s a pretty reliable friend to get quick answers from, but this time, my searches for ‘hair tourniquet fix’ returned screeds of pages just warning parents to look out for them, with the occasional page titled, “My baby lost a toe because of a hair tourniquet!” or something equally horrifying.

Not helpful.

Now fearful, imagining my baby with no toes, I called PlunketLine — the 24/7 on-call baby helpers. I had to go to the other end of the house just to hear the Plunket nurse over Timmy’s cries. She suggested soaking his foot in a bowl of warm water, or rubbing cooking oil around the toes, to make it easier to remove the hair. When she learned I was facing two other probable causes for having an unsettled baby, and they were significant physical health issues, she transferred me to the most unhelpful person in the world, who was pretending to be a healthcare something-or-other.

The impostor made it abundantly clear that she wasn’t listening to a word I was saying.

I told her Timmy’s age, told her about his physical changes since being put on formula, about his immunisations having been done that morning, and about the hair wrapped around his toes — ‘no, they’re not going purple,’ I answered her question, ‘they’re just red’. Then within five minutes she asked how old he was, if he was exclusively breast-fed, if he’d had his immunisations, and she urged me to rush him to a doctor before his toes fell off.

“What- why?” I asked. I’d told her the toes weren’t going purple, so why was she speaking to me like I was obtuse for talking on the phone instead of rushing him to a doctor? I was less articulate in voicing this. ‘But it- I mean he- There’s not-“

“The circulation in the toes is very delicate,” she continued to reprimand in a most disapproving tone. “You need to get that hair off.”

Oh? I hadn’t realised.

“The Health Centre is open from 8 to 8, isn’t it?” she asked.

No idea.

“Pass,” I said.

“Excuse me?”

Irritated and fidgety, I’d long since concluded this woman would be no help. That made this phone call a waste of time, and something I wanted to end so I could return to the more pressing issue of Timmy’s asphyxiated toe.

“I don’t know the hours,” I said through my teeth, as politely as I could. In a bid to end the call as soon as I could, I said I’d take him to the doctor.

When I returned to my hollering baby though, the toe didn’t look as red, instead returning to its normal fleshy colour. Was the hair even still on there, after all? I couldn’t see anything in between his toes…

The frustrating thing about the near-invisibility of a single hair was that after it was removed things don’t look much different. There was still a thin red pressure line around his toes — even the ones I knew no longer had a hair around them — and of course, the thin blood line wouldn’t disappear when the hair left. The only thing I had to go on was the colour of his toes, which looked to be returning to normal.

I rubbed his foot with warm cooking oil and didn’t see any hair move from his toe, although Timmy evidently liked the foot massage, as he settled down a bit.

I must have got the hair off, after all, I thought.

So was he crying about something else? Or because his toes still had residual pain?

I tried to give him some water to help with any back door issues, but he didn’t take much. He preferred to gag on the water than swallow it.

Was he fevered from the immunisations? He didn’t feel overly warm, but I had him loosely clothed anyway.

What more could I do?

Bribe him with food, apparently.

He got a raging temperature that night, but at least he slept through most of it…with all his toes.


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