Saturday, October 3, 2009

Tormented Face

Our son struggles against his bonds: his swaddle, which I have re-fixed for the eighth time tonight. He struggles because he wants to scratch his face, where pinpricks of blood mingle with interstitial fluid in a haphazard brickwork of red upon red. The creams I have applied, the ointments with which I have slathered his face -- these do nothing to keep him from his suffering. There is an itch to scratch, and the more he scratches it, the worse it will become. Or he won’t scratch it -- by some miracle I will manage to stay awake through the night, holding his hands down in their swaths of cotton -- but it will begin again tomorrow.

His face looks better. It ought to be better. He only wears cotton, now, which has been laundered and double-rinsed. He gets soaking lukewarm baths every day, and facial washings several times a day. He only drinks my milk, from which I have removed every trace of dairy from my diet -- why must it take weeks to remove the traces from his body? Why must the almighty cow -- a benign-looking, silly beast -- attack his skin so terribly?

How am I supposed to sleep? A moment could have his hands free; a moment could have him dragging blood-glazed gloves across his cheeks. How am I supposed to sleep? His head rocks back and forth. We used to think he was fighting sleep: now we know he’s trying to scratch his cheeks by rubbing his head against the mattress. How am I supposed to sleep? My son suffers, and he does not have the capacity to reason through it.

His eyes are crinkled with tiny blisters and sleeplessness. He opens them, sometimes, and stares at me when I breathe cool air upon his broken face. Too tired to smile at the relief. He knows too early that life means suffering. Or maybe he doesn’t think he suffers: maybe he already considers this normal, as I did with my persistent allergies. A tissue in every pocket, every room. My allergies, which gave him his eczema.