I can’t remember a time in my experiences as a parent when I’ve actually been fearful for my child’s well-being. Until today.
Sure, we’ve been to the emergency room a time or two to tend to a grease burn or dehydration from the stomach flu. I’ve felt the pain in my own knee when my children have skinned theirs and I’ve hurt for my girls when I hear another kid say something hurtful to them. But I don’t recall experiencing a time where I was genuinely questioning whether or not my child was going to be ok, praying to God for help. Until today.
I received a call from the nurse at Elizabeth’s elementary school right as I was finishing making a sandwich for myself and getting ready to sit down for lunch. She said my daughter had been in the office twice today and that she had no temperature, but she was crying and really didn’t seem to feel well. I told her I’d be there as quickly as I could. Worried because Elizabeth had just finished her Amoxicillin for pneumonia, I called the doctor’s office to try to get the earliest appointment I could. 4:20 was the best they could do. When I arrived at school Elizabeth looked ill, but there was nothing that was overly alarming to me.
When we arrived home she agreed to try some soup. Once I got it in front of her, it wasn’t so appealing. She stared at it and hovered over it for awhile. Since she said her throat hurt I began offering her any soft food I could think of. Ice cream was the only thing she perked up for. So, ice cream for lunch it was. Hey, she was sick! And I know from experience with her getting dehydrated that any food or liquid when they are sick is better than nothing.
Soon after, things changed quickly. She laid lethargic and motionless on the couch. Her skin began to look very pale, almost gray. Her eyes were missing their brightness and sparkle. She was quiet other than an occasional whimper and wheez. Her breathing was heavy, her head was hot and her heart was racing. At 1:30 my motherly instincts kicked in (or perhaps a greater power) and I decided we couldn’t wait until her 4:20 appointment. I carried her to the car in the blanket she was wrapped in.
When we arrived at the doctor’s office, the women behind the desk could see why we were there. They know us well these days because we’ve been in so many times this school year with ear infections, strep throat, stomach flu and more. As we waited for the doctor to see her, I felt nervous and afraid. My worst fear was that the pneumonia she had been diagnosed with two weeks before had somehow gotten much worse and that the infection was taking over her body. I know from our family’s history that pneumonia can be deadly. I sat there with my arms wrapped around her praying for God’s help. I wasn’t sure why I was so emotional. Something about the situation just didn’t feel good. Was I being overdramatic? Maybe. But at that moment, I was keenly aware that I had never seen my daughter look the way she did. Even through all the illness we’ve experienced this winter and in years past. I remembered how terribly sick I felt when I had pneumonia myself a few years ago.
With her head resting on my shoulder I moved her to my lap. The wheezing in her chest was louder now. We sat for quite some time and I became impatient wondering how they could let us sit here so long when my baby was so sick. I wondered if I should have taken her to the ER instead, but after having paid for three ER visits during our bout with the stomach flu last month, I wasn’t eager to go back there quite yet. Besides, we were minutes from seeing a doctor now. She was uncomfortable so I moved her to the exam table where she laid down and began to close her eyes. This was unusual. Elizabeth never sits still. We have worked for years to train her to stay in bed in the mornings until 6:00 am, and she goes and goes and goes until bedtime and then still fights going to sleep. To see her lying on the exam table falling asleep confirmed for me just how sick she felt.
Then the doctor walked in. “How are we doing?” he asked cheerfully. I paused and mumbled, “Not very well.” That’s when I lost control of my emotions and began crying while I spoke. I don’t even recall what I said next because I was trying to pull myself together so I didn’t make Elizabeth feel scared. I explained to him that she went from looking fine to labored breathing, fever, pale skin, motionless and very much not herself very quickly. My tears quickly communicated to him my concern.
He and the med student who was with him immediately began listening to her lungs. They seemed concerned too. They completed their exam by watching her breathe for quite some time and listening to her lungs more and more. The doctors first words to me were, “So, her exam doesn’t look good.” I tried to act calm, but I was a wreck on the inside. He went on to say that he wanted us to get another X-ray to compare with the one she had a couple of weeks ago to see if the pneumonia had gotten worse or spread. First he wanted her to do another breathing treatment with Albuterol to help relax the muscles in the airways and increases air flow to the lungs. Within a couple of minutes, I could see a positive change in her. After another exam the doctor felt confident that Elizabeth’s condition was not a result of the pneumonia. He told us she was in a state of severe respiratory distress from inflammation in her lungs. Left untreated, it could have led to respiratory failure. She was having a sort of asthma attack most likely brought on by a virus that was exacerbated by the congestion already in her lungs from the pneumonia. We were still sent to get the X-ray to be certain. My husband joined us there.
We went through the motions to get the X-ray and then went back to the doctor’s office. He was happy with the way her lungs looked from the pictures. He explained that we would take home with us a nebulizer, or a machine that would allow us to give her breathing treatments at home every six hours or so. She would need to take steroids for five days and they would give us an asthma inhaler to use when she was not at home to do the breathing treatments. Feeling relieved and watching Elizabeth look a little more like herself we headed home. Ever since, I’ve been thinking about what transpired.
I am overjoyed that the pneumonia had not grown. I am thankful that Elizabeth’s condition wasn’t something worse. I am so very grateful that my prayers were answered and that she is going to be ok. And I’m so relieved that I followed my instincts and took my baby girl into the doctor’s office when I did. When the doctor told us that this condition could lead to respiratory failure if left untreated, I knew I made the right choice to get her in there as quickly as possible.
Tonight I am also thinking of the families out there who are not so lucky. Whose children are faced with much more grave circumstances. I’m thinking of children fighting cancer and terminal illness while their parents hold vigil at their bedside. I am saying prayers for all of those families tonight.
So often in my life, I forget how lucky I am that my biggest complaints are that I didn’t get my workout in today, that I didn’t get to check anything off my to-do list or that my kids bickering is getting on my nerves. Today, that feeling of fearfulness that I experienced was a wake-up call for me. As I was holding my baby’s hand in mine, worried that something was very wrong, I began kissing her and telling her how much I love her. Of course I tell her this often, but I realized quickly that it is still never enough. I felt guilty for shouting orders at her this morning rushing her along to get ready for school. If for some reason something were to get worse, I wanted “I love you” to be the last words she heard me say to her. While today’s events luckily turned out to be not as severe as I feared, I learned that I want to try harder to parent every moment as if it were the last.
Today I was also reminded to follow my instincts. To listen to my head, my heart, my gut and my children. I am confident that sometimes the voice we hear inside of us is a power greater than us intervening and taking over guiding us down the right path.
A month ago when we all had the stomach flu and Elizabeth couldn’t stop vomiting, my instincts told me she needed to go back to the ER. When Caroline said she wanted to come even though she hadn’t thrown up in 24 hours, my instincts told me to take her along. I did. She began vomiting in the hospital. Their tests revealed both were severely dehydrated and they hooked them both up to IV fluids.
Two weeks ago when Elizabeth had been to the doctor and was told she didn’t have strep, but was not getting better after a couple of days, my instincts told me to take her back in. They did an X-Ray and they found the pneumonia.
Almost every time my children have said they don’t feel well, and I think they are faking so they don’t have to go to school, when I finally take them to the doctor it always ends up being Strep, or an ear infection or pneumonia. I think I’ve finally learned these three words. Listen. Follow. Go. Listen to your heart. Follow your gut instincts. Go where they lead you.