Everyone has been sick in our household this past week—everyone but me, that is. I'm simply exhausted. I don't know how I haven't been hit, but I'll gladly accept my fate. I'd also gladly accept a nap.
My daughter was nearing the end of her flu, so I was extra careful to make sure she was comfortable and sleeping peacefully. I was worried her lingering cough might keep her up. I could hear the boys, who were fine, playing peek-a-boo with each other in the baby's room. I love the way they interact and giggle together. Finally, I got them all to sleep and I crashed. Morning was coming quickly; we needed to get up early to pick my firefighter up at the station. I call it "firefighter hour," since so many vehicles on the road at that time of day have that unmistakable red emblem stuck to their back window—especially coming home, counter-current to the flow of morning traffic.
I closed my eyes and took a long, deep, happy breath and hid under the covers. It felt nice not to be needed. That's one of my favorite moments of the night, when all the children are in bed and I think that maybe—just maybe—this will be the first night when no one wakes up till morning. And every night, I wake up to the baby crying over the monitor.
I woke up at around 12:30 a.m. as usual—but this time, it wasn't to the sound of my youngest waking up. I was tired, confused, and tried to focus on what it was I was hearing. Down the hall I could hear my three year old coughing and gasping. My ability to focus instantly sharpened and I listened more closely. This wasn't just a random coughing fit. He didn't sound right. I shot from my bed to his bed and tried to comfort him and calm him down.
I had heard of this type of coughing, but none of my children had ever been sick like this. I had never before actually witnessed this level of wheezing. He was scared. Eventually the coughing stopped and he started breathing a bit easier. His little heart was racing. His nostrils flared each time he breathed in, mouth open, but there were no retractions, his skin signs looked good, and he seemed to be getting enough air. Difficulty breathing for sure, but his breathing slowed and he appeared to be getting better. I gave him a quick dose of ibuprofen hoping that it would ease the pain that was causing him to panic, and possibly bring down any inflammation that might be causing his airway to constrict. It was a shot in the dark. I grabbed my phone to text my firefighter and see if he was up. He conveniently texted me before I could finish the letter, telling me he was just getting back from a small warehouse fire—he was up.
He was coughing on his end of the line, trying to get over the last of his own bout with the flu. I wanted to know if I should do anything further for our son. I thought my kiddo might need a breathing treatment, but I wanted his opinion before I woke up the firefighters at the local station. I told him what was going on, and as we talked, my little guy started coughing again. The baby heard the commotion and began crying in the background. Everyone was in panic mode except my daughter who, ironically, was the only one who slept through the night.
"Can you hear that? It doesn't sound normal."
"Yeah, I can hear it." There was worry in his voice. "Go to my desk and get my stethoscope."
He could hear the gasps for breath in between the coughing fits. He wished he were home to do a thorough assessment. Having a novice listen to lung sounds was as thorough as he was going to get for the moment. I got the stethoscope, thinking how nice it was that we happened to have one at home.
I put it on and tried to calm down my child so that I could hear clearly. He finally stopped coughing and crying, and settled his little blond head against my shoulder. I put the bell of the stethoscope to his chest where I hoped his lungs were. There was a higher pitched sound each time he exhaled.
"I'm not sure what I'm supposed to hear. Is it normal for the wheezing sound to be louder when he exhales than when he inhales?"
"Wheezing isn't normal."
"I know that—but does wheezing normally sound louder when exhaling? Is this what you would call wheezing?"
"...Wheezing isn't normal, he shouldn't be making that sound at all."
It was late, we were both exhausted, and I gave up trying to explain myself. We settled on the fact that he was, in fact wheezing.
His heart rate was still high, but slowing down. The ibuprofen started to kick in and I could tell that his throat was in less pain. His nostrils stopped flaring so much and I could see that he was breathing easier.
My fears eased, and so did my firefighter's. He went through a quick mental stock of all of the drugs we had at home that might help if needed. The epi shot in the fridge, for my husband's allergy to bee stings, was there if crap hit the fan. There was benadryl in the cabinet in case the difficulty breathing was caused by a histamine reaction. And, of course, there was a station of firefighters down the street who would have considered the call a valid one, even at that time of night. In fact, if it had been anyone else but me who was helping him assess our son over the phone, he would have told them to call 911 or go to urgent care. We decided that for the time being, he was okay. I was charged to keep an eye on him.
I stayed up the rest of the night, paranoid that I might miss something if I drifted off to sleep. I picked up the latest Dan Brown novel and started reading. My son, although breathing heavily and sleeping fitfully, slowly got better as the night progressed. The horizon began to glow and I felt the stress lessening. Soon, my firefighter would be home on his four day long break, and he could help shoulder the burden of watching over the children for the next few days.
Everyone got to stay in their pajamas and eat cookies on the way to pick up daddy from work that morning. I didn't care about nutrition; I wanted to make the trip as happy and non-agitated as I could, and a package of Oreo's did the trick. We all needed a little pampering after such a long stretch of days. The baby got hold of a cookie or two and was ecstatic. He was covered in chocolate mush and grinning ear to ear by the time we made it to the station.
My husband was relieved to see his son doing so well, and decided against giving him a quick breathing treatment there at the station. I felt the stress of the night being lifted from my shoulders as he drove us home. I drifted in and out of sleep among the sea of red tail lights and firefighter stickers.