Who knew what appeared to be the common cold was instead something that could bring me to tears?
Last week my husband and I were confined to Surrey Memorial Hospital’s pediatrics department for five days. Our newborn son, not quite three weeks old, had caught a viral infection.
I thought I had prepared for a due date in February, the peak season for sniffly noses, hacking coughs and sore throats. I’m a firm believer in immunizations, and I know how serious influenza could be for infants. All of Elliot’s primary caregivers – myself, my husband, his sister and grandparents – had been vaccinated for the flu. I kept our new baby at home, away from germ-ridden play spaces.
But early last week we noticed Elliot had a stuffy nose. My husband and I both figured he simply had to ride it out, like everyone else.
The first two nights he slept poorly, and breast fed a little less. As a precaution, I called up a friend who is a pediatric resident, and she offered to come over to check him out. I’m so grateful she did.
His breathing was laboured, she said, pointing to how his head bobbed and how his belly sucked in around his rib cage. Then she dropped what for me was a bombshell: You need to take him to emergency.
I hadn’t fathomed taking up hospital staff’s time for a cold. That he was potentially in danger and I had no idea caused me to burst into tears.
A test of his mucus showed a respiratory infection called RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) bronchiolitis.
We were admitted to Surrey Memorial for what we thought would be a day or two. On the evening of day two I took a break from the confines of our room and went for dinner with a friend. I returned to see my husband holding our baby, who now had a clear tube taped to his cheeks, running from his nostrils to an oxygen apparatus.
Elliot’s difficulty breathing and mucus in his lungs meant he now needed supplemental oxygen. Cue the tears again.
The nurses explained that this was typical for infants with RSV, but it was still hard to see monitoring wires and a tube snaking away from my baby. It also meant additional nights at the hospital until he could breathe well for 24 hours on his own, without the oxygen on.
Our room began to feel like a jail cell we’d never escape, and I missed my daughter like crazy (she stayed with my parents). Yet we knew we were in the best possible place.
My physician friend explained that RSV is something they see a lot in babies this time of year, and that Elliot would more than likely be fine now that he was in good care.
And whenever I padded through the hall to the washroom, I glanced in the open doors of other rooms and was increasingly grateful that it was just RSV we were dealing with.
I learned a few other things, such as not to feel like I’m wasting anyone’s time by taking a new baby to see a doctor.
From here on in I’ll place hand washing on the same pedestal of importance as the flu shot.
And caring for kids really does take a village – support from family and friends is invaluable, from grandparents who babysit to a friend taking the time for a social visit with a hot cup of tea.
There’s also nothing like hearing “you’re my best mom ever” from a toddler to make you feel better.
And I’ll forever be thankful for wireless babies. They’re that much easier to snuggle, after all.
Kristine Salzmann is a former Black Press reporter. She writes for The Leader on parenting issues.