This wasn’t supposed to be my next post. I’ve got three half-written posts in my drafts and I had every intention of finishing one of them, at least, on Sunday evening. Best-laid plans and all that.
Over the weekend, the boy had been a bit snuffly and not his usual smiley self. ‘Probably just a cold or teething again’ we thought. Then I put him down for a nap on Sunday afternoon and he woke up with the most horrendous barking cough and horrible wheezy breathing. I was worried but after lots of cuddles, some milk and a dose of calpol he seemed much better. Then he had another full-blown coughing fit and made himself sick. Early bath and bed then, with every intention to call the doctor in the morning. About an hour after going down he was awake with the high-pitched cough again, but even worse than before, and struggling for breath.
He was obviously quite poorly so we called 111, the NHS non-emergency helpline. We needed urgent help but because he was still alert and responsive we thought this was the right thing to do rather than call 999. We got through to someone straight away and after a series of quick yet thorough questions the operator said that an ambulance would be sent to us straight away. No surprise that my mind went into overdrive. I really didn’t know what was wrong and I immediately started thinking the worst, but thankfully it wasn’t long before it arrived and we were on our way to the Royal Devon & Exeter hospital. The paramedics hooked V up to a nebuliser and gave him some steroid medication, explaining that this would relax and open his airway, which was swollen and making it difficult for him to breath. They said that this swelling was likely to be caused by croup – a viral infection of the upper respiratory system – but that further tests would be carried out at hospital. By the time we got to A&E his breathing was easier and he was generally much calmer.
We expected a fairly long wait to see a doctor, due to the fact that A&E was incredibly busy and V had improved since his treatment in the ambulance. I have to admit it was pretty stressful. A noisy emergency department at night is not fun for clingy, restless, overtired babies. Or their mummies. We weren’t forgotten about though and they kept regularly checking his temperature and heart rate, both of which were still quite high. When we eventually saw a doctor he confirmed that V had croup and that he would need to be admitted to the paediatric ward overnight for more steroids and monitoring. Within 20 minutes we were settled in our own room, the boy in a cot (which was far more interesting than his boring wooden one at home) and me on a put-up bed next to him.
The second dose of steroids did the trick because he woke up the next day like a different child; the bark had pretty much gone and his breathing was back to normal. After a final check from the doctor we were discharged.
Since coming home he’s continued to make a good recovery. He’s still a bit clingy and full of cold but definitely on the mend. It always amazes me how quickly children seem to recover from being really poorly.
I can’t praise our wonderful NHS enough. From the efficient person at the end of the 111 call, to the amazing paramedics who explained everything and calmed me down, the rushed-off-their-feet A&E staff who kept checking on V and offering me tea and the paediatric team who so calmly deal with incredibly poorly children 24/7. I am really in awe of you all.
I also found the NHS online information about croup to be really clear and helpful. The illness is fairly common in children and apparently accounts for 5% of hospital admissions for those aged between six months and five years old. There was even another child in A&E with it while we were there. The most obvious symptoms include the distinctive barking cough, often described as being similar to the noise a seal makes, and the wheeze-like sharp intake of breath known as ‘stridor’. Several people since have said the same thing to me – once you’ve heard the sound you don’t forget it. I hope this was our first and last experience of croup, but at least we will know what we’re dealing with if it happens again.