Chapter 1: Weird Times
It Could be Worse
Tony and Ziva have a small rough patch as Ziva's anxiety goes into overdrive with the 2020 social isolation due to COVID-19.
Chapter 1 – Weird Times
Ziva's six week post-partum check-up was completed virtually due to the pandemic gripping the world. Tony kept the four kids occupied while his wife met from her home office with her ob/gyn via Zoom. The adult DiNozzos and even Tali were becoming proficient in the virtual meeting application. The main user in the household was Tali, with her daily sessions with her kindergarten teacher and classmates.
Rivka and Beth had nursed before Ziva's appointment; she was still doing what Tony called the "tandem thing." A baby on each side of their mother, happily ingesting their mother's milk; afterwards, if he was home, he helped burp one of the infants.
Tali and Anthony were fascinated with their twin sisters; now that the babies were staying awake some between feedings, the older two children enjoyed trying to get their little sisters to smile. Both Riv and Beth watched their older brother and sister from their play mats on the floor.
With both parents working from home, they took turns watching all four to give the other a break or some focused time for work. Tony did all of the family grocery shopping once per week; he tried to get out to the stores as soon as they opened to avoid the masses that tended to populate the stores later in the day. With four young children at home to worry about contracting the virus and his own high-risk status, he wore a mask and latex gloves each time he ventured out to shop, washing his hands as soon as he got home.
Ziva was content to stay at home, protecting her children and keeping their day-to-day routine as normal as possible. When Tony offered to stay with the kids so that she could get out for a break and some alone time, she shrugged it off. He thought nothing of it at first.
As April turned into May and then to June, the social distancing and mask-wearing when out and about became the new normal. Tali and Anthony played in the backyard or inside without much of a fuss. Tali's kindergarten year ended before Memorial Day, so the family was no longer scheduling things around her daily Zoom sessions. The twins were changing rapidly and watched their older siblings constantly.
Ziva was content to stay home and to have Tony be the one to do shopping and run necessary errands. He enjoyed the brief escape from the house, even if it was just to get groceries and household supplies. Ziva shrugged off his suggestions to get out for a break from the children, so he eventually stopped mentioning it.
On the morning of 15 June, the twins woke for their usual 0400 feeding; Ziva nursed both girls together, and Tony took Rivka from her afterwards to burp the baby and rock her back to sleep. Riv dozed off into a milk-induced slumber readily so Tony placed her back in her crib shortly after he was sure the baby was asleep. He glanced over at Ziva and Beth.
"She is fussy," Ziva whispered as the baby moved in her Ima's arms. "She closes her eyes and then moves and opens them again." She softly hummed a lullaby to the tiny girl. Ziva's head started drooping.
"Hey," Tony gently took his youngest from Ziva. "Go back to bed; I'll get her settled." Ziva headed to the master bedroom as Tony cradled the infant. After about thirty five minutes of rocking, walking the hallway, and finally swaddling the child, she fell into slumber. He placed Beth in her crib and checked on Rivka. A final check that the baby monitor was turned on, and he headed to the master suite where he quickly snuggled up against his sleeping wife and drifted off himself.
The first cries came over the baby monitor at 0722; Tony had just looked at his bedside clock before he heard one of the babies crying. Ziva stirred as he slid his feet out from under the sheet and sat up.
"Stay there," he suggested. "I'll get the girls and bring them in here for you. Tali and Anthony will be up soon also, so I can get breakfast started after I get the twins." Ziva shifted on the bed.
"That is a plan," she headed to the bathroom while her husband headed out of the master suite to get the babies.
Tony entered Rivka and Beth's room to the sound of matching cries. 'Baby in stereo.' He smiled to himself as he scooped up Rivka and rested her in his left arm. He moved to Beth's crib; she was still swaddled, but drenched in sweat. He quickly used his free hand to unwrap her from the blanket and scoop her up. She fussed as her twin tried to rut into his chest.
"Okay little Ninjas, let's go find Ima and the good milk," he spoke softly to his daughters. "Abba's going to take you to the milk machine, but don't tell Ima that I called her that. She'll throw paperclips at me." He kept up the soft talking until he got to the master bedroom where Ziva was propped with the two nursing pillows on her side of the bed.
