Twenty-four hours in a van saturated with the smell of puke. Nine changes of baby outfits and one stop at Wal-Mart for more clothes. Finally, we arrive in Vicksburg, Mississippi and take the first over-priced motel we find that is in walking distance of a restaurant. The baby is weak and pale, and I am worried beyond grief.
Mississippi – the place known to the rest of the United States as backwoods; the place I must now seek medical care for my infant daughter from an unknown doctor and unknown hospital. I have no idea which physician should be trusted with the care of my child, so I call the insurance company to get a reference. At least, it is better than playing Russian roulette with the phone book. Then, I arrive and there is an institutional feel to the multi-story building built in the late 70’s. I wait in a line surrounded by working-class people sitting in molded plastic institutional chairs. The baby in my arms does not move except for shallow breathing.
The doctor is warm and friendly. He lays the baby on the table. Her stomach sags skin. Is that normal? – he asks. No – I reply, shocked that I missed this new feature. Suddenly, undressed, she spews a puddle of diarrhea across the examining table. Sorry, sorry – I say embarrassed. Don’t worry about it – he says and calls the nurse in to take a sample. The diagnosis is dehydration from Rotavirus.
The hospital is warm and welcoming. A café surrounded by plants is located in its center. The food is delicious. My husband and I discuss what to do with our two boys. Why do our vacations always begin with someone getting sick? – he asks, vowing to never travel again.
They place my daughter in a jail-like crib and connect her to IVs. I am stationed on a fold out bed next to her. Nurses check frequently to see if I am comfortable. They allow me to hold my daughter as often as I want. My husband and boys visit the Civil War battlefield, a miniature museum, and an old mansion. I do not get to see all this history, but I find myself drawn to watching the local public access station on the television. Better than a reality show because it is real, Vicksburg city council records and airs its meetings. I watch captivated with the public complaints and the mayor’s attempts to deal with them. During the day, I learn tips on transplanting clippings and watch an exercise program at the senior center. I feel I am a part of local life.
Over the next two days, my daughter gains strength. She gains weight. The doctor visits and tells us he will keep her and extra day to make sure she does not start again further down the road. When we check out of the hospital, we visit the first Coke factory and another mansion with a cannonball still stuck in the wall. The boys are thrilled and fascinated, but I am relieved. I will always remember Vicksburg for the great medical care, kind hospital staff, and interesting city council meetings. More importantly, I will remember Vicksburg for healing my child despite the rest of the nation’s prejudice against Mississippi. What tourist attractions can compare with that?
~ Jennifer Reinoehl, IUSB