Two weeks ago, I went on another emotional roller coaster ride. Sam contracted pneumonia.
It was baffling. She would feel bad and go to bed with a low-grade fever; but come morning, she was her perky fever-less self again. There was a cough, but like the pediatricians tell you — it’s best treated with natural remedies like honey, a humidifier and a warm steam bath, all of which I was already doing.
And if Sam’s condition wasn’t already worrying me enough, my paranoid husband (who claims he is the most logical person in the family — #yeahright) kept nagging me about administering a cough or fever medicine. Everyday he’d say “she’s not getting better, why don’t you give her medicine.” And everyday I’d reply, “children without a fever of 102 F don’t need the medication. It’s better to let their bodies fight off the infection.” I understand he was worried too, but I’ve to admit the constant questioning didn’t help my fragile state of self-doubt.
Following the usual protocol of waiting three days, I finally called the nurse hotline Monday night. Her fever broke twice the night before and I thought she was ok, except she went to bed with a fever again that Monday, and I couldn’t shake the feeling something else was up.
As it so happened, I was on the phone with the nurse-on-call when things took a turn for a worse. Sam threw up (it was the worst kind of throw up I’ve ever seen), spiked a fever of 103.8 F, and the top of her lips discolored. The nurse told me to get Sam to lie flat on her back and I lifted her shirt to watch her breathe. I said could see an outline of her ribcage as she did that, and after that he instructed me to take her to the E.R. straight away. Apparently, that means the child is working too hard to breathe and something is wrong.
It was the most horrible seven hours in the E.R. I’ve ever had, but I will save the drama for the complaint center. To make a long story short, Sam needed an x-ray and that confirmed her pneumonia. We got the antibiotics and instructions to visit her pediatrician in two days’ time.
On the outside, I think I held it together well (uhm, I did stress-text and email a couple of friends in the wee hours of the morning — oops). But on the inside I was an emotional mess. Apart from the lack of sleep and many unanswered questions (because ER doctors really don’t have the time to hold your hand and chit-chat), I was trying to come to terms with my own emotional state. My self-doubt was through the roof. For someone who’s constantly with Sam day and night, I couldn’t believe I missed such a severe condition. What symptoms did I read wrong?
When Jamie contracted pneumonia, I may not have known it was that but I knew from the sound of her breathing, high fever and limp body that something was wrong. Apart from the high fever, Sam never exhibited any of the other symptoms.
While Sam showed signs of continuously getting better, I was in a silent emotional turmoil for days. I couldn’t sleep at night because I worried she’d relapse. I worried about Jamie as well — she was the one most exposed to Sam, and the E.R. doctor said to “bring her in” even if she just started to cough or develop a fever.
Finally Thursday came and so did the pedia visit, which turned out to be more for me than for Sam. When our doctor walked in Sam and Jamie were gamely laughing and dancing in the room, so it was clear she was fine. I however, needed my hand-holding.
I replayed the series of events from the first cough Thursday night to our E.R. trip Tuesday early morning. We went over the x-ray and she pointed to one small spot which was cloudy, which was quite a different “diagnosis” from the E.R. doctor’s who said it was in both her lungs. But nevertheless, she assured me no matter how acute or severe it was, the treatment program would’ve been the same. Bacterial pneumonia reacts with antibiotics, and since Sam was responding to the medication and her swab results for viruses came out negative, they knew it was the correct course of action.
But the bigger question I had was what could’ve been done differently to avoid it. It was bugging me that I was totally blindsided by what happened. I felt I could’ve done something better. And it terrified me that all my life I grew up believing and understanding that pneumonia was a deadly disease, and now my daughter had it.
The pediatrician — bless her soul — re-assured me and said, “Everything happened they way it was supposed to happen. You couldn’t have known any sooner than you did.”
If we had come in Monday morning with no fever, she (or another doctor) may have sent us home with the same treatment plan I was already doing (Honey, humidifier etc.). We may have still ended up in the E.R. that night, because it took that long for the bacteria to “present” itself the way it did. The E.R. experience was unfortunate, and while it wasn’t ideal to make us wait five hours for Motrin (which I could have brought myself), it was also a sign that Sam wasn’t too critical (as it is the nature of an E.R. to handle urgent life-threatening cases first). And, the pneumonia wasn’t so bad that Sam wasn’t confined.
The pedia also said that usually kids don’t die from pneumonia. It’s because the pneumonia makes them act differently from how they usually would (extra tired, trouble breathing, etc), and, “a responsible parent like yourself would do something about it right away.” I won’t lie; it helped she called me a responsible parent.
I wanted to cry. And hug her.
Whether or not there’s a medical explanation to counter or affirm what she told me, I don’t know. It did it’s job in the self-doubt department though, and after weeks of constant worry, I found myself breathing normally again.
Except of course, Jamie started coughing and had a low-grade fever the other night.
So without even batting an eyelash, we were back at the doctor the next day. Jamie had no fever, she wasn’t coughing and she was totally fine. I actually felt silly being there, so I told the pedia about our two-week pneumonia episode. She smiled (probably also thinking I was silly) and said it sounded like Jamie just caught a new bug, but she definitely didn’t contract pneumonia. While that was a relief to hear, I still wasn’t pacified. “How will I know this doesn’t progress into pneumonia?”
“Well, we can’t guarantee it won’t; but you’ll be able to tell if it does,” she said.
Sick children don’t make the daunting task of parenting any easier. I always wonder if I do enough or if I do too much, and I never have the answer. The outpatient events of the last three weeks have served as a reminder, that sitting still and listening to my gut are still the best course of action. We must believe, as “responsible” mothers, our instincts will send just the right amount of alarm bells needed to know what to do and when to do it.