Since Rivka was closest to Ziva, he handed her off first. Ziva got the baby settled on her right side and no sooner had she got the little one in place than the baby began sucking greedily.
"She nurses like Anthony," Tony commented. Ziva nodded as he helped get Beth in place. The baby fussed and squirmed as Ziva tried to get her to start nursing. She finally latched and sucked for a bit. Then she stopped and started fussing again.
"Why is she sweaty?" Ziva asked Tony.
"I had to swaddle her to get her to sleep earlier," he explained. "I guess she got too warm?"
Ziva used one of the burp cloths to wipe Beth's tiny head. She gently prodded the baby to nurse again and finally succeeded in getting the little one to drink.
"I hear Tali and Anthony in the kitchen," Tony turned to tend to the older children since Ziva was settled with the babies feeding. "Let me go get them some breakfast; I'll be back to help burp when I can."
Tony made scrambled eggs and toast for the older two and got them situated at the breakfast nook table in the kitchen with their food and cups of juice and milk. He walked to the master bedroom to help Ziva and to see when she would be ready for some breakfast.
Rivka was lying on her back cooing at Ziva who held a fussy Beth, still trying to get the baby to nurse properly. Tony could see a trace of frustration on his wife's face.
"Want me to take Riv?"
Ziva shook her head, "No, take Beth please. She won't nurse and she's very fussy. Maybe you can have some luck with getting her settled down. I'll change Rivka and then come get some breakfast."
Tony grabbed the baby sling from the chair on Ziva's side of the bed; he expertly wrapped it around himself and then slid his number three Ninja into the folds. She was still fussing, but not as loudly; the semi-swaddling of the sling seemed to comfort her.
In the kitchen he put two slices of bread into the toaster, cleaned up the dishes from Tali and Anthony, and scrambled two more eggs to cook. Beth was mostly quiet, so he grabbed a clean plate from the cabinet and filled it with his breakfast. He poured another cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice. Rather than disturb Beth, who was lying peacefully in the sling, he ate standing up at the counter.
Ziva came into the kitchen with Rivka; he popped another two slices of bread into the toaster and broke an egg into the skillet. Ziva had been on a fried egg kick lately, putting it in between her slices of toast to make an egg sandwich. He placed a slice of toast on the plate he had used, slid the fried egg on top, and put the second slice of toast on top of the egg. He handed the plate to Ziva who had poured herself a glass of milk.
"Give me Riv, and I'll put the girls on their play mats for tummy time," he suggested. "That way you can eat in peace and the girls can watch Tali and Anthony play." He propped Rivka on his left shoulder and headed to the family room.
"Tali or Anthony, would one of you please put the play mats down for your sisters?" Both older children grabbed a soft mat and set it on the floor; they loved entertaining their little sisters during mat time and tummy time.
Tony placed Rivka on her belly; she immediately propped her arms in front of her and lifted her head to watch her older siblings, cooing to them. He lifted Beth from the sling and set her on her belly as well. The baby lay on the mat with her fist in her mouth for a few minutes before lifting her head to look around.
With the twins on their mats, Tony headed back to the kitchen to finish his coffee. He and Ziva had just put all the dirty dishes into the dishwasher when Anthony came running into the kitchen.
"Ima, Abba; Beth barfed!" he tugged his mother's hand. "She burped and then farted and then barfed. Tali moved her away from the mess."
Both parents rushed to the family room; Beth was on her back near the edge of her mat. She was looking around the room and watching both Tali and Rivka. Riv was still on her tummy, head up and looking around.
Ziva carried Beth to her room to get the soiled clothing off the baby, clean her up, and put on fresh diaper and clothing. She sat in the rocking chair afterward nursing the fussing little one. At last she nursed properly, so Ziva figured the baby had an upset stomach earlier. Beth fell asleep nursing, so Ziva placed her in the crib, made sure the baby monitor was on, and headed back to the family room.
"She okay?" Tony looked up from his recliner; he had Rivka propped on his left side so she could watch Tali and Anthony playing a video game.
"She fell asleep nursing, but she did finally nurse well," Ziva stretched. Riv spotted her Ima and grinned. The baby didn't whimper or start fussing, so Ziva grabbed a controller for the video game and spent some time playing with the two older kids.
When Rivka did start fussing and acting like she wanted to nurse, Ziva took her to her room and sat in the rocking chair to let the baby drink. Beth was still soundly asleep when Ziva put Rivka in her crib after the older twin had dozed off after her mid-morning feeding.
