“Just monitor her this afternoon,” the doctor told me. “Bring her into urgent care at 5.”
My 2 year old woke up in the night with a low grade fever, a cough, and congestion. It gradually turned into wheezy, labored breathing throughout the morning. It became progressively worse, with episodes in which she would take a deep breath in, hold it for a moment, then grunt out with the exhale.
This is not normal, I thought. But I had told the doctors her symptoms, and they told me just to watch her. They didn’t seem concerned, so I didn’t want to be an alarmist. I kept considering going to ER, but no. They told me to wait.
So wait I did. I sweat as I watched her slip into restless sleep, then wake up with particularly raspy breaths. I clenched my jaws nervously as I sat there with her, watching a movie to help her rest.
By the time my husband came home, she seemed almost normal. Sick, yes, but her breathing was much better and she was sitting up eating some pretzels. Tim at first didn’t see why I felt she needed to get to the doctor’s office.
But over the next hour, it got worse again. She began to put more and more effort into breathing. I got ready quickly, trying to distract myself from the fear that was mounting inside. We were about to get in the car when she had another episode of not quite being able to catch her breath.
We drove quickly. I could see the cavities on the sides of her neck going concave with the effort of breathing. She still kept it steady, but it was obviously paining her. She began drooling as we got out of the car. We signed into the clinic. She stopped verbally answering us, and resorted to shaking her head yes or no. I stood anxiously in one place, wiling them to call our names. We should have gone to ER. We should have gone to ER.
I don’t know now what kept me from walking out and driving her to the hospital nearby. I don’t know why I didn’t insist for help. It was just that nobody seemed to think it might be an emergency but me. The receptionists and nurses in the lobby could see her breathing. We had told them why we were there. They weren’t rushing around in a panic to see her, were they?
Finally, after an agonizingly long 10 minutes, we went back to see a PA. She looked her over and asked us a few short questions.
“Well, there could be a couple different things causing this. But in either case, this is actually a medical emergency. You can’t take her to the hospital by car, because she could just seize up breathing without warning. We need to call 911 now and have you transported.”
I started to cry. Why didn’t I call before? Why didn’t any other medical staff show more concern when I talked to them previously? Why did I sit around all day monitoring her?
We called our parents and made quick arrangements. I got into the ambulance with V and tried to hold it together. I tried to make it very light-hearted. “How neat, V, you get to ride in the big truck with the lights! Just wait, you’ll get to tell J all about this later on.” I felt it was imperative to keep her calm to help with her breathing.
“You can use lights to get us through traffic,” the EMT said to the driver. They were so kind. They asked questions and began giving her a nebulizer treatment. It was surreal, driving fast and hearing the sirens from the inside of the ambulance. The drive from our town to the hospital never felt so long. I kept trying to stay positive for V’s sake.
But I could only fool her so much with my happy talk. It seemed that the stress of the ride made it worse. By the time we reached the hospital her stomach was retracting so much it was going halfway to her back with every breath. She couldn’t speak at all. It was taking every ounce of her strength to keep breathing.
They got her into the ER, and nurses began working on her immediately. Weight, IV, rectal temp, suppository, blood samples, cultures, nasal fluid collection, more nebulizer. The doctor asked to switch her nebulizer from albuterol to epinephrine. They gave her magnesium to relax her muscles. Her heart rate was already over 200, and her respiratory rate was 40+. I was scared of how she would react to all the medications, but she was still fighting for air so I knew she needed it. For once in my life, I fully embraced modern medicine without question.
I sat with her on the bed, holding her and trying to keep her calm.
“She’s going to be okay, mom,” a nurse reassured me. “This is serious, but she’s going to be okay.”
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Tim arrived. He made sure J and baby I were safe at home with my parents. I was so glad to have him there.
As soon as V had her epinephrine, there was a marked improvement. She was able to wheeze out one word answers to us, and she seemed to be struggling a lot less. She had several x-rays done while she finished out an hour-long albuterol treatment. Everybody was starting to calm down and talk and joke a bit.
After about 90 intense minutes in the ER, V was stable.
The results of the bloodwork, cultures, and x-rays came back, it was determined that this was caused by croup. She would be admitted for observation, but probably only overnight.
Things are never quick and easy in the hospital. Everything takes a long time. She finally was admitted to the pediatric ward and finished her last albuterol treatment by about 10 pm. She was absolutely exhausted, and basically passed out during the treatment.
One by one, the nurses left, my dad came with supplies and then left, and my husband went home to be with the other kids and feed I by bottle overnight.
I paced the quiet room by myself for a bit, trying to unwind from the incredible stress that I had been holding in all day. I turned out the light but couldn’t sleep. I remembered her little chest heaving in and out harder than anything I’ve ever seen, and I lost it. I let myself lay there and finally cry it all out. The evening had been a parent’s nightmare come true.
But the nightmare came around to a happy ending. She was stable and in good hands, and I was so incredibly thankful for her monitors. I don’t think I could have possibly thought about sleep without them beeping peacefully away throughout the night. Of course I couldn’t help myself from hovering over the crib and checking on her. I saw her heart rate gradually drop back to a normal level after her last treatment. I heard her breathing- deeply, slowly, quietly, as she soaked up her much needed rest. I think I may have slept for three or four hours total, but it was all I needed.
It will have been about 36 hours since she was admitted once this post is published, and she’s still in the hospital. She needed extra time because her little body had been through a LOT, and she just wasn’t ready to come home yet after only one night. But we’ve seen huge improvements in her appetite, energy, and general well-being, and she’s had no more difficulty breathing, thank God.
This bout with croup was terribly frightening. I want my baby home, but I know she’s where she needs to be right now.
The nurse was right- she’s going to be just fine.