First I took my son into the steamy bathroom and sat with him for 10 minutes while he coughed and dragged in for air. The next step was always to wrap him up in a blanket and take him out into the cold weather, stand on the porch with him and let him breathe the cold air. The change in temperature between the steam and cold air usually helped the croup. The fucking croup. I hated croup. The desperate gasps for breath, the raspy breathing, the bulgy eyes fearingly searching you for answers…it was awful. And here my son was at 4 years old in the midst of winter with croup for the umpteenth time.
I stood outside with my son for several minutes but the coughing fits didn’t stop. He was gasping desperately for air. It was near midnight. Eric, my ex-husband, told me to come inside. I brought my son inside with his bulgy eyes and desperate face. I lifted his shirt. I watched his lungs as he tried to breathe. His lungs were pulling deep into his rib cage with every breath but he wasn’t getting any air. I knew what this was – this was stridor. Stridor – the struggle for breath and inability to get it. “I’m taking him to the hospital Eric” Eric told me I was scaring my son and to wait it out. No,no I’m not waiting. And no, I’m not calling an ambulance who will take me to the nearest hospital – all of which are SHIT – no, I will take him to a good hospital NOW myself. Eric protested more. I grabbed my purse, a coat for me and for my son, my car keys and went out the door with my son. Eric ran to the driveway. “you are ridiculous, stop, stop, stop” and he stood behind the car. I opened the car window, “get out of the way before I run you over” and he did. I drove to the hospital which was several towns away at a minimum of 45 miles an hour on side roads and small streets. I did not stop at any red lights. I held my horn as I passed through the red light and just went. I sped up more and told my son not to be afraid, that mommy was going to take care of him. The entire time in the car I prayed. I prayed to God…..do not take my child, do not take my child, I have had enough loss, I lost my mother, my grandmother, I gave up a child, do not take my child.
I got to the hospital and there was parking in the emergency lot. Fuck. I drove closer to the emergency room door and parked in the doctor’s lot. I grabbed my boy and carried him toward the door, all the while he is gasping for breath very audibly. As I am walking to the door, a man walks by me in the other direction toward a car and gives me a look. I think, “hey buddy, forget about talking to me about where my car is parked.” I rush into the emergency room ready for the triage crawl. The man from the parking lot comes in directly behind me and starts barking orders. “Open the door, let her in”, “get him on a table, check his airway, hurry up!, stop rushing so much you’re scaring him, faster!” In a flurry, hands were moving; people were all over my son giving him assistance. He was in one ER section with another man. As they were helping my son and as I watched, the other man died from heart issues. The activity continued to scurry around my son. They could not get him to breathe sufficiently. They discussed putting a trach in his throat. No, no the doctor said, let’s take him to the ER and put him out and try to put a breathing tube in him. With that, they literally ran with the gurney down the hall. I waited. I cried. It didn’t take long. It took only 20 minutes or so. The doctor came back. They had gotten a breathing tube in my son and he was breathing fine now. His throat had swollen so much from the croup that the tube they put in was the size of a drinking straw and they could barely get it in. But alas, a 4-year old will waken and pull out the tube, so they had to medically paralyze him until his throat swelling went down. That meant he had to be in the Pediatric ICU, to be intubated, to have a machine help him breathe because his diaphragm is a muscle and his muscles were paralyzed. My poor little boy. He could not open his eyes for days – for 10 days – but he would awaken and I would read and read and read to him. I would lie next to him in his bed. I brought his favorite toys and put them in his hand. But when the nurse came to suction the tube it was uncomfortable, and tears would roll out of his closed eyes and his face would turn red. In all of these moments, I died a little.
And then there was Eric. Eric who said it was no big deal and to wait. Eric who saw me in the hospital like a deer stuck in the headlights. Eric would come to see our son and spend time with him. Eric was home most of time taking care of 2 year old Alex although his mother was willing to watch Alex 24/7 so that both of my oldest son’s parents could be with him. That was not Eric’s choice. Eric never comforted me during this ordeal, never even shared with me his own fear as a parent; no, he stayed locked inside himself and seeing me at the height of my greatest fear could only say to me “I’m sorry I can’t be there for you”. And this was the beginning of the end of our relationship…..because I had never needed Eric as a partner before. I never leaned on Eric. And I’ve always been fiercely independent, totally self-sufficient and competent. But when he came to the hospital, and I cried out to him that I was completely overwhelmed, he left me and my words, my feelings, my fear alone on an island.
After 10 days my son was well enough to come off intubation but we had to spend two more days in ICU. Being in the ICU is awful. Being in the Pediatric ICU is extremely awful. There were about 6-7 other children that came and went while we were there. Some got better and left, some were still there when my son was moved into a regular room, two infants died and it is unbearable to watch the drama of medical staff trying to save an infant before your eyes with a parent watching. It cements my fear.
When we get to the hospital’s regular room I feel safe and my oldest son starts to feel relaxed. My son’s own pediatrician comes to visit (he’s been in several times). He is almost entirely well now. The doctor takes me outside the room. He tells me “you know, I waited until now when he is healthy to tell you, but we nearly lost him and you were a very lucky lady…..the doctor who helped you in the ER is the head of ICU and was on call tonight but leaving for the night….he heard my son in the parking lot and he made all the difference.”
I’m blown away. First, I’m so shaken that he almost died. I knew that anyway. I could see it and feel it but for the doctor to say it out loud makes it real and too scary. Now my world has changed and my child is vulnerable. And second, I know that God heard my prayer. The doctor was in the lot at the right time because God heard my prayer. I know this for certain as I know my name.