Chapter 2: I Cannot Do This
Chapter 2 - I Cannot Do This
Rivka slept about an hour; she woke up and cooed to herself. When Tony went to get the baby from her crib, she was smiling and swatting at the colorful animals on her crib mobile. He watched her from the doorway for a few minutes before going into her line of sight. She was a happy baby for the most part, but a lot like Anthony on her feeding.
As he changed the little girl's diaper, Beth sighed in her sleep but did not waken. He left her to sleep figuring she would make herself heard on the baby monitor when she was ready.
Ziva was preparing lunch for the family; peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for all. He and Tali preferred the grape jelly while Ziva and Anthony preferred strawberry preserves or strawberry jam. Rivka smiled and cooed at her Ima but didn't seem to be eager to nurse, so Tony put her into the bouncy seat by the table. She watched her older siblings and parents happily.
Anthony gulped his milk and then burped very loudly; Riv chuckled out loud as the others turned their attention to the little girl.
"Ima, she laughed!" Anthony was excited that his little sister had laughed for the first time, and that he was the one who made her laugh. Tony held up his hand so Anthony could high-five. Ziva shook her head; boys will be boys, she thought.
By the time everyone finished their lunch, Riv was starting to fuss. Ziva lifted the baby from the bouncy seat and took her into the family room to nurse. She settled into Tony's recliner with the infant as Tali and Anthony helped their Abba clean up from the meal.
When the paper plates and napkins were in the trash and cups were in the dishwasher, Tony reminded the two children about the afternoon quiet time. "Remember it's quiet time now; please find a book to read or a quiet activity to do in the play room. Anthony you can also have quiet time in your room if you want." Often the three year old would lie on his bed with a picture book and fall asleep for half an hour or so.
As the two older children headed to the play room, Tony checked on Ziva and Rivka.
"She is almost done nursing," Ziva looked up when her husband entered the room. No sooner had she spoken than the sounds of Beth fussing and whimpering came from the baby monitor app on both of the parents' phones. "Here, if you will burp her, I will go to Beth." She handed the baby to Tony.
When Ziva entered the twins' room, Beth was awake but not making much more than a whimpering sound. She noticed the sheen of sweat on the baby's head as she neared the crib. She felt Beth's forehead; the child was burning with fever. Ziva grabbed the forehead thermometer from the shelf above the changing table as Tony came into the room.
"She filled her diaper," he explained. "What's wrong?" he noticed the worried expression on his wife's face.
"Beth is burning with fever; I am going to do the forehead scan and if we need to, you can help with the rectal thermometer," Ziva tried not to let her worry show. She put the device near her daughter's head as Tony quickly changed Riv's diaper. He had just snapped the last snap in the bottom of her onesie as Ziva turned to him.
"One hundred three point two," Ziva frowned with worry. She put the thermometer on the nightstand and lifted the baby from her crib. Beth was like a limp ragdoll in her Ima's arms.
Tony put Rivka in her crib and wound the music box on the mobile, hoping it would keep the older twin occupied while he helped Ziva take Beth's temperature with the more accurate thermometer. She stripped the baby's diaper off and placed her face down on the changing table as Tony lubed the ball end of the thermometer with petroleum jelly.
"One hundred three point four," Tony read as Ziva put just a diaper on the baby. "Don't the baby books and websites say to contact the doctor if the temperature is over one hundred and two?"
Ziva nodded; she already had her phone in hand and was scrolling the contact list to find the pediatrician's office hotline. Beth lay on the changing table barely moving. Tony noticed a glassy-eyed look and wondered if she was even aware of her parents' presence.
"Yes, thank you," Ziva completed her call with the pediatrician's nurse who answered the hotline call. She turned back to Tony, "The hotline nurse says we should take her to the emergency room since the fever is so high and she is like a ragdoll. She will call ahead so the ER staff know to expect us."
"Okay; who can we get to stay with the other kids?" Tony was thinking out loud. "Maybe Ellie? Or I'm sure Jared is available since school is out for the summer. I'll call Ellie and you can try Jared?"
