Thursday, February 14, 2013

My son turns two and we visit the ICU

Let's start by saying we are all fine.  Now.  But it has been a LOOONG week.  This is mostly just stream of consciousness because I need to get it out of my head and on paper.

Ben turned 2 last Saturday, and we had a lovely party with brunch and a cake with ladybugs on it and presents and many many helium balloons and it was all good. (I will write more on that later.  There's a post about being a working mom that is brewing, but I have to get the scary part out first.)  The best way, I think, is with a timeline.

Sunday night, our Superbowl viewing was interrupted by crying.  B had vomited his dinner everywhere and had a fever of 102.  Mommy and Daddy tag team to clean him up and change his bed, and we both regret giving him milk at bedtime and strawberries for desert.  But within 30 minutes he is full of advil and back asleep soundly.

Monday morning, he wakes up fine with no fever.  He's surprisingly not hungry, though.  We take ourselves to his well baby checkup and are pleased to hear that his chest and ears are clear and that this is probably just one of the many viruses running around.  B once again is charming and lovely, after he ceases his hysterics about  having to leave the toys in the waiting room.  He is a picture of health, and we discuss important things like the dentist, potty training and 2% milk.

Monday evening, the fever is back, but just in the 101s.  We give him advil before bedtime and he sleeps through the night.

Tuesday morning, I leave really early, before he wakes.  DH and nanny report he still has a fever, and he's breathing rapidly. I check with his ped and they tell me to control his fever and watch for really labored breathing, but that the rapid respiratory rate can be due to fever. They recommend really pushing fluids, since rapid breathing and fever can lead to dehydration.

Tuesday night, I get home by 6pm. B is still breathing heavily, but he's so congested at this point that it seems reasonable.  Fever still not very high (102) but he has not eaten or wanted much to drink.  DH and I are sick too, at this point, with sore throats and coughs.  Advil and bed.  Sleeps through the night.  We discuss taking him to the Dr. in the morning if he is not better.

Wednesday morning, B is really starting to labor to breathe and his fever is above 103 even after the advil, so DH and nanny and B take a taxi to the ped (I am, of course, at an IVF related appointment across town).  Ped gives him two nebulizer treatments and some oral steroids (both bronchodilators), and then sends them to ER and tells them "don't wait."

Late Wednesday morning, I pick them up in cab and we all go to ER together. Right back to where I was for my early morning appointment. ER triage seems not very alarmed by B, in contrast to his parents, since he is taking 60+ breaths per minute and using his diaphragm to breathe and he is trying so hard you can see his ribs. And his blood oxygen levels are in the mid-80% range. (Note they should be above 95%.) We go into ER and they pretty much immediately start him on supplemental oxygen and another nebulizer, which make no difference at all.  The nurses seem not necessarily alarmed, but we get a fair amount of attention.  IV gets put in, but he wiggles and then (since I am on the bed with him) I am sitting in a pool of my own child's blood.  They start magnesium (another bronchodilator), hoping to make it easier for him to breath.  Fancy oxygen contraption brought in with special mask.  This one is pressurized so forces additional air into his lungs every time he takes a breath. Oxygen levels finally stabilize but he is still working hard. They take a chest xray.  He naps on my chest while I stare out into space and just try not to panic while my baby struggles to breathe. I ask the resident whether my baby boy will recover from this and he tells me "he should." Which is frankly small comfort.

We get asked a lot of questions about asthma history, other health, etc.  He's pretty much been the picture of health since he was born (barring some early reflux), and no one in our family has asthma.  They start him on IV antibiotics since his xray is a bit cloudy.

By early Wednesday afternoon they tell us he has 3 viruses -- RSV and two cold viruses, and the pneumonia is likely viral as well.  RSV is the worst on day 4, and so we hope we are closer to the end than to the beginning, but everyone is surprised he has three different viruses that he is fighting off.

