After our ride in an ambulance and decorating disaster we were seen, soothed and sent home under doctor’s orders to return to hospital if he got any worse, or if we were worried.
I feel for paediatricians, all doctors actually, because I think they have to tread a fine line between dismissing concerns and scaring the shit out of parents. We returned to the hospital that week, and to our GP on ‘Day Four’ which is the bit of the bronchiolitis timeline which is often the tipping point. Indeed, it was around day four of being poorly with bronchiolitis the first time, when he was just a few weeks old, that Newborn was admitted to hospital last year.
I won’t say those days were easy. It is hard to sleep when you are supposed to be ever alert to the speed of someone small and fairly quiet breathing, and looking for subtle physical signs (like air sucking in somewhere under their chin that is always obscured by shadow) in the dark. In the end I ‘slept’ with clothes on, and Thathusband and I held our phones all night, our bed rearranged so our heads were at the foot end and our faces close to his.
We took temperatures and had a conversation every two or three hours about whether he was improving, or getting worse, or significantly more sick seeming then he had been when the ambulance came.
On the fourth day though, he was fairly chirpy. Sleepy, breathing a bit fast, bunged up. His temperature had dipped and was no longer giving the sort of results which make you take a deep breath and then do them a gain in case you’ve gone nuts. The GP was happy, though again suggested vigilance.
We decided to head for family, to go back to my parents where the boys could be spoiled and looked after, where there were kind hearts and safe hands for them and us. We took the journey slowly, Newborn was fine, breathing normally, his brother fell asleep after a long, half dazed monologue not unlike Baz Luhrmann’s Sunscreen – wise words and snatches of insight from a booster seat in the back. ‘The thing with girls, mummy’ for example, ‘is they just don’t get boys’. And ‘do you know, there are people who we haven’t met who probably don’t like us’.
We arrived late-ish but to cuddles and tea, and Newborn remained peaceful and oblivious, pulling that cutesy trick they do where everyone says ‘You would NEVER KNOW he’d been sick for a day in his life’. The relief was palpable, as I pinched salami from the fridge like a teenager. Sadly though, it wasn’t to be. When he woke up he started groaning and grunting and breathing fast and, well, struggling. Nasty word that, struggling, when you can see it in front of you in the body of a toddler who is arching to get the air in.
We went to my parents’ local hospital and again were observed. Another phrase I kept hearing was ‘he’s working too hard’. My poor soldier, body braving it to be greeted with a description you’d expect about an overstretched employee. His sats and obs were okay (get me with the lingo) and we waited around in the bright light of children’s A&E, with nice nurses and friendly young doctors. Me, my son and my mum, rugged musketeers. I felt sorry for my mum then, I had mine with me and newborn had his, she was the last line of mothering defence in a nothing land of waiting for him to get better from his ‘stable’ position.
There are signs when being poorly and finding things like breathing a bit strained morph into more dangerous battles. Rapid breathing, nostrils flaring, under the rib cage pulling in, intercostal recession, greyish lips, rasps and wheezes and pauses. I’d add the slight shuddery strangeness of a small body myself, the pull and fight which is increasingly ragged and limp at the edges.
When they come, they come. I’m no two-time loser, it only took a few moments to consider the escalation and then march out of our cubicle and push the fuck in to a conversation between two nurses. Here’s a scary thing: even more than paramedics, paediatric nurses are fucking ace at smiling and gliding around, chatting to you and your child, entwining simple baby descriptions with medical instructions and smiles as they push an emergency button and organise for you to be taken to a ward and treated. Like a Disney princess on ice, she slid around attaching tubes:
‘Well Newborn, we’ll be seeing a bit of you now I should think. Mum could you hold him, that’s right, his head as well. Tighter, I don’t want him to wriggle. You are a strong boy. Are you Grandma? Could you just hold his arms down too, and mum can put her arm across his shoulders so he stays still. He won’t like this. They never do. Yes, you are very strong Newborn. Come on, nearly there. All finished.’
He was admitted, for four days. Once in, you aren’t allowed out until they can breathe unassisted for 24 hours. It can, strangely, feel like an imposition even though the prospect of your child, any child, not being able to breathe without help is, in reality, unthinkable.
Time stood still. And we waited for the monitor screen to show consistent 100 percent oxygen saturation. For four days.