It was obvious when I picked Iris up from nursery on the Tuesday morning that she was ill. She came out after her 2 and a half hour session looking absolutely wrecked. I put it down to her getting up at 4:30 that morning and the beginnings of a cold. We hadn’t been out anywhere since the weekend and I was desperate to get out of the house and get some fresh air, but that didn’t seem fair on Iris so we stayed at home, and she slept. On Wednesday she seemed to have a full blown cold so we didn’t do very much. We watched movies under blankets and I got a bit of housework done. On Thursday she was worse again. My nap-avoiding toddler had a huge nap in the morning, and another one in the afternoon then asked to go to bed at 6:30. In between times she wanted to watch films, which was great but she was feeling very sensitive and kept getting very upset at the sad bits. I was even beginning to miss Peppa Pig, because nobody ever gets their heart frozen by their sister in Peppa Pig.
I took her up to bed. She was asleep quickly, but I noticed that she seemed to be struggling to breathe. She hadn’t eaten a thing or drank much all day, and she’d slept so much. I decided to try to wake her only to find that I couldn’t. She would briefly open her eyes and glance at me before closing them again. She was all limp. Her chest looked weird, like it was caving in every time she took a breath. I remembered her asking for the living room lights to be turned down earlier in the evening, and suddenly I panicked.
What if she has meningitis? A friend of Iris’s contracted meningitis at the beginning of this year. He was in hospital for about 4 months, most of which was spent clinging on to life and only just. He survived, but it was touch and go for a long time. Now he’s learning to walk again on a prosthetic leg. He’s not even 2. Him and Iris missed out on the new vaccine by just months, and I keep feeling guilty that we haven’t managed to find the money to have it done privately.
I text Trevor, who was downstairs with Astrid asleep on his lap, and he came up. We called the NHS advice number, but waiting for an answer I nearly gave in and got Trevor to just drive us to A&E. They answered, asked questions, and tried to get me to wake her while I was on the line. I couldn’t. So they sent an ambulance.
Iris loves ambulances. Fire engines and bin lorries and tractors too. Had she been awake she’d have loved the ambulance, but she missed the whole thing. She slept on my lap and we were strapped onto a bed. The blue lights were flashing. I was terrified, but couldn’t stop thinking about how strange it feels to be in a moving vehicle and not be able to see where you are going.
In A&E, Trevor and Astrid (who had stayed asleep, thankfully) found us. We waited on a chair in the corridor as there were no beds free. A doctor called us into a room and checked her over. They gave her more Calpol and she came around a little bit. The doctor suspected pneumonia, and sent us off to X-ray. Trevor took her in because Astrid woke and wanted to be fed, and he said she just cooperated. She’s not one for cooperating usually, so she was definitely not right! Thankfully the X-ray looked pretty clear and she definitely didn’t have pneumonia. What a relief! She still wasn’t really with it, and was red hot, so I was quite worried when the doctor said we could leave. A lovely nurse wasn’t happy with how she looked and did her obs one last time before we could leave, and thank goodness she did.
She wasn’t happy, and requested a second opinion. I wish I’d caught her name because I’d love to thank her. I dread to think how much worse Iris could have got if we’d just gone home.
On the children’s ward, Iris was immediately admitted. After examination she was given an inhaler and put on a course of nebulisers, one every 20 minutes. The first one was easy, because Iris was so drowsy. She fought the second one and cried quite a lot. She was clearly terrified. However, she perked up immediately afterwards and even said she was hungry. She wolfed down half a sandwich, more than she’s eaten in 2 days. The doctor said that she was barely aware of her surroundings previously because it was taking all of her effort to just breathe, and the nebulisers and inhalers had opened her up and made it easier. They weren’t happy with her oxygen levels though, so she’d have to spend the night on oxygen. My poor little darling fought the tubes so hard. The nurse took a long time to get the tubes taped to her little cheeks and it broke my heart to see her so scared.