"Yes," Ziva quickly found the contact information for Jared Vance and dialed the teen as Tony called Ellie. Luckily, both were available, and Jared was actually close by and not at home. He told Ziva he could be at the house in fifteen to twenty minutes. Ellie was at home, but she could be at the house in thirty minutes.
"One of us should go to the ER with the baby while the other waits for Jared and Ellie," Ziva suggested. "You go; I will be there as soon as one of the two arrives." Ziva was not looking forward to going out, but her fear of being in the contaminated world was overruled by her worry for her sick baby.
Tony lifted his limp baby from the changing table and cradled her in his left arm. He could feel the heat from her fever; she did not move as he carried her to the front door. He grabbed his keys and a mask and headed out to the family's minivan. He secured Beth in the baby car seat behind the front passenger seat and ran around to the driver's door. He quickly started the engine and adjusted the vehicle's air conditioning to the same temperature as inside the house. He drove to the hospital as fast as he dared wanting to get the sick baby seen by a doctor as soon as possible.
Once in the parking lot, he called the ER reception desk to let them know he was on premises. He pulled on his mask and carried the baby to the entryway. A nurse met him at the doors; she scanned his temperature and motioned for him to follow her inside to an examination room.
"Elizabeth DiNozzo?" she asked; Tony nodded. "Age is about four months?" He nodded again as she ran the forehead scanner over the infant's forehead. "One hundred four point one," she noted the temperature on a chart. "The doctor will be in in about five minutes."
"Okay; her temperature went up," he noted. He sat on a chair with the baby in his arms to wait for the ER doctor.
Back at the DiNozzo house, Jared arrived thirteen minutes after Ziva called him. Ziva quickly gave the teen the details of the situation and explained to Tali and Anthony that Jared would be babysitting them and Rivka while she and Abba were at the hospital with the sick baby. Anthony fist-bumped with Jared; the teen was one of his favorite sitters.
As Ziva backed out of the driveway in Tony's truck, Ellie arrived. Ziva lowered the driver window and let Ellie know that Jared was already inside with the kids. Ellie expressed a wish for a quick diagnosis and road to recovery for Beth before Ziva sped off.
At the hospital, Ziva parked the truck and carried her mask almost to the entry doors. She called the ER reception desk to have someone meet her at the doorway. After she ended the call, she took a deep breath and reminded herself that mask was a necessary precaution due to the COVID crisis. It did little to calm her; she practiced her deep breathing exercise as she slid the mask over her nose and mouth and awaited the ER nurse.
'You can do this, Ziva. It is for your baby; she needs you right now,' Ziva tried to keep the positive self-talk going in her head to distract her mind from the covering on her face. She focused on her deep breathing exercise; inhale deeply, count to ten, let it out slowly.
The nurse came out to take Ziva's temperature. "Normally we only allow one parent to come inside for a child under eighteen, but since this is an infant, we are making an exception." She read Ziva's temperature from the device, "Okay, follow me."
Ziva followed the colorful scrubs of the nurse; the surroundings were starting to blur as her brain registered the covering over her mouth and nose. She tried to block the rising panic by focusing on a flower printed on the fabric of the nurse's scrub top. She breathed in deeply, counted to ten, exhaled slowly as she looked at the woman's back. Deep breath in, count to ten, exhale slowly. The room seemed to get smaller and the air staler as she moved deeper into the emergency area. Deep breath in, count to ten, exhale slowly… Her lungs started feeling like they were burning for air… deep breath in, count to ten, exhale slowly…
"Here you go, your husband and daughter are in this examination room," the nurse held a curtain aside so Ziva could enter. She made note of Tony standing beside the bed where their daughter lay like a wet rag. A doctor was listening to the baby's chest with a stethoscope. Tony looked up as Ziva entered.
Deep breath in, count to ten, exhale slowly… Ziva walked to her husband's side and slipped a hand into his; he squeezed her hand as she intertwined their fingers. Deep breath in, count to ten, exhale slowly; Ziva tried to focus on Beth's limp form on the bed.
"I'm going to order a blood sample drawn," the doctor informed the couple. "Hopefully, that will point us in the right direction as to what is wrong. There is no congestion in the lungs, nor is there any other sign of illness other than the high fever."
Tony nodded as the doctor spoke; Ziva barely registered the words. Deep breath in, count to ten, exhale slowly. The walls and curtains seemed to be closing in around her. Her brain short-circuited… she tugged at Tony's hand and when he turned to her, she had a panicked look in her eyes.
