Posted in family life

when a child is sick in times of pandemic

It’s never pleasant as a parent when your child comes down with something. You put plans on hold, you schedule plenty of rest, you try to keep everything as clean as possible so no one else gets sick. You grieve for your child when they have to miss out on something they love; you soothe their fevers and pull their hair back when they vomit and reassure them with your presence; you watch their symptoms accumulate and decide whether to wait it out at home or call the doctor. But it’s mostly routine by the time you have three kids and the oldest is six – you’ve seen a lot of winter colds and coughs and stomach bugs by then.

It’s a bit different when all around you society is panicking about a virus whose symptoms just so happen to match your child’s. When you know enough about virology and epidemiology to understand the public health risks that make complacency the greater danger to the wider community, and don’t want to become an epicenter for a new wave of outbreaks. When you’ve heard an experienced doctor comment on how suddenly COVID-19 patients can go from stable on oxygen to needing mechanical ventilation. When you’re considered essential personnel in a lab on a campus that has already had 15 confirmed COVID-19 cases – despite serious testing delays and shortages – and when your child’s grandmother spent time with them after visiting Seattle in the early stages of the outbreak when more people were still skeptical.

It’s an eagle eye on your child’s breathing, then: an ear to his chest for wheezing, a glance around his collarbone and ribs for retractions, a counting with a stopwatch while he sleeps and the breaths come fast even though he’s at rest. It’s pulling out the nebulizer and albuterol to see if it makes a difference, and planning to go to urgent care if it doesn’t. It’s taking your child’s temperature multiple times a day even though the quick kid-friendly one is dead and you have to sit holding the old thermometer in place for three minutes waiting for a result. It’s making sure he covers when he coughs and that his siblings are washing their hands before every meal and after every time using the shared bathroom.

It’s a long and almost teary conversation with the nurse on the other end of the insurance-provided triage line (I love those nurses – they have helped me through so much anxiety and given me so much solid guidance when I’m not sure what to do), then, going through symptoms and addressing concerns. It’s a drop of the stomach when the nurse practitioner at the ER tells you your child’s symptoms are concerning she’s going to call the COVID-19 hotline to get you the best plan of action. It’s a panic that won’t let you sleep when she tells you that if his symptoms get worse – if he stops responding to the albuterol before four hours have passed and he can have another dose (the thing that triggered the original urgent care visit, so a very possible event), to be precise – he should go to the ER immediately, with a mask on, and you should alert the ER staff of the possibility of the coronavirus.

With the morning will come more things you can do, again, practically and tangibly for your child: antibiotics for an ear infection, albuterol for a cough, tylenol for a fever, hugs and kisses and books and simple foods to soothe a sick but hungry stomach, appointments to make for lab work. You can be with him again, in the light of day, to watch his energy levels and breathing. But in the night, when you both need to sleep, there is nothing to do except pray. And the prayer that seems to me most fitting, when there is fear and a valid reason to fear and your child whom you love is sleeping fitfully across the hall, is the antiphon to the canticle of Simon sung in Evening Prayer:

Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in His peace.
Posted in sqt

{sqt} – in which everyone gets sick

As usual I’m joining the seven quick takes link up at This Ain’t The Lyceum today – head over and read some of the other blogs!

