Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Croup

After five days in the hospital, Christopher came home knowing full well that the croup is "crap!" (When Topher says it, he rolls his R's and it makes us laugh!) But there wasn't much to laugh about when late Thursday night we realized that Topher's sudden heavy wheezing was a serious indication that he simply couldn't breathe. Aaron had taken Christopher hometeaching because he hadn't seen him in several days and he wanted to spend some time with him. Although they came home long past Topher's bedtime, he still seemed to be in good spirits -- but he was breathing hard. And when we tried to give him a bedtime snack, he choked so severely that it induced vomit. His throat was swelling shut.

I thought it was an allergic reaction because the breathing problems struck suddenly during dinner, accompanied by a little rash on his arm. So at Urgent Care, the nurses started treating him for an allergic reaction with shots and IV's and an oxygen mask. Oh, the poor kid was miserable! He curled up in our arms, bawling in his raspy way, coughing like a barking seal, and pleading with what little voice he had, "Help!" The mask terrified him, so we had to administer the medicine by a tube in front of his nose instead. And after a CAT scan and an X-ray, our sweet little boy managed to fall asleep from sheer exhaustion while I curled up with him on the gurney. He was so terrified and so tired and so confused, and we felt so sorry for him. It was around 4am when the doctor determined Topher needed to go to the Fairfax County Hospital to be treated for a severe case of croup. Larry and Larry, the two EMT's, drove Christopher and me to the hospital via ambulance. That was Christopher's second ride in an ambulance in two months. What a special boy!

We got settled into a cramped shared room at the hospital on Friday morning, and after more poking and prodding for vital signs, Christopher was finally allowed to sleep. Aaron also tried napping, but that was futile because of the sobbing little boy in the bed next to us. So he eventually went home to get some real sleep. He had been up all night, whereas I had napped a little while lying next to Topher. I took the day shift with our little guy, feeding him small bits of food, taking him to the kid's activity room, and rocking him for hours when he woke coughing and vomiting again. His harsh breathing had subsided by Friday night, thanks to the steroids the nurses had administered, so they sent us home around 9pm. I was so grateful to see Christopher settled into his own bed for a good night's sleep! And I was also grateful for a shower!

But Saturday afternoon, Topher woke from his nap with fear on his face because he couldn't breathe again. He could barely gasp enough to cough the harsh, hacking sound we had learned to hate in the hospital. So we rushed to the emergency room and immediately, the nurse had him on a bed and was administering a mask full of medicine. He squirmed and cried and fought the mask as he had the day before, but soon he could breathe again. What little appetite he's had on Friday had disappeared by Saturday. We could hardly coax him into drinking apple juice and nibble on a graham cracker. By the time the hospital opened a private room for Christopher in the pediatric wing, I was desperate enough to have him eat that I bribed him with a bottle of chocolate milk. It was the only thing of substance he had all day.

Despite his lethargy from not breathing, not eating, and not sleeping, Christopher proved so patient during his next two days trapped in the hospital. Sadly, he became accustomed to the nurses taking his blood pressure, listening to his lungs, and applying wires to his chest. He liked playing with the monitor attached to his big toe, and we kept him entertained with all of his favorite movies: "Mary Poppins," "Annie," and "Joseph." By Monday morning, Christopher didn't even want to venture to the kid's activity room. He was only mildly interested in playing basketball at the outdoor court with Aaron. He trembled when I tried to prop him up to stand. And he curled up to sleep on my chest or under my arm without any attempt to escape and explore on his own. Mr. Mischief was so not himself. By Monday morning, Christopher had also stopped drinking. Even chocolate milk couldn't tempt him anymore. He had coughed so much and thrown up so much that he wasn't interested in taking anything into his belly anymore. And I became accustomed to calling for the nurse to bring a change of pajamas and sheets. Sunday night, he vomited all over me while I cuddled with him under the cool mist tent in the crib. I don't know what surprised the nurse more when she walked in: seeing me in the crib or seeing the puke all over the place. Aaron helped me clean Christopher up and calm him down again.

I was glad that by Monday, the doctors had decided to be more liberal with the medicine mask that help Christopher so much when he really started struggling. By the time Topher was comfortable with holding the mask to his own face, the respiratory technicians had administered the medicine several times in a just a few hours. But it seems to make a world of difference. The nurse brought in another steroid mashed up in some applesauce around lunchtime, and I feared that Christopher would thoroughly object to it as he had all other food. But when I explained to him that it was "help," he opened his mouth and let me feed him the two scoops of drugged applesauce. That was it. That was all he would take in. But within a couple of hours, I started to see our curious kid return. It was like magic.

Christopher started showing some interest in the way Jello could be mashed through his fingers. Then he wanted to play with his DVD player. Then he started pretending he could climb out of his crib. And by the time Aaron returned from a short sleep at home, Christopher was ready to conquer the world! The doctor didn't let us go home until nearly 10pm, and by then Topher was tired and irrational again. But after taking a tour of the cafeteria and watching us pack up our things, Christopher started getting terribly excited to go home. He kept begging for "home" using his sign language. So we were very relieved when the doctor finally agreed that we could go. As grateful that I was for the medical support when Topher couldn't breathe and when he would throw up from coughing so severely, I was eager to go home where we could all sleep without being interrupted by well-meaning stethescopes.

From what I understand, croup is a common childhood virus. It typically causes a nasty cough, but in some instances, it causes "stridor," the strained breathing that I've come to recognize so readily. It only affects young children under the age of 5, which means Christopher has three more vulnerable years ahead of him. How I pray we never have to deal with the croup again!

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