"Are you okay?" he asked. The doctor looked at Ziva when Tony spoke.
Ziva couldn't reply; her mind was now focused only on the damned mask. The mask that was over her face; over her mouth and nose; preventing her from breathing. Her fingers tore at the mask as she ran from the examination area; where were the doors to the outside? She glanced around and saw the doors; she ran towards the exit.
Tony was torn; he knew that Ziva was now in full-on panic mode. His baby needed him but so did his wife.
"Stay with your daughter," the doctor sensed Tony's indecision. "I will order the blood draw and find someone to check on your wife. Does she have panic attacks often?"
"Um, okay," Tony still wanted to run to Ziva, to be her rock, her safety in the internal storm. "Um, Ziva has had them in the past, but not in a while… She probably went outside." He heard the text message alert chime on his phone as he spoke. He pulled the phone from his shirt pocket; Ziva.
He swiped at the screen; 'I am fine.' He didn't believe her message one iota. The doctor had left the curtained-off examination area, probably to order the blood tests. He replied to her quickly.
'Not buying it; that was a panic attack.'
'I am in the van; A/C on full blast. I am fine.'
'Stay there; someone will be out to check you over.'
'NO! I am fine.' Tony snarled to himself; stubborn Ninja.
'Who are you trying to convince? I KNOW you are not "fine." Let a doctor check you over, please?'
'I will come to the door, but no mask. I cannot do this.' Ziva let out a sigh; she knew in her rational mind that she should be checked over. Her rational thinking was just starting to return; inside the hospital, with the mask on, all rational thinking flew out the window when her brain short-circuited.
The phlebotomist entered the cubicle with her blood kit. She checked her tablet, "Elizabeth DiNozzo?"
Tony nodded and gestured towards his little girl, still lying on the bed. She was awake but very still; her eyes were glassy from the fever.
"Since she is so young, I will be drawing the blood from her heel," the woman explained. "I may need you to keep her still once I get the needle inserted."
Tony gulped; how he hated needles… but he would be strong for his baby. "Um, yeah, sure, just let me know what to do," he replied.
He tried not to look at the syringe as she set up for the blood draw. Beth didn't even whimper or flinch when she inserted the needle into the infant's heel. Tony looked away from the needle and focused on little Beth's face.
"All done; this has a rush order on it, so the doctor should have results in about an hour," the phlebotomist packed up her kit, and marked the sample with Beth's name and record number.
Chapter 3: With You By My Side
Chapter 3 – With You By My Side
Ziva let a nurse check her vitals and the doctor who was attending Beth also came out to check on the child's mother. He wrote a prescription for anti-anxiety medications, but Ziva insisted that she did not want medicine because she was nursing.
"These meds are safe for your nursing baby," the doctor pointed out.
"I am nursing two, not one," Ziva replied. "I do not want my daughters to be affected by anything that I am taking."
"She's a twin?"
"Yes, and Rivka is not sick at all. The girls share a room; should I be worried about my other children also falling ill?" Ziva finally voiced a part of her fears with Beth's mystery fever. She would protect her children at any cost, even her personal health.
The doctor thought before responding, "Since we don't have results of the blood test yet, let's not get too worried at this point. If the other children seem fine, most likely they will stay well." He glanced at his phone; "In fact, the lab results are back. Let me go check what they show and I will get back to you or your husband very soon." He turned to re-enter the building as Ziva swiped the screen on her phone.
'Doctor checked me over; script for anxiety med. Almost back to normal.'
Tony replied quickly, 'Waiting for results of blood tests. Will let you know what doc says. Are you staying here or heading home?'
'I will wait outside; I cannot handle the mask over my face.' She had a strong suspicion that the mask triggered the PTSD from Somalia in her subconscious mind. Would she admit that to Tony? She wasn't sure, but her logical side said that he would figure it out anyhow.
'Okay; I love you.'
Tony put his phone in his pocket when the curtain was pushed to the side to allow the doctor to enter the cubicle. He looked up as the man frowned at his tablet screen. Beth had dozed off on the bed after Tony had stripped the child to her diaper in an effort to cool her body down some.