  1. I missed out on the book theme last week, but I did have a very exciting book moment this week: my mom (who is a professor at the local community college) came home with a big cardboard box full of books that another professor was giving away, and told me to take anything that looked interesting. They seemed brand new and were non-fiction spanning the spectrum from memoir to science to investigative journalism. In other words, they were a treasure trove and I selected quite a few of them… I’ve started hinting to my husband that we need to put shelves up high on the walls because we have no more floor space for another bookshelf!
  2. The only one of these books that I’ve had a chance to finish so far is Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America, by Mary Otto.41ydn0xVu3L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The book is primarily about public health policy, and explains quite a bit about both the history of dentistry and the current state of dental health access and expense. But it covers this potentially dry topic in a manner that is both rationally and emotionally powerful, drawing the reader in through stories of individuals affected by societal pressure for “perfect” teeth or by societal neglect of oral health. Before reading this, I had never realized the extent of either the available cosmetic dentistry services or the overall risks of poor dental health (I guess I live in a comfortable middle-class bubble here…), and I was surprised and saddened by much of what I learned. This book does not engage in a lot of philosophizing; it accumulates stories and statistics and allows the reader to come to their own conclusions.
  3. Another thing I have discovered this week is that drawing my own conclusions about medical issues is probably not a great idea, as they are likely to be wrong. Most of us have been sick this week, and Aubade had a cough and seemed miserable, so I called in to the doctor to ask for a refill on her Albuterol. The doctor asked us to come in (that is, the triage nurse called us at 3:25 and said that they wouldn’t refill the medicine without an appointment and that she had an opening at 4:00; we live 20 minutes away and the kids were in various states of undress and hadn’t had an afternoon snack yet), so we drove down there (and miraculously made it with three minutes to spare!) only to discover that Aubade wasn’t actually wheezing and thus didn’t need the Albuterol, but did have pinkeye and a double ear infections. Oh, and also that Limerick was extremely wheezy and did need the Albuterol, and had a higher fever than Aubade despite not feeling warm to my touch at all. So now they’re both drugged up, I’m nursing a sore eye, sore ears, and a headache, and Rondel is getting cabin fever from being cooped up all day with sick family.
  4. To occupy our time while quarantined in the house, we’ve been playing a lot of homemade board games, both on the number boards and with a rainbow-colored board game path we designed together (Rondel came up with a set of rules that are consistent, creative, and fair – I was really impressed). There are giant foam dice everywhere (we only have two, but they are always getting thrown around and lost and re-found), and the little animal toys we’ve been using as game pieces keep disappearing and reappearing and getting dumped out in the hallways, and the Duplos have literally made their way into every single room of the house such that walking around is an obstacle course (mostly afflicting poor Aubade who keeps tripping on them). Cleaning not only seems futile but requires a lot more energy than I have available being sick myself…
  5. We’ve also started coloring, drawing, and writing more again, since we’re stuck sitting around! Rondel even told me he wanted to learn how to write his letters, and persisted at it diligently until we left for swim lesson. He still switches hands when he writes, and he seems to see the parts of the letters instead of how those parts fit together to make a whole (his first “A” looked like a UFO before I verbalized for him a different way of perceiving and drawing it), but he did surprisingly well! Limerick is able to copy the letters well but doesn’t really pay any attention to direction and more often than not draws them sideways or upside down or reversed, without realizing it.
  6. Another thing that went surprisingly well was hiding tofu inside the popsicles I make for the kids, to increase the protein content (since they like to eat them as meals). It ended up just contributing a slight nutty flavor, which went really well with the peach-vanilla blend I was using. I loved it as a smoothie and the kids ate up all the popsicles!
  7. Also from the popsicles I’ve learned that frozen pineapple whips up in a food processor like egg whites or cream. If you process it with a little bit of milk it gives you something almost identical to whipped cream, just a bit more airy, that literally melts in your mouth. It is so good – I just want to eat it all plain every time I make it as a popsicle base. And I imagine if you used a non-dairy milk it could be a pretty decent whipped cream substitute!

I hope you all stay healthy and have a great week 🙂

Posted in family life

doctors and medicines (in which everyone is sick in various ways)

Well, it’s been a busy few weeks here. To be honest, it’s been harder since Aubade’s birth than I expected it would be, considering that this is our third baby (so we should have more confidence and experience by now) and that she is a significantly easier baby than the first two. It seems like life just keeps throwing curveballs at us…

To begin with, my physical and emotional recovery from the birth has been a bit more complicated this time around, what with the severe tear on the physical side and the postpartum depression and anxiety on the emotional side. Those baby blues I wrote about last month escalated into depression and anxiety so bad that they were making it hard for me to get out of bed and be present with the kids every day; I would get up and shower because I wanted to keep the tear clean, and force myself to get dressed in presentable clothes, because if I didn’t I would just curl up under the covers and feel horrible. My husband would get home from school and I would take Aubade up to bed with me and hide from the world, so overwhelmed from the few hours of parenting on my own. I wasn’t interested in anything at all, really, but I was devouring books just to keep my mind off of real life and to drown out the thoughts of fear and guilt that kept pouring in. And the anxiety – of being left alone with the kids, of driving, of leaving the house, of talking to people outside my family, of letting everyone down, of being “crazy”, and so on – was so strong (despite its obvious irrationality) that I would have waves of pain course through my chest.

My OB treated me with a series of progesterone shots, operating on the principle that the sudden decrease in progesterone at the end of pregnancy can throw the whole hormonal system out of sync and cause PPD/PPA. Fortunately my husband was able to take care of some of them at home so I didn’t have to set up an appointment every other day for the whole series! And they definitely took the edge off of the negative emotions. The first day it felt like I was on a high – much better than normal – and I thought maybe that’s how things would settle in… but no such luck. I’m still in a hole, but it’s not as deep as it was, and some days I feel like I might be climbing out of it.

