Last Thursday was a terrifying day for us. It isn’t a story I look forward to sharing, but it seems important to tell it and record it. So I am.
My husband was traveling on business for a few days. He’s been doing this a lot lately, which we expected after a recent travel-free schedule centered around Princess’ birth. We miss him when he’s gone, and try to fill his absence with activities that make the time more enjoyable. On this particular Thursday, we decided to spend the day visiting with my mom.
Things started out well. Everyone was healthy. Everyone was rested. We were up early, out early. We drove about an hour and a half and still arrived well before lunch. We chatted. My mom made hot dogs on the grill. The children played outside for a while, then we brought them inside where they played in my mom’s large basement (where she keeps all the toys). They were within adult eyesight every moment. Everything seemed just as it should be.
Around 4pm, it all started happening very suddenly. Handsome began coughing and making a choking sound. The cough was familiar… It sounded like croup to me. Our family is not a stranger to croup; Writer had been hospitalized with it as a toddler, and Conductor had a mild case or two when he was smaller. I was fairly certain Handsome had croup. But the choking… that was not familiar. We tried to get him to speak, but he seemed unable to. Then he started throwing up.
Over several episodes, Handsome threw up pretty much everything he had eaten that day. Then the wheezing began. It was getting worse alarmingly fast. We took him in the bathroom and started to run a shower to make it steamy. I wanted to call my pediatrician for advice, so Writer stayed and held Handsome in the steamy bathroom, while my mom and stepdad took care of the other children.
The pediatrician gave us instructions for treatment, much of which we were already familiar with: fifteen minute periods in a steamy bathroom, and later, the cold night air. She also advised that if he worsened, we should take him to the emergency room. Just as I was hanging up with her, my mom came in the room carrying a bag of laundry detergent pods. “I’m almost 99% sure he did not eat one of these, but I have to tell you what happened,” my mom said.
She told me the story. Earlier when she had been watching the children in the basement, glancing from child to child, she saw that Handsome had something in his hands. She went over to see what he had, and it was a laundry detergent pod. He was squeezing it out on the floor and was trying to shake it off of his hands. My mom immediately wiped his face and mouth, looking for telltale signs of blue soap, but the cloth was clean, so she assumed he had only gotten it on his hands. The story was noted in my head, and we both were fairly certain that this was not an issue.
We went to see how Handsome was doing in the steamy bathroom. When we opened the door, Writer was crying. Our hearts just about stopped, thinking something terrible had happened, but it turned out our dear Writer was just worried about her baby brother, whose breathing was getting louder.
We decided to take him to the hospital immediately. No time to switch car seats, so here was the plan. My stepdad would watch the other children. My mom would drive the van, dropping Handsome and me off at the emergency room of the local hospital, about ten minutes from her house. Writer would stay with me, because she was very concerned and did not want to be away from her baby brother. Then, when baby Princess needed to nurse, my mom could drive her to the hospital to me.
As we gathered keys and shoes, Handsome threw up again, and this time, it was more alarming: as we wiped his face, there was a distinct scent of soap. Maybe he ate some after all…
We drove to the hospital wondering at the whole thing. Handsome had been very annoyed at having the laundry soap on his hands, trying to shake it off. If he’d eaten some, wouldn’t he have been spitting, or gagging, or at least mildly upset at the taste? Wouldn’t there be burns or lesions in his mouth? Wouldn’t there have been there have been some blue residue on that washcloth? There was no way he could have swallowed one whole, right?
Questions, questions. Prayers, Prayers. Was it croup, or could he be poisoned? We had no answers. It was very strange.
The doctors seemed to assume that he had eaten a pod. They tested his heart rate… good. They tested his oxygen levels… good. They listened to his lungs… they sounded bad. They gave him a breathing treatment and steroids. Then x-rays… not back yet.
The nurse came to speak to me. He looked so grave, I nearly fainted while he spoke. He told me that they were very concerned that his lungs sounded very bad, and that they were concerned about aspiration or pneumonia. But not just any pneumonia, but what is called “chemical pneumonia.” My head spinning and pulse dropping, I only caught a percentage of his explanation of what it was, but I heard this much: “He needs to be transferred to ***(a children’s hospital in a larger city). Best case, you’ll be there overnight and have a story. Worst case, it could be very, very serious.” I looked over to see if Writer was listening. She wasn’t… she was talking to my mother. Safe, I whispered to the nurse, “Could he… could he die?” He answered slowly, “I don’t *think* he’s going to die, but it is a possibility…” Then he continued explaining the complications of chemical pneumonia, but I didn’t comprehend much after that.
