Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Trusting your gut

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I have a sick tot. Friday he was fine. Friday night he coughed himself awake until morning. By Saturday at noon he had a 102.0 temperature. Now, I’m not a worrier by nature. I know fevers can run high for kids. (Heck, I still spike a high temp when I get the sniffles.) I gave him some Ibuprofen and settled down with the kid on the rocking chair and watched The Wiggles as we waited for the medication to kick in. The meds didn’t put a dent in the fever. And I started to worry while feeling stupid for worrying. I mean, all my friends with kids were talking about some bug going around with high fevers. We just needed to wait it out.

Swapped out the Ibuprofen for Tylenol and prepared to watch the thermometer drop.


For the next 48 hours we tried every trick in the book. Alternating the meds every couple hours. Cool baths. Wash cloths on the forehead. Nothing broke the fever. Yep, I was worried even when people told me it would probably be fine by morning. Most of the time I would have said the same thing. But this time something felt “off”. My gut told me something more was going on even when I finally got the fever to break last night before midnight.

This morning my mother went with me and the tot to the doctor. The kid’s fever was almost non-existent. He was perky and greeting everyone who walked into the doctor’s office with a cheerful smile and a happy dance. The kid looked fine. Minus the cough he sounded fine. The chest x-ray told us that he wasn’t fine. Diagnosis – pneumonia.

It’s a mild case. We have drugs and hopefully by the end of this week this experience will be behind us. However, I did realize that no matter how much I told myself I didn’t want to be the parent who freaks out at every snuffle, I have to trust my gut. In fact, trusting my gut is a lesson I need to remember both in parenting and as a writer.

This summer, I took a crack at writing a young adult novel. (For those keeping score, this is THE TESTING that will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Spring of 2013) I zipped along telling the story enjoying every minute of typing then came a moment where my gut told me I had done something wrong. I was at 85,000 words. Just a chapter away from THE END. And yet – I knew something was “off”. The character was in exactly the right place I needed her to be in to write that final chapter. I told myself to just forge ahead and wait to critique my work after had hit the final page.

But I couldn’t. I was stuck. My gut told me there was something wrong and that while my character was physically in the exact place I needed her to be, how she got there was more important than where she was. (Does that even make sense to anyone but me?) So I started scrolling back through the pages to where my gut told me I’d gone off the rails. I highlighted almost 8000 words and hit cut. I pasted those words in a separate file and started anew agonizing over the new pages for days. I had been so close to the end and then hit the square on Chutes and Ladders that sends you sliding back to where the finish line looks like it will take dozens of spins to get there.

The thing is – I was right to go back and start where I felt I’d gone astray. The new pages were very different. The heroine finished in the same place, but she was not the same person when she got there. I trusted my gut and the story was better for it.

Thankfully, I trusted my gut today in that same way and got the tot in to see the doctor. Hopefully, by the time you are reading this he’ll already be better for that decision.


  1. Smart move -- with your tot and with your writing. Hope your son is feeling better.


  2. I don't know what's worse, the pneumonia or the deletion of 8000 words! Both give me a stomach ache! I hope the tot is feeling better. I was once on a business trip and came home to find out that my tot (now almost 18) had pneumonia, not the cold that everyone kept telling me she had. Pneumonia is insidious and serious. Glad he's feeling better...but seriously, can't they come up with something that tastes better than Biaxin? Great post, Joelle; I'm glad everything worked out on both accounts. Maggie

  3. Oh, how I remember those day when my kids were little. Youngest son often had something that docs called bronchial pneumonia one time and pneumonia another. Scary no matter what they decided to call it. When he was about four he started eating oranges by the bushel full--including the peels--and he never had pneumonia again.


  4. I hope Max is better soon! :( Yes, trusting your gut (no matter what) is a huge deal. I am trusting my gut that even slow writers cross the finish line! :) Congrats on the YA--how did I miss this? You know I'll read it! Stay healthy!