Later Wednesday afternoon his breathing rate slows and he appears to be working slightly less hard to get air into his lungs, and there is an ICU bed available, so we go upstairs.  To the pediatric INTENSIVE CARE UNIT. My brain is sort of refusing to process that we are in a place where the VERY sick kids go, until we are there. And then we are there, and we are sharing a room with two other VERY sick little girls. I can't even look at them with all of their beeping and tubes -- they are both sedated and restrained and it makes me nauseous to think of what could go wrong and so honestly I pretend that they are not there, except I know that they are and that it is the saddest thing I have seen, and breaks my heart for their families (who I never even see).

By this point he is off the pressurized air and just on regular oxygen, and still on IV fluids since he has not had anything to eat or drink in a day.  He's begging for water but we can't give him any since the pressurize air machine can make him choke, so I have to tell him he is drinking through his arm.  At which point he tries to pull out the IV. He's now covered in cords monitoring heart rate, respiratory rate, blood O2 levels, and he, who hates any stickers on his body, is ANGRY.  And screaming.  But thankfully he stops.  Except he wants to get off the bed and walk.  This is a good sign, I guess, that he wants to walk, since he begged to be carried earlier, but there is no way he can walk anywhere with his many tubes and cords. And again, he is ANGRY (and a little bit scared, too).

By early Wednesday evening we get approval to let him drink since he is getting better enough that we don't need the pressurized air machine anymore and he sucks down 8oz of water in about a second.  His fever has broken and he also is finally talking after being pretty silent for most of the day (oh, except for the crying.  So much crying.).  All of this makes me much happier, since I can see his energy levels are back up.  I finally exhale and realize that he is getting better and going to be ok.

If I'm honest, I don't think I actually was as scared as I should have been.  I just stayed in the moment and believed (perhaps foolishly) that once we were in the hospital nothing bad could happen since there were drs and nurses and they would not let bad things happen. I just sort of shut my brain off to the possibility of terrible things and dealt with what was in front of us right then.  When my husband started to cry I did too a bit, and then I told him to get his shit together since I did not want to scare Ben. So yeah, I was anxious when he wasn't getting better with the initial nebulizers and steroids, but it was never panic. I guess that's good. Probably my own coping mechanisms.  I'm actually pretty good in a crisis. (Note I was in a building hit by a plane on 9/11, and while I was scared, I never actually panicked. I just believed that it would all work out ok and that I would walk down the stairs and get out.  When I got home much later I completely lost my shit. But that's another story.)

At around 7pm my wonderful wonderful nanny who had been with B all day went home, and by 11pm so did DH.  B went to sleep in the big hospital bed and then I made the pullout and went to sleep.  Turns out the ICU is noisy, and every time B moved his O2 mask would come off and his levels would drop and he would beep, and then I would leap up and fix it.  But he actually got about 7 hours of sleep.  And except for the 15 minutes that he woke up terrified and screaming, it actually was not so bad. It broke my heart into about 1000 pieces to see him so scared, but I was ultimately able to soothe him and get him back to bed.

At 6am Thursday I wake up with a red and gooey right eye. But Ben is talking and has no fever and his o2 levels are good when off the mask.  WHen DH at 9 I leave to the eye Dr. (catching pink eye from the ER was really not cool, and almost put me over the edge) and home to clean up and pick up lunch for the troops. He's doing so much better that I know that the worst is over.  When I am home and standing in his room I cry. Just because he belongs in his crib not some hospital bed with cords and tubes and beeping machines.

At noon I return and learn he has eaten a bit and is drinking a lot of water and was chatty and alert (all in contrast to the previous day). Attending tells us we will be able to leave if he has sufficient wet diapers and his sleeping o2 levels are high enough.  Which requires him to sleep, which he is refusing to do.  I finally get him down for a nap without o2 and his levels stay in the low nineties, even though he is still taking 40 odd breaths per minute. 2 hours later, he wakes up, and by 6pm we are on our way home with instructions to monitor his resp rate and to go to the ped in the morning to check in.

Overall, we thought that the nurses and drs at the hospital were wonderful. So so good to him and to us.  We are lucky -- we live near some of the best care in the world, and we feel like we got it for our little boy.