At some point in this horrible experience, I called my husband and left him voice mails, telling him what was going on, that he needed to get an emergency flight home, and to pray. I called his mom and told her of the uncertainty of her grandson’s condition, and asking her to pray. I called a friend from our church and asked for prayer. My friend called all the small groups who were meeting that evening, and everyone stopped to pray for Handsome. Emails went out to the entire prayer list and an army of faithful friends sent prayers up for him. My mom brought us sweet baby Princess so I could feed her, and I gave sweet Handsome into sweet Writer’s arms while I nursed. There was a lot of sweetness in this nightmarish moment!
Logistics were planned. I would ride in the back of the ambulance with Handsome. My own house was actually only about a 20 minute drive from the children’s hospital we were transferring to, so my mom would be driving my children home and staying with them as long as she was needed. My mother in law was on standby, possibly to bring Princess to the hospital to nurse if we would be permitted to have her there. My husband was able to get an emergency flight home, and would be able to be at the children’s hospital in several hours.
The beloved Snoopy dog
Finally, the ambulance arrived. They strapped Handsome’s car seat onto a stretcher, then we buckled him in. I’d had no idea they used car seats on stretchers. I rode with him, the first and hopefully last ambulance experience for both of us. Handsome slept the entire time. The paramedic was chatty and kind, which was calming. He gave me a little Peanuts “Snoopy” dog to give him when he woke up.
About half way through the ride, the paramedic discussed Handsome’s condition with me. “Best case, they might keep him six hours and send you home. Worst case, he might be there several days for observation…” He was casual, not grave as the nurse had been. I asked him the same question I’d asked the nurse three or four hours earlier: “Is it life threatening?”
His answer was different. “Naw… If it was life-threatening, you would have been at the children’s hospital hours ago. They would have flown you… they wouldn’t have waited for me!”
Bless that man. I wanted to hug him. I REALLY needed to hear that.
When we arrived, Handsome woke up and was frightened. I gave him his pacifier and his Snoopy dog. He took a liking and clung to it, and to me.
He was only out of my arms for the 45 seconds it took to do a rectal temperature. Kind doctors and nurses took vitals, asked questions and took notes, and I gave them the laundry detergent container so they could discuss the contents with poison control. Then it was just a matter of waiting.
Around 1am, they announced that he could go home. The x-rays were fine, no indication of chemical pneumonia, no signs that any laundry pods were poisoning my baby. The steroids and breathing treatments had helped his breathing, so the diagnosis… was “just” croup. While severe cases of croup can be very serious, and in this case it was rather serious, we were praising God that it was treatable, and that there was no poisoning from laundry soap.
We were discharged around 1:30am, and moved into the ER waiting room. About 15 minutes later, my husband, fresh in from his emergency flight home, picked us up in front and took us home. All together, all well.
Did he actually swallow any laundry detergent? I don’t know. He didn’t show it in his behavior, but that smell was awfully strange. Could the smell have just been on his hands, or his clothes? Or did he swallow a small amount? It’s a mystery that I guess we will never know in this life. I don’t suppose it really matters… all we know is what we need to know: that God saved my child from what could have been unthinkable.That our family held together in love and support. That our friends were prayerful and faithful. That we are very blessed indeed.
We only had a small glimpse of the fear of losing a child. My heart aches for those whom the outcome is not so good, or who have to live with the uncertainty for more than a few hours. I think of a family whose precious newborn daughter is fighting for her life because of some tragic events surrounding her birth. I think of another, pregnant friend who must wait three more months until her unborn daughter is born before she will know if this dear baby’s heart condition is treatable. I think of another family who lost their eight-year-old daughter last year after a tragic boating accident. My heart aches for all these families. I pray for all them constantly. This small experience makes me weep and pray all the more for them all, and pray for every ambulance that ever passes by me again.
And it makes me appreciate my children all the more. A thoughtful friend brought us dinner on Friday, along with some beautiful flowers. “You can plant these,” she said, “And remember how God saved Handsome.” I will always treasure those flowers as a reminder of how blessed I am that my precious little son is here. Blessed that all nine of my precious children are here. It gives a sobering perspective. Such silly things I get worked up over so often, most of which has no lasting value. Life… family… love… faith… friends… these are eternal. These are what matter. Let the important things in life never be overshadowed by the “pressing” ones.