(…and unfortunately, I don’t mean that in a positive way, as so many of the college students I associate with do these days.)
Well, we’ve passed another parenting milestone: the first trip to the ER with our ill baby. I will hasten to add that all is well now. But it was definitely no fun.
Between Christmas and mid-January Dylan held onto a little cold that manifested only as a persistent runny nose and a little cough, as far as we could tell. Then one Sunday we took him to the “h*ppiest place on earth” (a story for another time…) and we noticed as the day progressed that his cough was deepening. He wasn’t coughing often – maybe just once an hour or so – and it didn’t seem to bother him much, but it sounded awful.
We didn’t notice the cough or runny nose getting any worse, but he did seem to really be “snoring” on Monday night, and then again when we put him down to sleep on Tuesday evening. With hindsight, we now realize we should have been more concerned about that.
On Tuesday night, I was already in bed around 10 p.m. when Dylan woke up whimpering. M. went in to comfort him, and I could hear the little guy really panting. After trying to soothe him a bit, M. brought him into our bedroom. Dylan looked and sounded like he was working awfully hard to breath. We decided to call the advice nurse at Kaiser.
I held the little guy who slowly fell back to sleep while M. spoke with her. She asked all kinds of questions that I could hear too. Was he blue? No. Was he unconscious? No! Did he seem dizzy or was he having trouble controlling his limbs? No. Fever? No. Was he eating okay? Yes, he had been. Were his lungs “retracting”? Because Dylan spent the first few days of his life in the NICU learning how to breathe better, we knew what that meant. We unzipped his jammies and, yes, his diaphragm was visibly being sucked in whenever he inhaled.
At that point, he woke up a bit more and started coughing his barky cough. The nurse could hear him. She suggested that M. hang up and call 911!
We were shocked, scared, and horrified that we hadn’t realized the seriousness of the situation. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the first time that night.
M. called and the dispatcher indicated paramedics were on their way. Dylan watched us with big eyes while we scrambled around to put on clothes, gather his diaper bag, and otherwise prepare for a possible trip to the hospital. I remember thinking how odd it was to hear sirens in the distance coming closer, and know they were coming for us. A few minutes later, the paramedics arrived along with a big fire engine, followed by an ambulance.
Dylan was so sweet and cute as the big guys in uniforms came into our little house. But we knew he must not be feeling really well because there were only a few of his characteristic “ooooohhhhs!” when he experiences something new and interesting.
The emergency personnel were really nice with him. They tried to give him some oxygen through a mask while they checked his vital signs, but he kept pushing it away. As we had 15 months ago in the NICU, M. and I tried to interpret the various numbers and “secret code” they were using to communicate and assess what was going on.
Eventually, they told us that they advised he be transported to a hospital. (Again, we were surprised.) They brought a stretcher in, and M. and I made a quick decision that I’d go with the little guy while M. followed behind in our car. Unfortunately, because it was apparently a busy night for emergencies, the hospital closest to us and with which we are most familiar was “slammed” and they let us know they’d be taking us to another area hospital.
I got on the gurney and held Dylan tight while they strapped us both in and loaded us in the ambulance. In a moment of brilliance, M. remembered Dylan’s Puppy and passed him into us. We gave Daddy a bunch of kisses before they turned the lights and siren on and off we went.
It was pretty surreal, and because Dylan clearly didn't seem in critical danger, it was all kind of interesting to me. Thankfully, I’d never been in ambulance before. I think that part was a lot harder on M. He didn’t know how his boy was doing or where the hospital was located. (In fact, when he arrived just a few minutes after we did, the ambulance driver let him know he’d followed a little too closely! Of course, I was grateful he was already there.)
I was curious about what would happen next. It was SO not like the TV show ER, thank goodness! We were shuffled around a bit by the EMTs and the hospital personnel, but fairly quickly moved to a small room designated for pediatric patients. There was just one other little girl there with her mom. Dylan soon was diagnosed with croup, which wasn’t a surprise to us.
We were told that croup is a very common childhood illness, typically caused by the same viruses that result in a cold or just a mild sore throat, if anything, in adults. It’s usually the swelling of the larynx, and because the bronchial tubes are so small in children, the airway is obstructed. In modern times in the U.S., it rarely gets as severe as it did with our boy…which makes me feel like an awful mother for not getting him treatment sooner.
They gave us a medicated nebulizer and instructed us to keep it close to Dylan’s face, which was a real challenge since the mist seemed to bother him and he’d push it away. (When it wasn’t in his face, he’d snuggle up on our shoulder and go back to sleep.) After listening closely to his breathing and giving him a chest x-ray, they decided to give him some steroids as well, at which point they finally shared that we’d be there “several more hours” and there was a possibility that he’d be admitted to the hospital. (Another shock.)
His breathing seemed to be improving, but at some point, they evaluated him again and decided he needed another treatment of the medicated nebulizer. It was about 2:30 a.m. when I encouraged M. (who was already exhausted from working hard on a work proposal) to go home. At least one of us should get some sleep. He did so reluctantly, and I assured him I’d give him a call if anything changed, I learned something new, or we needed him in any way.
Fortunately, at about that point, the other little patient was admitted to the hospital and moved, so we had the room to ourselves and could even turn out the light. I spent the next four hours lying on a gurney, repositioning a sleeping baby so that he’d get the steam in his face but it wouldn’t wake him up. Not an easy task, and I didn’t sleep a wink.
About 6:30 a.m., Dylan woke up and started to be his active self. A new shift of nurses was on, and a very nice one came and examined him and even ordered us some breakfast. Finally, the doctor returned and told me that typically, when two of the treatments are required, hospitalization is indicated, so they were recommending admission to the hospital. (Another shock, especially with a pretty happy baby I was having trouble keeping from squiggling out of my arms.) About 8:30 a.m., I was finally told they were making arrangements to transfer us – by ambulance – to the closest Kaiser hospital, since that’s where we are insured. I called M. – who was actually able to get about three hours of sleep – to fill him in, and he was already packing up to come back to the hospital. He arrived just as the guys for the ambulance service were preparing us for transport.