I missed therapy last week. At 4pm, when I should have been parking my car and entering the building, I was instead holding my son as he screamed through a nebulizer treatment on the pediatric inpatient unit of Bryn Mawr Hospital. E had been wheezing over the weekend, and we did nothing. Sure, Mr. Apron had noticed it, had asked for my confirmation (I heard it, too), but I did nothing. I figured, as with most infant illnesses, it would resolve on its own, and, with the new conservative stance on such things as cough and cold medicines for children, we wouldn’t be able to give him anything anyhow.
A miserable Monday night’s sleep had us headed to the pediatrician on Tuesday, and after they’d tried to jack him up with breathing treatments in the office, we were sent directly to the ER. What followed was a 36-hour ordeal filled with doctors, nurses, changes in treatment plans, screaming babies, childcare arrangements, and poor sleep for all. My son had to endure being poked too many times in his chubby arms. Even after digging around in his fat flesh for endless minutes, they still could not strike a vein, so the threats of putting in an IV “just in case” were abandoned, and the poor baby passed out from sheer exhaustion.
“He looks tired,” the nurses commented. “Yes,” I said, “He slept poorly last night and hasn’t had his nap yet this morning.”
“No,” they demurred, “When we say, ‘he looks tired,’ we mean, tired of working so hard.”
But whether from exhaustion, fatigue, or defeat, the child napped on the stretcher, ensconced in the same hospital blanket they’d used to restrain him for the failed IV attempts.
Hours later, he napped again, this time securely attached to my breast for the better part of an hour as he tried to rehydrate and comfort himself while blocking out the noise and lights of the hospital. By the time we reached the pediatric unit, he had rested, fed, and was perking up. It would be another 12 hours before his labored breathing relaxed enough that his little chest wasn’t retracting with each breath, but his affect was brighter, and he’d stopped the endless helpless screaming.
All Tuesday, and into Wednesday as well, I stayed by his side, cuddling my son, feeding him, and letting him sleep on me whenever he could. I tried 6 times to transfer my sleeping child to the prison-like crib provided for him, and for about 3 hours he slept by himself as I shoveled down a soggy garden burger brought up hours earlier by room service. When the white noise of the nebulizer shut off after the 1am breathing treatment, he awoke again, and I gave up on the lavish plans I’d had for myself – to pump milk for my daughter, and text message my sister – and just let him sleep by my side on and off all night. We lay on the pull-out cot together from 1:30 until he woke after 5am for his usual breakfast, despite the night nurse’s pleas that I put him down in the crib. Co-sleeping is not a hospital policy, especially for babies on oxygen, but if he hadn’t sleep with me, neither of us would have slept at all that night.
I stepped up, I rose to the occasion. I played with him for hours when my husband went home to our daughter. I left for only an hour to go home and take a nap. I advocated for his care, asked about his treatment plan, saved his diapers for the nurses to weigh, and cut up bits of fruit for his breakfast. I gave him apple juice by syringe in 5ml increments, and let him nurse whenever he wanted. I commandeered the best toys on the hall and brought in his favorite books from home. I sat for an hour just watching him sleep in the crib — after my only successful transfer — afraid to put the crib rail up for fear of making noise and waking him up.
And when we got home Wednesday night, just in time for bed, the family breathed a collective sigh of relief. The nightmare was largely over, save for nebulizer treatments every 4 hours, oral steroids, and more follow-ups to the pediatrician.
I blame myself for ignoring the wheezing and landing us all in the hospital. I blame my inadequacy as a parent. I was in denial that he was sick because I couldn’t allow myself to believe something serious could be wrong. Lurking around the corner, hiding behind that sweet baby wheeze, is asthma.
They technically won’t diagnose a baby with asthma, as they can’t really cooperate with all the breathing tests to measure tidal volume, and blowing out the birthday candles or whatever assessments Mr. Apron has told me about from his years of experience at his pediatric allergist/pulmonologist (to whom he still goes, but at least they don’t make him do the birthday cake any more). But he might have it. Having a nebulizer, giving him albuterol treatment, listening for wheezing, having an “asthma treatment plan” as part of our discharge instructions — it all scares me shitless.
“This should be the worst thing that ever happens to him,” Mr. Apron says. Asthma, or reactive airway, or wheezing when he gets a cold – all of these are manageable things. Still, I found myself collapsed on the kitchen floor at 9:40pm the night we got home from the hospital, having a whimpering, silent, self-indulgent adult tantrum about having to give my baby nebulizer treatments. Because I was in denial, and couldn’t face the fact that something real and scary might be wrong with my baby.
Eventually, Mr. Apron refused to coddle me, I shelved the self-pity, and I pulled on my big-girl panties to go help my son. I learned about all the meds, familiarized myself with the nebulizer, figured out how to detach the individual vials of meds from the plastic strips, and determined how to teach the nanny all of this horrific mess of plastic tubing and drugs. I labeled each vial with a time, and taped them to E.’s daily communication notebook.
Nebulizer aside, meds aside, asthma aside, it’s just one more task in a seemingly endless series of “have to”s in caring for my children. And it’s just exhausting. Choosing to breastfeed means managing milk, rotating my personal dairy, freezing it when it reaches close to expiration, worrying about producing enough, and making sure others know how to handle the Liquid Gold. Choosing a convertible car seat (and having to buy 4) means researching safety, ease of installation, trying them out in my tiny car, and finding the best deal (did I mention we had to buy 4?). Starting solid foods means more preparation, choosing healthy, kid-friendly foods, and keeping alert for hidden, forbidden ingredients. Managing food safety. Making bottles. Teaching my husband or in-laws how to use the car seats. It’s an awful lot, and I was managing pretty well. But along came bronchiolitis and a nebulizer, and treatments every 4 hours, and I just melted down. Being a detail-oriented, perfectionist mom is hard enough. I was stretched to my breaking point, everything just working, but without wiggle room. Adding one more “have to” just set me over the edge.
I’m okay now. I debriefed with my therapist. The nanny used a nebulizer when she was a kid. And the pediatrician said we can skip the overnight treatments, as he supports my belief that sleep is restorative and uber-important. I love our pediatrician. I may have a doctor-crush on him; don’t tell Mr. Apron.
I don’t really know how to end this post, as it was just meant to be a Brain Dump, cathartic way of processing the hospital stay and my resulting feelings. I’m glad we’re all home and on the way to healthy. I’m glad I’m no longer scared of the nebulizer. I’m relieved I’m able to care for my son. I’m scared, too, scared for the future, whether the next emergency is my son and asthma-related symptoms, or something frightening with my daughter, my husband, or my parents. It’s certainly not the last crisis in the years to come, but I hope I can get my big girl panties in gear so I can handle the situation like a grown-up.
In my house, only the babies are allowed to shit themselves.