Our RSV Story

I knew it was going to be bad when our feisty two-year-old spent her 4th consecutive day glued to the couch; a 103 degree fever consumed her tiny body. She refused to eat or drink anything for almost a week.  Preschool. We knew the source, but the aftermath of her illness was what concerned us the most.  With a four week old at home, we knew it could be bad, we just couldn’t have imagined how bad it would get. 

Months earlier, as we anticipated the arrival of our second baby in mid-October (hello flu season!), I started preparing for the inevitable.  Flu shots for everyone.  Probiotics, vitamins and homeopathic remedies stocked. Baby-wearing gear on deck. And of course, breastfeeding – to provide the necessary antibodies. I knew the second time around, motherhood would be different. With a brand new two-year-old and her vulnerable immune system heading off to preschool, I was sure a large army of germs would soon be marching toward our doorstep.  I was actually happy to stay pregnant for forty-one weeks; a big baby would only help us in the impending war.  

I was told, “This will get worse before it gets better, but she will most likely be able to fight it at home.”… and  I hung on those words like her life depended on them.

We made it nineteen days before baby registered her first “fever”; 100.4 – barely there, but beyond the safe threshold for fever in newborns. If anything I was – annoyed.  The whole family had been battling a minor cold, so, it was the baby’s turn (I assumed).  That, or I’d wrapped her in too many blankets. 

After a quick conversation with an advice nurse, we were on our way to the hospital.  Pediatrics admitted us for overnight observation, where routine blood & urine samples were taken.  And although she was asymptomatic within an hour of our arrival (Indeed, I’d wrapped her in too many blankets), her blood culture came back positive for a common strain of staph – most likely a lab error – we were told.  Still, a spinal tap, countless blood draws, 3 nights of intravenous antibiotics & 4 more days of shots, is how our baby girl spent her third week of life. “Precautionary”, we were told.  Invasive, is how it felt. And after subjecting my little girl to so much (could it have been unnecessary?) medical intervention, I questioned whether I’d made the right choice in taking her to the doctor in the first place.

Then it was Thanksgiving (we hadn’t seen the inside of a doctor’s office in ten whole days) when our oldest started showing signs of another cold. So, I quarantined the baby to a different room & once again, braced for impact. As the illness progressed, it became clear to me that, should the baby be exposed to this bug, we’d likely be in deep trouble.

For a toddler, RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) is often pretty miserable.  High fever, relentless deep cough, severe nasal congestions, no appetite… Nobody in the house sleeps for a week, but it’s survivable.  However, in a newborn, RSV it can be life threatening.  

At four weeks old, our poor baby girl was defenseless. When her symptoms started appearing – the severe congestion and labored breathing – I took her to the pediatrician right away.  They ran a nasal swab which confirmed RSV was the culprit. Thankfully, her oxygen levels looked good. I was told, “This will get worse before it gets better, but she will most likely be able to fight it at home.”… and  I hung on those words like her life depended on them.

She can fight this at home. Don’t worry when things get worse.

I so badly wanted to avoid another visit to the ER, where I felt so foolish weeks before when my infant daughter’s spinal canal was being punctured in the name of precaution.

So, when things did get worse, my husband rigged a home steam room out of plastic tarps and humidifiers to help loosen the mucous. Her nose was so congested (Did you know newborns don’t know how to breath out of their mouths? Neither did I.) and her airways were becoming increasingly inflamed & blocked.  The skin on her chest pulled in between her tiny ribs with every labored breath.  Eighty respirations per minute is what I counted… At what point was I to let go of those words…. “she will probably be able to fight this at home”.

By the third night, her nasal passages were so congested that she couldn’t nurse. I tried a bottle – it was no better.  I was sure she would become dehydrated, so I tried syringe feeding, but she choked on the milk & the mucous in her stomach and, to my horror, projectile vomited what little milk she had been able to take in.  I didn’t sleep that night. I never left her side. I never stopped watching her tiny chest rise and fall, wondering just how many more times her lungs would fight to catch a breath. 

I packed a hospital bag for the car. Just in case. Then I prayed harder than I’d ever prayed before.

The next morning I started monitoring wet diapers & trying relentlessly to get fluids in her. We sat down to nurse every 15 minutes (not easy with a two-year-old on my arm), and at 5 pm, the tiniest of blue lines appeared on her Pampers Swaddler – I was ecstatic! But my happy dance was followed almost immediately by a violent episode of choking and vomit – a mix of milk and thick, green mucous.

She was not going to fight this at home.

At 6 pm on a dark, chilly, November night, I thew that hospital bag in the car, strapped both kids in, and headed to the ER once again.  My husband and in-laws would meet me there.  At check in, our baby’s vitals were taken – including her O2 saturation. A concerned nurse swept us right through triage, and in to a private room where she told us that a room was being prepped in the pediatric wing – we would be staying.  We held an oxygen tube near our daughter’s nose, and watched as her oxygen levels rose and fell with the tube’s proximity.

When we finally got to our room, I watched as a swarm of doctors and nurses surrounded our tiny daughter – IV line, oxygen, monitors of all sorts…. I overheard one nurse say that her oxygen level was 66% – low enough to cause brain damage. 

My reason for the ER visit was dehydration. I really hadn’t considered lack of oxygen to her brain or other organs. What if I’d waited one more day?  I almost waited – because I didn’t want to seem like an over-nervous parent.  My pride nearly broke her.

I burst into unrelenting sobs.  Tears of guilt. Tears of joy that there was finally oxygen in her lungs and fluid in her veins. Tears of relief that I could once again sleep & let the machines monitor her breathing. There were lots of tears. Ugly, hormonal, pent-up postpartum tears.

The next 5 days were full of alarms going off and breathing treatments and deep suction and more blood work and torture.  I left that tiny room only twice in 120 hours.  But while baby girl was fighting in the hospital, Daddy & Big Sister got busy on the Christmas decorations so that we’d return to a warm, festive home. And we did.

So this week, as I unbox our Christmas decorations, and work endlessly to keep four little hands off the tree, I’m ever-so-grateful for my family, our health and our resilience.

I’ve learned to worry (just a little bit) less about what’s going to happen. That although I can’t always protect my family as fiercely as I want to, I should listen to my instincts. I’ll never again feel foolish or over-concerned when it comes to my child’s health.  It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Psalm 34:17-20    When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.

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