In the middle of all of this, we started getting sick. Apparently it had been a mild winter here in the illness department, but February brought all the germs with it and everyone across the valley is catching and spreading disease. Naively I thought that Aubade would be safe from anything going around because her immune system would be bolstered by mine since she’s exclusively breastfeeding, but it didn’t work out that way. Last Thursday I took all three kids to their pediatrician and after prescribing albuterol, antibiotics, and steroids for the boys she told me to take Aubade straight to the ER at the children’s hospital by our house. I was in shock. The boys had never been sick as newborns, so I didn’t realize how differently a serious illness could present in a newborn as opposed to an older baby or toddler. But because they have fewer energy reserves to draw on, and because they don’t know how to breathe through their mouths, an upper respiratory infection that might just cause a cough and a runny nose in a toddler can accelerate a baby’s breathing rate to the point of exhaustion.

The ER took Aubade’s symptoms as seriously as our pediatrician had; we were in a room within 30 minutes, which is quite impressive for a busy urban emergency department, and within another 30 minutes a respiratory therapist had evaluated her and hooked her up to a high-flow oxygen machine. (The high-flow machine pushes air gently down the baby’s airways, so that they don’t have to work so hard to pull air in past all the congestion in their nose and lungs; the oxygen concentration was originally set twice as high as normal air but they told me it was really the pressure more than the oxygen that she needed.) May I note in passing how much I appreciated the ER nurses? Fast, competent, and caring without a hint of saccharine, they inspired confidence and relieved my anxieties without minimizing Aubade’s condition. Even before the respiratory therapist arrived, they had suctioned out her nose and lungs, and did so again a few hours later when her breathing began to worsen. The pediatric nurses we had after transferring out of the ER that evening were not so wonderful by comparison, though they weren’t bad by any means.

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Aubade in the ER

So… she ended up being in the hospital for the next two nights. The boys slept over at my mom’s house for one of those nights and the first night we had her back home; my husband fought off a stomach bug and tried to keep up with school and job applications and laundry; I sat in the hospital with Aubade and held her and watched movies and tried to sleep. It was rough, even though I could tell she was slowly improving the whole time we were there. RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) usually peaks around the fifth or sixth day, which is when we were in the hospital, so we were able to adequately support her breathing through the worst of it.

Rondel and Limerick caught the same virus, and both presented with coughs and ear infections, but since they are older it wasn’t as dangerous. Rondel is now on a preventative steroid inhalant, though, as every cold he gets turns into a cough – he’s been on Albuterol at least four times just this winter. I’m hoping it will help, and I’m also hoping it isn’t a sign that he’ll be officially diagnosed with asthma at some point in the future. I suppose the silver lining of all this is that my prayer life and relationship with the saints are both growing… that daily shower is a good time to maintain spiritual health as well as physical and emotional health, with a morning prayer thrown in with the shampooing and all. Better that than nothing, anyway, and I know the kids won’t distract me then.

But hopefully the rest of my maternity leave goes a bit better! We’ve still got a spring break trip up north, summer internship applications, physical therapy, and maybe a visit to a psychiatrist to fit in to these next five weeks, on top of the regular demands of school, parenting, and running a home… so if we can stay healthy (physically and mentally) it would be great 🙂

Posted in musings

prayers for a sick child and a fearful parent

It seems fitting, as my supervisor’s son has been sent to the best children’s hospital in the area from the (quite good) children’s medical center nearer to them, that today’s morning prayer would focus on the brokenness of this world and our hope of redemption and healing in Christ.

“…my spirit fails; my heart is numb within me… Lord, make haste and answer, for my spirit fails within me… In the morning let me know your love for I put my trust in You.”

“At daybreak, be merciful to me, O Lord.”

“For thus says the Lord: …as a mother comforts her son, so will I comfort you.”

“He heals the broken-hearted, he binds up all their wounds.”

“The sufferings of the present are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us.”

“You are our life, O Lord.”

And I pray that my supervisor would be able to cry to God with the Psalmist for answers and mercy and love, achingly honest with his emotions and fears; I pray that he would know the tender comfort of God as of a mother to her nursing child; I pray that God would heal his son now but also bring to them eternal hope and life in Jesus. A desperately sick child is a terrifying situation for any parent, and without a stronger hand to lean on and a greater heart to trust, my supervisor is bearing all the weight of that anxiety and fear and helplessness on his own shoulders. Right now, he needs the comfort of the One he does not know, and I pray that he will find it.