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My Toddler’s First Trip to the ER

My Toddler's First Trip to the ERThis weekend marks a less than exciting “first” for my little one. Her first trip to the emergency room.

The day started out much like any other. My husband was doing a loud construction project at home, so we went over to my parents’ house for my daughter’s nap. Before her nap, she was the picture of a happy, healthy toddler. Running around, playing, laughing. She went down for her nap around 2:00 and when she woke up around 5:00 something changed.

She was coughing with a crazy bark and wheezing when she breathed. I was worried that maybe she had smuggled something small into her Pack ‘n Play at nap time and maybe it was lodged in her airway. It seemed way too sudden to be an illness, since like I said…she was totally fine when I put her down. I tried asking her about it – if she had put anything in her mouth and she just kept telling me, “I’m OK Mama.”

This went on for about 15 minutes before my parents suggested that I take her to the urgent care nearby. It might be worth just having it checked out. It was probably just a funny cough, but if she did actually have something lodged in there, it could be more serious. While I was considering it, she had an intense coughing and wheezing spell where she couldn’t catch her breath.

I tried looking up a video our audio clip to link to just now, but I couldn’t find one as intense as what I was hearing (probably because most parents wouldn’t actually think to stop and record something like that). The cough sounded barky like croup, but the wheezing (which I learned later are called stridor breaths) sounded much more like whooping cough – that wheezing sound where they’re struggling to breathe on the inhale. As she was trying to squeeze breaths in through her swollen airway, she was coughing so hard she vomited all over.

It was really scary and my dad called 9-1-1. By the time the EMTs arrived she had stabilized a bit. They said it sounded like croup and told us we should go to the urgent care where they could give her some things to help her breathing. I’d never been to urgent care and, needless to say, they were a little swamped in the middle of December. Once we were seen, Fern was given a steroid treatment and some fever reducer for her nearly 102 degree fever. We hung out a bit for the doctor to see if she improved, but since it wouldn’t kick in for another few hours and she still sounded bad, she sent us to the ER to get an epinephrine breathing treatment that would help more immediately. Her exact words were, “I have two kids and they’ve both had croup before, but definitely not like this. I would take her.”

When we got to the ER, she was admitted pretty quickly. After a bit, a respiratory therapist came in to give her an epinephrine breathing treatment. The breathing treatment helped a ton and after a bit more observation we were able to head home. It was definitely late by the time we got to bed – after midnight – but we were so happy to have our girl home safe and sound. Usually I’m the one who puts Fern to bed, but Craig even joined us that night and we both laid down next to Fern and sang to her and patted her back. It was pretty obvious that the whole experience had shaken my husband up too and we both definitely compensated by giving her plenty of spoiling the next day.

I think the whole experience was extra scary for us, since Fern had never been sick before. It was so hard to see her in pain and not be able to do anything about it. She just kept saying, “Hold you Mama! Hold you!” over and over. And when I asked her how she was feeling she said, “I feel canky (AKA cranky) Mama.” And after the really big coughing spells she would say, “I’m OK Mama” through her tears. It broke my heart.

Even though this was a scary situation for us, I definitely learned a few things. First of all – croup is super common. Pretty much every parent who left a comment in my Instagram feed was able to relate and shared stories about their own littles getting croup. I wish I would’ve read up on it a bit to know what it sounded like ahead of time, because it definitely would’ve been helpful.

I also learned that croup is also something we get as adults all the time, but we don’t notice it as more than just a sore throat. Our throats might feel a bit swollen, but nothing major and definitely not worth going to urgent care over. But with little ones, their airway is so tiny that any swelling of their throat can impede their breathing really quickly. This explains why Fern seemed totally fine when I put her down for her nap and then took a turn so quickly. The doctors said that whenever kids have intense stridors like Fern was having, it’s best to bring them in, so I’m glad I did.

And finally, I realized how thankful I am for modern medicine. Typically, I’m pretty hippie when it comes to medical approaches. I’m a bit of a hospital hater typically. I had Fern at an out-of-hospital birthing center with zero interventions (baby #2 will be a home birth), we delay vaccinations, and none of us have had antibiotics in years (i.e. not ever for Fern). Any time there’s an illness, I reach for a homeopathic option first and Fern has only had baby ibuprofen a few times in her entire life. That said, modern medicine is totally necessary sometimes and I’m so glad that I have that option when something more serious should arise. I still definitely asked a lot of questions about the things they wanted to give my daughter (“What’s in that breathing treatment? What are the side effects? Do you think X, Y, or Z is truly necessary?”), which I could tell they were a bit taken aback by. I think a lot of people don’t question doctors and just take their word as gospel, which I’m not into. I will always question, especially when it comes to my child, but in the end I accepted all the treatments they offered and they were very respectful of my questions, which I appreciated. Definitely thankful for good doctors.

If your child has never had croup, hopefully this was helpful for you and maybe you can read up a bit more so you’ll know what to look for if it ever comes your way – though I’ll be sincerely hoping that it doesn’t.

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