"Mr. DiNozzo," the doc began. "The blood tests show no signs of any infection, viral or bacterial. That would be a mostly likely scenario for an underlying cause for your baby's fever. Even the white blood cell count is normal, not showing anything that would indicate that her body is fighting an invasive presence."
"So, what you're saying is, you don't KNOW why she has the fever?"
The doctor sighed, "Exactly. I can give her some acetaminophen to attempt to reduce the fever." He consulted his tablet, "Let's see; she is twelve point three pounds. I'll have the nurse give her the first dose of medication and bring instructions and a prescription for you to take with you."
He checked the little one an additional time; she was sleeping soundly. "She doesn't seem to be dehydrated; did she eat at all today?"
"Fussy at her early morning feeding, but she nursed well mid-morning according to my wife," Tony replied. " Nothing since."
"Get some electrolyte rehydration fluid for children and infants when you get her script filled; keep her hydrated. Loose, lightweight clothing and lukewarm sponge baths will help as well. Any questions?"
Tony shook his head, then looked up from his baby, "What about my wife?"
"From what I could tell, she had a severe panic attack. Does she have them often?" the doctor replied.
Tony hesitated, "Not any more. She's had a rough life until about four years ago. It takes its toll on one's mind and body. I… I'm… not sure… how much… how much… I should share…" He trailed off; perhaps he should let Ziva share what she wanted rather than get into her whole history with a doctor who would probably only see his wife once.
The man nodded, "I gave her a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication that is safe for her to use while nursing. Change of subject; how many other children do you have?"
"Three; the oldest is six, then a three year old, and the twins were born in February," Tony replied. "Should we be worried about them getting this fever also? Is it COVID-related? Do we need to get tested?"
After the doctor reassured Tony that the mystery fever was not COVID-related nor was it caused by any type of infection that could be found via blood testing, he wrote up the discharge orders for Beth. Tony sent a text message to Ziva while he waited for the final okay to leave.
Once everything was good to go, he put the baby's onesie back on and cradled her in his left arm. She stirred slightly but did not wake. He put the back of his hand on her forehead; she felt less feverish to him. Maybe the acetaminophen was reducing the fever.
Outside, he met Ziva at the family's minivan. She had moved to the vehicle when the sun had made it too hot to sit by the walkway to the ER entrance.
"She's doing a little better," he noted to Ziva as he set the infant in her car seat. "Got a shot of fever-reducer and it seems to be working. Also have a script for more. Why don't you give me your prescription and I can get these filled and meet you at home?"
"Tony, I am fine," Ziva insisted. "I do not need any medications."
He sighed and took her hands in his, looking her in the eyes. "Ziva, you are not fine. That was a full-blown panic attack, the likes of which we haven't seen since before Anthony was born. I just…"
"Do you think I cannot take care of myself?" she replied angrily. "I got myself away from the trigger and into a neutral place. I calmed myself."
"Oh, Zi; that is not it at all," he was at a loss. "I just… I just want to know that you're okay. I don't like to see you hurting…"
"I am sorry that I exploded just now," she whispered. "It is just that… well… the feeling of being out of… of control… it frightens me. My baby needed me and I could not be there for her. I… I feel that I am a bad mother…"
"The mask… over my face; I think it triggered things from… there…" she stopped and looked at him, her eyes locked with his.
Tony put a hand on his wife's cheek, "What can I do?"
Ziva shrugged, "I do not know. Well… you can continue to be the one who goes out for groceries and other supplies. I just cannot…"
"Hey," he pulled her to him. "At lo levad."
Two days later, Beth was back to her usual self. It was as though she never had any fever or illness at all. Tali helped with sponge baths to cool the baby down. Anthony tried to help by entertaining Rivka and making her laugh.
Ziva didn't have any more serious panic episodes; she spoke with her regular mental health professional and found an alternative to the cloth mask that allowed her to have protection and avoid the panic attacks. The plastic face shield, similar to what Jimmy used in autopsy was much better than the cloth mask, but still was not easy for Ziva to use. Even so, she did not leave the house much, preferring that Tony be the one to go out for groceries and other needed supplies.
It would be another twenty-four years before the full effect of the fever would be determined. Beth learned that the fever had damaged her ovaries and a significant number of her eggs. She and Charles had a struggle to conceive a child and when they did have their daughter and son, the young couple appreciated the miracles they had been blessed with in Rebecca and Robert.