Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Every Breath He Takes

I have some fairly mild allergies, to a few things like dogs, cats, pollen, mold and such. My eyes will itch when the trees are budding in the spring, or if I spend more than a couple hours in a house with a shedding pet, but really, they don't keep me from doing much. I never experienced any kind of allergies until I was in my mid-20s or so, right after I got married (hmmmmm. . .), but since then, they've just been sort of a low-grade, background annoyance in my life. In a related vein, I get excercise-induced asthma. So, when I go on a particularly grueling bike ride, it's not uncommon for me to cough a lot for an hour or two afterwards, although again, it never keeps me from doing anything. Sorta like, my lungs say, "OK, he's done now; time for paybacks, for making us work so hard. . ." ------------------------- Gratifyingly, that small frailty has mostly not passed through to my kids (at least so far; only two of them have even reached the age at which I started to experience them). And Jen's side of the gene pool is quite allergy-free, so they've got that going for 'em, which is nice. 1F has some very mild allergies which occasionally redden her eyes, but for the most part, my kids have been happily allergy-free. Except 5M, who seems to have gotten all the allergies for the whole family, in concentrated form. Poor kid. It can seem like his nose is constantly running, and until we got him on cetirizine, he'd spend the first two conscious hours of every day blowing his nose. And he is not a dainty nose-blower, either. At its worst, it could get like living near an airport, where you'd momentarily suspend conversations until the sound passed. He has a couple friends who have very 'sheddy' pets, and we finally just had to say that he could never sleep over at their houses. He handles it with great equanimity, and doesn't really complain too much. Not nearly as much as I would, in the same circumstances, at any rate. But, being 17, he doesn't always account for his physical limitations as much as, say, common sense might dictate. ------------------------- A couple weeks ago, on a Friday night, 3M had a big party in honor of his 22nd birthday. Our sons, and several of their friends, have, in recent years, been bitten by the Poker Bug. They will, at the drop of a hat, have a Texas Hold-'Em tournament, with anywhere from 5 to 40 people playing. And, since it was 3M's birthday, Texas Hold-'Em was a definite part of the agenda. At midnight or so, Jen and I headed to bed, encouraging the boys not to be stupid about how late they stayed up. Which, in the grand scheme of things, probably meant that they got to bed at 5AM instead of 6. But 5M had a commitment for Saturday, so he dragged himself out of bed on two or three hours of sleep. And that night, he was invited over to a friend's house for a late-night movie-fest. Then Sunday morning, we got him up for church. Sunday night, he was eager to go with his brothers (who had been much freer than he had, to sleep in on the weekend), for another poker game, promising to be home by midnight. At which point, I finally made the call that enough was enough. Which was decidedly unpopular with him, but I stuck to my guns, and a slammed door or two later, he finally went to bed. ------------------------- The next morning, 5M awoke with the worst, nastiest barking-like-a-dog cough I've ever heard, besides generally feeling like crap. He stayed home from school and slept all day. Tuesday through Thursday, he had some standardized testing, so he dragged himself in to school (if I were better at the 'foresight thing' myself, I might've mentioned that it was a really stupid time to go all Sleepless in Seattle, but I refrained). And then on Friday, he stayed home again. All through the weekend, he mostly stayed in bed, with the barking-dog cough. So last Monday, since he'd been barking like a dog for over a week, Jen took him to see the doctor after school. They took a few measurements of his breathing, and sent him directly to the Emergency Room - Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200. The diagnosis - asthma. Our son had basically been having a week-long asthma episode. And we had no inkling that anything like that could be going on. (They took chest X-rays, which came back negative, so at least that was good.) At that point, the Family Emergency Room Protocol kicked in. Jen called me at work, and told me to work out an alternate plan for dinner for myself and the other kids, while she stayed with 5M at the ER. I put the younger boys to bed, then grabbed something for Jen to eat, and joined her at the hospital, figuring that, since it was 10:30, and they'd already been there for six hours, that they'd be ready to leave soon. ("Ha-ha-ha," I hear you say, "how precious; so touchingly naive." Yeah, I know.) When I arrived, 5M was hooked up to a machine that monitored the oxygen content of his blood. 99% or higher is 'normal'. He was at 91%. And that was after receiving a couple 'treatments'; he'd been at 87% when they sent him over. They were wavering on whether or not to admit him to the hospital, since his numbers were so bad, but he was responding to the treatments. Besides which, it was One of Those Nights at the ER - I think there were two infants with the same barking-dog cough who, unlike 5M might have died without some fairly direct attention. Then, about midnight, a couple ambulances rolled in. Etc, etc. So, instead of receiving three or four treatments in fairly short succession, he was getting one every couple hours, and the nurses kept coming in, apologizing for losing track of us, and thanking us for our patience. There was a TV in his ER 'booth'. We watched taped re-broadcasts of the entire Tigers spring training game, and the entire Pistons basketball game. Then we settled on a History Channel show about a pawn shop in Las Vegas. When we started seeing pawn shop episodes for the second time, we knew we'd been there for a loooooonnnggg time. About 2:30AM, the attending doc came in to tell us that they'd finally made a firm decision to admit him, and as soon as there was a bed available, they'd take him upstairs. When it got to 4:30 and he still hadn't moved upstairs, Jen and I went to the nurses' station, and, being told that we didn't have to sign anything at that point, we went home. Last Tuesday, we both went to work on about four hours of sleep, and Tuesday night, after stopping in at the hospital, we slept the Sleep of the Dead. 5M was finally released, and came home, on Wednesday. ------------------------- Aside from the ridiculous amount of time we spent in the hospital (from the time Jen and 5M first walked into the doctor's office, until she and I finally went home, with 5M still not in a 'regular hospital bed', was 13 hours), it was a pretty sobering experience. We were a little appalled at ourselves, for letting our son have a week-long asthma attack before we finally got him some medical attention. It's a different dynamic now, with both of us working - the 'hurdle' to clear before we'll take a kid to the doc has gotten higher, as the costs (in time & hassle) have increased. And I don't think it served 5M very well. Lessons to be learned from this, for sure. Not least of which is the degree to which we have to protect our kids from their own stupidity. Which cuts strongly against my parental grain, but I can't let something like this happen again. . . He's doing much better now - the barking-dog cough is gone, and he doesn't sound like a tea-kettle with every breath; but he's still tired all the time, which indicates that he's still not getting all the oxygen that he needs. So maybe he'll be a bit longer getting over it all the way. (*sigh*)


