It was a Sunday night after a busy week of holiday travel when my oldest appeared from her bed.
“Mommy, I don’t feel well,” she said.
I felt her head. She was burning up.
Our youngest had just spent five days sick with a high fever, so I walked to my travel bag to grab the thermometer, then ran it over my daughter’s head.
“I’ll get the Advil,” I said, running back to my bag. We’d just bought a new bottle during our travels, and I was thankful, knowing we were in the midst of one of the worst winters for sickness and a medication shortage.
But when I searched through my bag, I couldn’t find it. Heart racing, I pulled out each item, my eyes searching for the familiar blue and white bottle. It wasn’t there. Somewhere in the rush of hotels and packing, we’d lost the Advil.
So I opened our medicine cabinet and found an open bottle of Children’s Tylenol. There was enough left for one dose.
I gave it to my daughter. She finally got some sleep.
But the next morning, when she still had a fever, I had no medication to give her.
We had her take a shower, then dress in cool clothing.
“I’ll grab a bottle after I drop the other kids at school,” I told my husband, who was working from home. Little did I know I was setting off on an hours-long journey.
I went to CVS first, but the shelves were empty. So I tried another CVS but made out no better. Next, I tried Rite Aid. Their shelves were empty too. With the clock ticking, I drove to the grocery store. They had one bottle of Infant Tylenol. I asked the pharmacist if I could make it work. He shook his head.
“Why don’t you try Bed Bath & Beyond?” he suggested.
I thanked him for his time, then took off, my anxiety building as past experiences haunted me.
Our kids are no strangers to high fevers. Just the week before, my youngest had battled the same upper respiratory illness my oldest now had. We’d needed alternating doses of Tylenol and Advil to keep her fever under 103 degrees. How would we battle the same illness again without those tools?
When Bed Bath & Beyond’s shelves were empty, the anxiety almost broke me.
“Can I help you with something?” a perky sales associate asked.
I shook my head, unable to meet her eyes. “I fear no one can.”
At home, I helped my listless daughter take another shower. Her fever was climbing, and she was uncomfortable, her face pale. She couldn’t stop coughing, but my search for children’s cough suppressant had gone no better. So I propped her up on the couch with pillows and offered her food and water. But the high fever had her head spinning and her stomach in cramps. She wouldn’t even drink.
As the pit in my stomach grew, I shared my fears with my village, fellow moms who I knew would understand. They all offered advice. Stores to try, places they’d seen bottles of medicine days earlier. But every place I called was sold out.
That’s when a good friend offered me half a bottle of ibuprofen.
“I can bring it over right now,” she said.
Her selflessness made my eyes well. But it was only midday, and there were still stores to call. Besides, her kids are much younger. I couldn’t leave them without a safety net.
Instead, I continued my online search as I monitored my daughter’s temperature, worry setting in each time it climbed higher. I knew I needed to find a bottle before night, that time when fevers and fears skyrocket.
And then a friend texted me back. “I’m in Westport,” she said, referring to the town over from us. “I’m going to try the CVS.”
Guilt bubbled as I pictured her adding an extra trip to her busy day. “It’s okay. You don’t have to,” I said.
“Too late. I’m going.”
And then, “I got the last bottle in the store.”
I was almost too choked up to talk as I ran to tell my daughter. “We found it!”
My daughter’s fever was under control for the rest of her illness. And I was so thankful for the amazing women who hadn’t hesitated to treat my child like their own.
It has been a challenging year. Shortages of baby formula and medications now regularly threaten the security we once took for granted. They make us rely on friends and family and online networks of strangers in ways that still feel foreign from a time long past.
Of course, I know I am incredibly blessed. My kids are healthy. A few hours without Advil is far from life-threatening. And had my daughter’s fever risen dangerously, we have a world-class hospital down the street. Yet this experience has reminded me that we are fragile. And that not everyone is as lucky.
Since this experience, I’ve thought about how it must have felt to live in the past, before modern medicine. Or how it still feels today for parents in communities where access to healthcare is a regular struggle. It is a problem I have always known exists but had never experienced. Yet there with a sick child, her temperature rising, for a moment, I could feel a tiny piece of that pain, that searing ache that comes from knowing there is nothing you can do to help the person you love the most.
This is why a week later, in the grocery store, when I saw three bottles of Children’s Advil on the shelf, I paused, frozen. The bottle we’d used for my daughter was empty. We again had nothing at home. But that day, my kids were healthy. Did I grab a bottle for us or leave it in case a desperate parent needed it?
In the end, I snatched a bottle, leaving two behind. Guilt mixed with relief as I rang it up at the self-checkout, then tucked it away on our shelf.
A week later, I got a text from a friend. “My kids have the flu. I have no ibuprofen.”
I offered our bottle. She declined. Her husband had a lead on a bottle a few towns over.
“If you don’t find one, I’m bringing it over,” I said.
But her husband got the medication. And a few days later, my daughter also woke up with the flu.
Calmly, I walked to the cabinet and pulled out the Advil. We used it all week.
So now, as I write this, that bottle is almost gone, its sticky top protecting one final dose.