Two summers ago I got on a plane with my 3 year old son and one year old daughter and flew to the town I grew up in to attend my great grandmother's funeral. Since I was already paying for the ticket I decided to stay a few weeks to visit since it had been a long time since I had gone home.
One night while laying in bed in the tiny room I shared with my children I heard a sound from the boy that was suspiciously vomit like. Instantly alert I hauled his tiny body out of bed and into the bathroom to avert total disaster. It was only after I got him there that I noticed that he wasn't breathing, or rather, that he was barely breathing. His entire body was shaking, he couldn't talk, his chest heaved from the effort of trying to draw air into his lungs, and he was coughing like a barking seal in pain. The sharp pungent smell of urine filled the bathroom and I realized he had just peed himself I could see that he was terrified, suddenly so was I.
At this point part of the back of my brain started to fuzz over, loud clanging noises were ringing from some point in between my ears, and it felt like I was trying to see through a greasy haze. My mother came in and asked what was going on, but I didn't know what to tell her besides that I thought he was choking.
A month before that I had met a woman who told me a horror story of her son breathing in part of a Christmas ornament and it getting lodged in his windpipe. The hospital hadn't believed her that he was choking on something because he was still drawing in air through a tiny little hole in the top. They had to get X-rays to find it. I also watch a lot of the discovery channel from time to time and those shows about people having anaphylactic responses to bed bug bites or the like that almost kill them continue to freak me out for a long time afterward. Staring at my child who was obviously not breathing well, I couldn't think of anything else.
My mother scared him a little bit more by starting to talk very loudly until I said, "Go get me the phone."
For the first time in my life I dialed 911. By this time the thick haze was swirling around me, and the clanging sound was almost deafening. I told the operator that my son seemed to be choking and the address. She answered, "Okay, we need to monitor his condition I want you to let me know if he starts to turn blue."
In my panic stricken completely befuddled state, I thought that meant that they weren't going to send an ambulance until he started to turn blue, so I responded, "But he's choking. He's barely breathing."
She once again said, "Okay, but is he turning blue?"
Feeling desperate, like I was in a negotiation for my son's life I repeated once more, "He can't breath, he's shaking, you need to send someone right away."
"The ambulance is on the way ma'am," she informed me, "We just need to know if his condition gets any worse."
Relieved I handed the phone to my mother and sat down on the toilet with the Boy in my lap. In another minute the bathroom was full of friendly paramedics in blue uniforms examining my son and speaking calmly to me about what might be going on. The noise in my head subsided a bit. They told me they were going to take him in and we started to move out to the ambulance, me carrying the boy. My mom and I had a running conversation as we moved down the hall that went like this.
"I guess the girl should stay here with you while I go since she hasn't woken up yet."
"Yes I'll watch her, what do you need?"
I looked down at my self in my pajamas and around at all of the paramedics and responded, "A bra. Oh, and my purse. Oh shoot, I forgot it at grandma and grandpa's house today, it has all of the insurance information in it."
I panicked for a minute while the paramedics assured me that it would be alright they could deal with that later. After all, we were in Canada and everyone has health care in Canada if they are a resident, it's mandatory, and paid for if you can't afford it. They assured me that the paperwork could wait until tomorrow. As I was about to walk out the door my mother shoved a lacy blue bra into my hand and a big wad of change in case I needed to make phone calls from the hospital.
I climbed into the back of the ambulance holding my now calmer son in my arms, a fistful of change, and my underwear. Once we sat down they gave me some oxygen and asked me to hold it close to his nose. For some reason I was obsessed with getting my bra on, and not just because it really hurts me to go braless for very long and I was still breastfeeding the Girl at the time, but more because I felt naked without it on. In my now completely addled state i decided that it would be a good idea to try and put it on under my shirt in a moving vehicle while holding a three-year-old boy in my lap, and oxygen tube and trying not to drop the fistful of change. Somehow I managed, though just thinking about how it must have looked to the paramedics still makes me blush.
Upon arrival at the hospital, did you know they have an entirely separate section for children brought in by ambulance that is away from the noise of the ER, the pediatrician informed me that it was croup. I hadn't heard of croup except from the Anne of Green Gables movie, I didn't even know that kids still get it. Now I know that croup is normal in children and is caused by their throats swelling shut due to a combination of cold virus, irritants in the air, and a horizontal position. I also know that cold fresh air, and cold drinks and popsicles help loosen up the throat again so that they can breath easier. They gave the Boy a steroid to drink to further relieve the swelling since it was fairly bad and sent me home with a just in case dose for the next evening. He has had several episodes since that night, but we've never needed to return to the hospital.
That is why last night, when I heard the Girl wheezing and struggling to breath I simply put a second pair of pajamas on her, opened up the window over her bed all the way and filled her sippy cup with ice. The Genius Husband held her in his lap upright until she fell asleep again and then, in a moment of sheer brilliance, laid her down with a pillow under her neck in CPR position for maximum openness in her throat. She slept most of the night, albeit restlessly, and I lay awake most of the night listening to her laboured breathing. I may now be an old hat at treating croupy toddlers, but that doesn't mean I'll ever forget the panic of feeling that my child could die in front of me, it makes me a very light sleeper on the nights when croup visits our house.