How? How how HOW do a family of four ever get through the winter without one of us at any point having a cold? With the children visiting some kind of infection pick-and-mix ball pit every day, constantly swapping cups and spoons and spit and bacteria with each other, let ALONE swapping lurgies and bogies and long-phlemy-beasties with other children, how do we ever stop moving the bug around the four of us in the house? I honestly don’t know. Towards the end of November we had a week of Alex waking every hour every night. Then we had four days last week when Alex managed to sleep- after the anti biotics for an ear infection started working. Then I got his original cold, and inevitably breathed it back over him and, well he was in hospital before we knew it. I will end this paragraph on that cliff hanger.
The appointment for the out of hours surgery was an NHS target meeting dream. It was quick, efficient and I was ushered out the doctors office, with smiles and a hand in the small of my back and onto a chair in the A and E waiting room with swift precision. I was sat there, cuddling Alex and feeling smug at how well we had been treated and already drafting a “Dears Out of Hours, Thank you” letter in my head. Then, lovely doctor reappears and tells me I have to join the back of the A and E queue, hand this letter to the receptionist who will then direct me to the ward for Alex to be admitted for possible severe bronchilitis. By this time, the A and E department had experienced an epidemic of epic proportions of god knows what and everyone and their uncle had reached the end of their pilgrimage to be there. The queue was 12 people deep. Just to see the receptionist. I asked the previously-lovely-but-rapidly-becomming-a-nob-in-my-eyes- doctor, in my best polite voice “Are you joking?”. No. He wasn’t. No he couldn’t just hand the letter to the receptionist himself and no couldn’t direct me to the ward. I had to rejoin a queue I had already been part of half an hour ago just to get to book into see him.
People are nice though arn’t they? One man noticed me juggling a one year old and two bags and two coats and offered to stand in the queue for me. Of course I didn’t take him up on it. I am British and don’t accept help.
We queued for thirty minutes here. We waited another thirty minutes in the waiting room. We waited 3 more hours in the paediatric assessment unit. Before being seen. This is a child with “Possible severe bronchiilitis” by the way. And I couldn’t help but think back to the strikes the previous day. The government said emergeny care woudnt be affected. But then in the next breath they said hospitals would be affected. I got angry. I started to think what if this had happened the day before? Now, SURELY some emergency care must be affected? Surely? There must be a knock on of people being drafted in from considered plodding along care to cover the emergeny strikers etc? It pissed me off. I was already riled up about the strikes. I understand the reasons behind it, I used to work in the public sector, but It ISNT the fat cat bankers and big wigs who will ever be the ones affected by strikes as the strikers intend. It is people like me and Alex sat in that waiting room for hours on end.
And I started to get quite distressed at this point because a year ago, almost to the day, Alex was in hospital with suspected meningitis. It was the scariest day of my life. His body was limp, he was doing a constant, awful moan and he screamed when we touched him. His breathing sounded like Puffer Pete from Chugginton. He didn’t open his eyes. His temperature was 41 degrees. But his hands and feet were freezing. Our doctors surgery told me to give him ibuprofen. They told me his chest was totally clear and sent me home. I phoned back in the afternoon and got a rather huffy response “have you given him more ibuprofen? Do that”. I wasn’t happy with this and maybe my “Mothers instinct” kicked in and we just took him to A and E. The scariest moment of my life was when the triage nurse was checking him over and pointed to two purple marks on his lower legs. “How long have these been there for, Mrs Smith?” as she pressed them, and they didn’t disappear. My heart fell to the pit of my stomach and this sound, somewhere between a sob and a groan left my mouth. I vividly remember how she touched my arm and said “lets take him through now”. And we went through the other door from triage. Not the one you go through when you go back out to the waiting room, to wait for hours to be then seen by the doctor and rejoin the queue. But we went through this door i had never noticed before and through what felt like the belly of the hospital where Alex was swarmed upon by a team of nurses and doctors and poked, prodded and pin cushioned. My little human pin cushion. Tiny and naked except for a nappy. Whilst we waited for blood tests we were put in a little room – the four of us, me, Smudge, Ed and Alex. Ed was amazing, such a good boy. He must have been freaked out but was happy to sit and draw and eat the endless bourbon biscuits the nurses kept brining him. We don’t have family nearby – the sacrifice we made by living here – and of course, although at this point no one, no one had mentioned “meningitis” it was the elephant in the room and knowing this, we didn’t feel we could ask a friend, with children, to come and take care of Edward. He could be a carrying it too. The thought of having a second child, possibly carrying this, made me feel sicker. I felt I couldn’t feel sicker, but when I had that though, it turns out, I could.
I don’t know if my husband was in denial at this point. I was cradling Alex and we were having this discussion of what we needed to do about Ed. It was getting on for his bedtime and although he had been amazing all afternoon, he was naturally reaching his limits. It never crossed my mind I would be the one to take him home and leave Alex there. Selfish I suppose, but it never crossed my mind it would be ME to not be with Alex. Looking back Smudge must have felt the same but I was there trying to bully Smudge into taking Ed home. I remember clearly cradling Alex and looking Smudge straight in the eye and hissing at him “they think he has MENINGITIS Smudge! We NEED to ask people for help”.
The nurse came to take Alex for his lumber puncture and we were advised not to go in. I said I could take it, I wanted to go in, but I guess when they realised I was not getting their hint that it would be awful to see, they told me I shouldn’t. He came back and he looked, well he looked…like a rag doll. He didn’t look real. This nurse was cuddling him as if he was her own baby and for that I will be forever be grateful, because if I wasn’t there with him, I wanted someone to be holding him as if he was theirs.
In some weird way though, being in hospital was better than not being. I knew he was in the right place. Someone ELSE was making the decisions, the informed and professional decisions on what to do about his care and what he needed. I didn’t need to grope around in the dark anymore.
I didn’t know and know now the following and want to pass it on; 1) Signs of meningitis people don’t know are cold hands and feet. Always be aware of this. 2) Skin not pinking up instantly when you touch the skin. 3) A high pitched sound or moaning.
Alex’s lumber results came back negative for bacterial meningitis, but he was given the meningitis antibiotics anyway, just to be sure. He was diagnosed with severe bronchilitis and stayed on drips in hospital for four days, and then released on good behaviour with further drugs for another 5 days. A week later and you never would have even guessed what had happened.
So when Alex was taken back into hospital on Thursday I thought, here we go again, bronchilitis. When the first doctor had noted on his admission forms “suspected severe bronchilitis” this gave me a clue. I’m not just a hat rack, me. So, once again, Alex was lying on the hospital bed, this tiny body, naked expect for a nappy, a tiny body in comparison to a huge hospital bed and this doctor was checking him over. I managed somewhere to get the courage to ask my question, and swallowed down a huge lump in the throat and said “so…doctor, what do you think this is?”. The doctor looked at me, smiled this little smile and said “Mrs Smith, I think, this is…a bad cough and cold”.
One of the nurses there was telling me the following, I didn’t know and wanted to share it. Certain words are scary. Bronchitilitis is one of them. He told me that every child will get bronchilitis at some point. Every one. He said it just varies as to how badly they have it. Some will need anti biotics and some will need hospitalisation. This made me feel so much better. Because once you KNOW what the facts are behind the big scary monster in the room it is easier to deal with, isn’t it?