By 630 pm Thursday we are home.  He runs around like a madman touching all of his things and talking.  We give him a bath and I weep a little bit at his bruised arm and the sticky stuff from the monitors on his back.  He's pale and 2+ lbs lighter than he was early in the week, and he's still a little wheezy, but he is in our house in warm soapy water in the tub and he is going to be fine.

We put him to bed and then time his breathing all night long. It's fine. He is fine. My husband and I sit on the sofa like zombies, but for our own hacking and coughing (yeah, we now are ALL sick with the miserable cold).  He sleeps for nearly 12 hours and wakes up and in the morning tells me "Actually Mommy is wearing a night gown." For some reason this makes me laugh hysterically and we sit in the big chair snuggling and giggling for a couple of hours.

By Friday he seems fine. Today he seems more so.  Monday he went back to regular activities and playing with kids.  We went sledding on Sunday. But he is skinny and pale still and his arm is still bruised and he talks about ouchies and the mask like an elephant. He's still processing it.  So am I (obviously). I never, never want to go back to the ICU.  My heart breaks for parents of sick children who need to be there more than just one night. We are so lucky -- my baby boy is going to be just fine.


  1. Oh, man. I'm so so sorry. And glad he's doing better.

    And curious about the IVFing, as you have been quiet.


  2. What a scary ordeal but it sounds like you all handled it like troopers. SOO glad you got great care and he is back home and feeling better!

  3. Oh my god! I am SO sorry. I cried reading this. You describe it so vividly, and I think I would have reacted so much the same to all of it. You must still be terribly emotionally exhausted from this really really scary experience. He lost 2 lbs?! It is unbelievable how fast little kids can lose weight like that, those viruses are really hard on them. So sad. I hope the pink eye and treatment and stress don't interfere with your IVF things...

  4. OMG. Absolutely Terrifying. I am SO relieved to hear that he is doing so much better now and that you're all on the mend. VERY Scary!

  5. Oh my gosh, that sounds soooo scary. I hope all of you continue to recover and are healthy soon.

  6. Oh Lordy! That sounds incredibly scary! It's funny I am a nurse and I also totally believe "once I'm at the hospital everything will be OK" even though I know that's not always the case. Glad you are all on the mend.

  7. That is so scary. I hope he continues to improve and doesn't get this sick again.

  8. This made me cry. You getting through it. Poor little guy and all of this happening that fast. I am grateful that he is doing better. And thankful for the care you got for him. Sweet bruised baby, this was far too scary.

  9. Oh hon!!! I'm so glad he is ok!!!! How incredibly beyond beyond scary!!! Sending lots of love.

  10. I'm so sorry he had to go through that (and that you had to go through it, as well). It sounds like you showed a lot if grace - and calm - under pressure. And that this can only have helped steady him. I'm glad he is better.

    What a hellish week:(

  11. Wow. Like some of the other commenters, I responded viscerally to this. And I *know* that I would not have displayed the calm competence that you did. I have a panic attack every time P gags on something. I died a thousand deaths just reading this. And I also don't want to have to think of those ICU girls and their families. There is no way to say "I'm glad he's ok" in a way that isn;t trite. I'm phenomenally relieved.

    Also-- Happy birthday to Ben! and I wish that he and P COULD be friends and go sledding together in real life.

  12. So terrifying to read about, so I can only imagine living it. I don't think we could get through the day, any of us, if we thought about how fragile these little ones are. I'm so sorry you had a brush with this, and so deeply grateful it was just a brush.

  13. Oh my lord, how scary. I am glad you are all home together where you belong and he is doing well. I can imagine my little dude hooked up to all those tubes and wires and my heart just breaks. But it sounds like you were exactly the strong mama he needed.

  14. As a parent, it's always tough to see your kids sick. Whether it's a simple cold or the chicken pox, it becomes painful every time you hear them whimper about discomfort or pain. It doesn't matter if they're still babies or 5, 10 or 15 years old. At the same time, I cherish the moments that I get to spend with them. I hope things are going well for you and your family.