  1. Weird coincidence. This morning I woke up scratching at my throat and coughing, knowing it was the start of an asthma attack. Grabbed my Primatene Mist bronchodilator and gave two puffs.

    Good to hear 5m is back home although still weary. You shouldn't beat yourself for taking so long to get him treatment. When I was nine-years-old, it took my mother over a month to take me to see the doctor and find out I had asthma. I was coughing every day (I think of it as a seal's bark) but everybody thought it was my allergies: hayfever and pollen.

    My trigger is sudden changing air temperature. Knew the moment I crawled out of my warm bedcovers into the cold room this morning that it would start - telling me to get back in bed and sleep!

  2. Don't feel too bad; I know people whose kids have walked around for a week with a broken arm and such. It's hard to judge just 'how bad' another person is.

    On the topics of ER's - my spouse will drive an hour out of his way to take a kid to the ER rather than go to the one 15 mins. from our house. Just because he knows the wait will be significantly less at the smaller, out of the ways place. But, I guess it's not that MUCH of an emergency if you have time to make the drive.....

  3. Oh, we've done the whole "Maybe it will just get better on it's own," and "It's probably nothing," thing around here, only to find out there was something going on. That's one of those beautiful things about caring for another person!

    Sorry you all had to endure such a long evening, but glad he's getting better, slowly but surely.

  4. I'm glad he's home, and getting better. We've done the same thing though, not realizing how bad something actually is; like the poor kid that walked around with a broken heel for a couple of weeks during the track season. Our "help" for his sore foot? Why, give him foot rubs, of course! Ouch!!

  5. Michelle - Yeah, now that you mention it, it is more like a seal's bark than a dog's. . .

    And yeah, he's doing much better now, altho between 5M and his parents, there's a small pharmacy to manage, over the next couple weeks. . .

    Cocotte - Jen was in the ER again, with a single-mom friend, last night until 1AM. When she finally crawled into bed, she said she'll gladly drive 20 extra minutes to the hospital across town, next time. . .

    faDKoG - Oh, we're quite well familiar with the 'oh, he'll just get better' bit. It's just a little embarrassing when he doesn't. . .

    Sailor - Ouch, indeed! And I'm sure that one was pretty embarrassing afterwards, too. . .

    I guess that those embarrassing moments are just part of the drill when you're a parent. . .


  6. I'll add my voice to the (wise) many who tell you not to beat yourself up over it.

    Although... I also know that that's what we parents do best, don't we??

    Take care. I'm glad that 5Mis on his way to being as good as new.

  7. You snuck in while I was replying to the others, Flutter!

    Yeah, Beating Oneself Up is pretty much part and parcel of the Package of Parenthood. . .

  8. it's a scary lesson to have to learn but if you don't have any real experience with asthma beyond the mild exercise induced version it could be easy to not interpret those signs as being asthma related. don't be too hard on yourself. and know that such advice comes from someone who has had asthma since she was about 11 (and boy can i remember some humdinger attacks i SHOULD have been taken to the ER for as a teen when it was KNOWN that's what was occurring to me). my boy has it too. you all were fortunate and i know you've learned and you know it's serious business. i'm glad 5M is doing much better now.

  9. Thanks, Lime. Our 'mental model' was on the order of, 'oh, he went and brought some bronchitis on himself'. And by the time we took him to the doc, we were worried that it might be pneumonia. Like you say, asthma never really appeared on our radar screen. But you're right - you can be sure that it will be a lot closer to the front of our minds from now on. . .