Before our babies were born, we started taking precautions to protect their fragile respiratory systems. All newborns are susceptible to respiratory illness such as the flu, RSV, and pneumonia, but preemies are at an even greater risk, and when they become ill it is often severe. George and I both received our flu and tDAP vaccines, and asked anyone who wanted to visit the babies during the first year to do the same. After the babies’ birth we were diligent about things such as hand washing, not wearing shoes inside, staying away from people who had been sick, and not taking the babies into public. Though difficult, our efforts proved successful. We did not have a sick visit for any of the babies until after their first year, and have had only a handful in their four years of life. After a seven week NICU stint, we had no hopes of returning.
Last month, our healthy track record was blemished. The kids all demonstrated allergy symptoms: runny noses, drainage coughs, and itchy/ watery eyes, but all went to bed seemingly healthy. The next morning, both George and I left for work early while the kids slept and my mom babysat. About halfway into my commute, Mom called telling me Sydney was having a hard time breathing. I presumed her allergies were worsening and she just needed Zyrtec, but I called the pediatrician and got an early appointment anyways. Because my workday was booked with meetings, I sent George back home to take Sydney. During my meeting, texts starting pinging and I started struggling with not being there. Sydney had a nebulizer treatment for low blood oxygen something in the 70’s. I remained hopeful the nebulizer was all she needed. After a second treatment, things weren’t improving. With two liters of oxygen Sydney’s oxygen saturation was only in the 80’s. This meant an ambulance ride to the emergency room. Feeling helpless, I rushed to the ER to meet the ambulance, but I beat it by nearly an hour. I knew she was in good hands, but waiting to meet your child at the ER is painstaking. As Sydney’s gurney wheeled through the waiting room, I knew she felt awful. She barely noticed me. Her face was pale and she appeared limp as she clutched a small tan-colored teddy.
My usually garrulous little girl sat silently in bed as nurses buzzed about her room. After having an X-ray and multiple lab panels run, we waited for answers. Sydney dozed off trying to steal some rest as the hours passed. Meanwhile, my mom dutifully held down the fort at home.
Before the dinner hour, Sydney’s attending physician came in with the final result: pneumonia. Though her symptoms presented as pneumonia, it was somewhat surprising considering she hadn’t been sick prior. No fever, no changes in appetite or sleep. Just mild allergies. There are two types of pneumonia: community acquired (e.g. contagious resulting from infection in public place) or aspiration (e.g. foreign matter such as food, liquid, saliva, or vomit is inhaled into the lungs). The only way to determine and appropriately treat pneumonia is from lab work that indicates if microplasmas are present. Though the type wasn’t yet known, Sydney was immediately put on IV antibiotics as a precaution. She was still very sick, but within several hours, Sydney started talking again and could sit up for short periods. Despite marked improvement, Sydney still needed oxygen to maintain healthy levels of oxygen saturation so we were in for an overnight stay.
Once settled into our room, Sydney was excited to choose her meal from room service (she hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours). We had one slight problem when ordering: her egg allergy. Last year, a mild egg allergy showed up on Sydney’s panel along with dogs and cats. She doesn’t demonstrate any symptoms after eating foods containing cooked eggs, but we always disclose the allergy in case medication is derived from eggs. If you have a food allergy of any type, you are given a rather restricted hospital menu. An egg allergy means NO baked goods of any type and NO pasta, which are among Sydney’s favorites. She finally settled on French fries and chicken nuggets though she filled up on Oreos snuck in by her nurses instead. Sydney happily passed the evening hours watching movies from bed and listening to stories. The night was difficult with hourly nurse’s checks, IV adjustments, and general hospital noises. I managed to get a little shut-eye curled up next to Sydney while George snoozed on the oh so comfy hospital sofa. After breakfast, Sydney finally needed to use the restroom and when we unhooked her oxygen tank, noticed her oxygen was in the 90’s! This meant we could start the clock towards release. She could go home after six hours without oxygen and no other concerns with her vitals. We still didn’t know which variety of pneumonia little bit had so a mask was necessary for us to leave the room. Sydney was not pleased with this, but she clamored to get out of her bed. The little tan teddy who comforted Sydney during the ambulance ride helped convince her to wear a mask as well as take medication and cope with hospital life.
By late afternoon Sydney passed her six-hour test, and we learned she developed pneumonia from aspiration. This meant she was not contagious (HOORAY) and we were headed home with a round of antibiotics. Going to the hospital is always a humbling experience. We are grateful Sydney’s stay was brief and that we managed to go four years without anyone going to the hospital. Though we do not hope to repeat this ever again, we admittedly savored the individual time with Sydney.
Sydney was soooooo happy to be discharged she struck this pose with the enormous hospital toy teddy. After coming home, Lovey, has been instrumental getting Sydney to finish her medicines. Lovey takes a tiny bit then Sydney hesitantly finishes it.
A week after this hospital stint, Sydney returned to the pediatrician for a follow-up visit and got a clean bill of health. In addition to being a preemie, having pneumonia puts Sydney at risk for further respiratory illness. Therefore, all four kids, mom, and dad got flu shots. Exactly one week following discharge, Sydney was covered in hives. Thankfully, a friend warned us that it was possible. Apparently following serious illness, the body can have a histamine reaction resulting in hives. Sydney handled the itchiness well and tolerated a few rounds of Claritin and clear calamine lotion. Within three days they disappeared as quickly as they appeared.
We are oh so happy to be home and healthy again, and are taking as many precautions to keep things this way as we can. I’ve since gotten a pulse oximeter to help us monitor oxygen saturation should there be another scare.