She fell asleep not long after, but wasn’t allowed to just sleep. She had nebulisers hourly through the night, and for every one I had to hold her still with all my strength while gently trying to convince her that she was safe and the mask was making her better. I’m not sure she believed me! In between nebulisers she kept waking up and crying, while trying to pull the tubes from her nose. She gave herself a nosebleed in the process.
It all worked though. Although she was shattered the next morning, she had improved loads. So much so that they decided to stop the nebulisers all together and see how she got on without. They decided it was probably a severe chest infection and gave her antibiotics. One dose a day for three days. It was a huge relief to here chest infection instead of pneumonia or meningitis or any of the other really scary things. Not that chest infections aren’t scary. I was certainly scared, and so was Iris.
She still wouldn’t eat, and wouldn’t drink without lots of persuasion. She hadn’t done a wee all night so dehydration was a worry. Because she was wired up to oxygen and a monitor she couldn’t use the loo, so I’d put her in a nappy. I think that was the problem, because at 1pm when they decided to try her without oxygen for a bit and I could take her to the loo, she did the biggest wee ever. I was as relieved as she was.
A nurse told us that if she could keep the oxygen number on the screen above 92 for 24 hours she could probably go home. It was only at that point that I realised we were definitely in for another night. The monitor was attached to Iris’s toe (that she later started referring to as her ‘magic toe’) but as the day went on they let her take it off in between having her obs done. She could go and play!
Parents of patients don’t get fed, and no hot drinks are allowed on the ward. I was so tired, and had a pretty bad caffeine withdrawal headache. Trevor and Astrid needed lunch so fetched me some of those cold coffees in cans. They saved the day for me, and kept me going. Well, combined with lots of biscuits they did anyway.
I was feeling incredibly guilty (I still am actually) for being away from 10 month old Astrid for two whole nights. I knew she was fine with Trevor, and thankfully we had enough expressed milk in the freezer. She breastfeeds all through the night usually, so I knew she’d find it hard. After not leaving the hospital with Trevor until around midnight she had slept pretty well and taken some milk from a cup. Little monster still won’t take a bottle. I’ve only ever left Iris for one night (when I was in labour!) so knowing I’d be leaving Astrid for a second night was getting to me.
Iris slept a lot through the day on the Friday, but her stats stayed up and she continued to improve. I watched the monitor really closely, and although her heart rate was still quite high she maintained a great oxygen level without the tubes. By the evening she was running around and playing with the other children. Trevor and Astrid left as Iris’s dinner arrived (that she didn’t eat) and I attempted to get a shattered Iris to sleep.
I failed. She kept getting into bed, demanding the curtains be closed, and closing her eyes. A few minutes later she’d leap up and ask to go and play. She was tired. So tired. But wanted to make up for days of not being able to play, and I could understand that! I was fed up with being stuck indoors doing nothing too. She eventually nodded off 20 minutes before the nurse had said she’d be round to check her stats, which obviously meant they’d wake her again!
The ward was really noisy until after 11, but when it went quiet it was a quieter night. The snoring parent that had annoyed me so much the first night wasn’t there, and there were only toddlers. No babies. Apart from being woken often when they took Iris’s stats, we slept. Squeezing into a tiny single hospital bed with Iris, who sleeps in starfish position, wasn’t great. She wouldn’t let me sleep on the parent chair bed thingy, and I really wanted to hold her anyway.
You can imagine how annoyed I was when at 8:30 the next morning, they turned the big lights on and opened our curtain all the way around. It wasn’t the nicest wake up and Iris was quite upset!
She didn’t touch breakfast again, but nibbled on a couple of cookies and had started to drink a bit more. She was still coughing and breathing heavily, but was clearly itching to get home. Thankfully the doctor immediately discharged her. A dad of a little boy on the ward started up a game of ‘where is Postman Pat?’ and all four children on the ward got involved while we waited for Iris prescription to arrive so that we could go home.
By lunchtime, we were in the van on our way home.
The whole experience left Iris tired and tearful for days afterwards. She’s only just getting her appetite and her energy back now, two weeks later.