Disclaimer: I wrote this 3 weeks ago – it was my way of processing everything. I wasn’t going to post it, but life isn’t one straight line – it has it’s ups and downs; and so I thought I would actually share this. It’s real life and not the typical social media highlights reel.
I’m lying here in a hospital bed. It’s strange to be in one, considering I am not the patient.
These hospital ward walls aren’t the standard white or grey, I mean sure, they are, but they have bright colourful murals on them. Brightly coloured birds, squirrels, butterflies, giraffes, rabbits, mushrooms and even fairies brighten things up a little, as I hear a child cry not too far away.
I am in the paediatric ward – a place I never expected to be. No parent ever does.
My door is slightly open and I watch people passing through the open sliver. Nurses walking up and down, doctors doing their rounds and food trolleys with tea and coffees rolling past.
What strikes me the most is this: I see the faces of parents as they follow behind the incubator or hospital bed holding their child. It’s a look that knows no colour or creed. It’s one of concern, uncertainty and fear. It’s also one of strength. Strength because I see how quickly that look is dissolved into a smile of reassurance when their child looks back at them, to Mom and Dad. So much is being said, without any words at all. The smile says: “You’re going to be fine! You’re going to feel better soon!” It also says: “Oh please be fine!! I really hope and pray you’re going to be fine!|
My 5 week old baby boy is lying in an open incubator next to me, while I type this. I’m looking to my left and can see the little monitors and tubes attached to his little body. His breathing is shallow and fast, crackly even and while it’s hard and heartbreaking to see him like this, I also feel grateful that he’s going to be OK and that we are here in the best possible care.
So what happened?
A few days before New Years Eve, I got sick with a cold. I wasn’t really surprised. I’m sleep deprived and run down. On the 2nd of January, Alexandros started with a cough. It was unnerving to hear this tiny 5 week old, coughing. I was surprised because I thought babies being breastfed couldn’t get sick, but that’s not true. They get plenty of my antibodies through the milk, but it doesn’t make them immune. On Friday, the 3rd of January, we went to our Paediatrician, Dr. M. Irvine. Alexandros was due for his 6 week check up the following week, so we just brought it a little forward to check out the cough. Well, as Murphy’s Law would have it, he didn’t cough once. Isn’t it always typical? It’s like when you take your car into the mechanic, because it’s making this awful sound, and then once you’re there, the sound disappears. Sigh.
He passed his 6 week check up with flying colours and I was told to monitor his cough.
Well, the next day, I managed to video the cough and I emailed it to Dr Irvine. He replied:
I called Dr Kooblal and I asked if it was OK to feed him first as he was due a feed and bring him to the Mediclinic Cape Town afterwards, or if it was urgent to get him in immediately? She suggested I feed first and then bring him and she would be waiting for us.
Alexandros is like a little 3 hourly alarm clock (unless he’s in a growth spurt, in which case it’s every 1.5-2 hours) for his feeds. He should have woken at 16h00, but it was now 16h15. He was asleep on the Nurture cushion next to me on the couch and when I looked over at him, the first thing that struck me as off, was his colouring. He was so pale. When I didn’t see any rise and fall in his chest, I felt this sickening, cold feeling creep in. He’s not breathing. He’s not breathing.
I will never ever forget the feeling of picking him up and feeling like I was picking up a bean bag – all limp. Sox, who was next to me took him and started trying to get a response. He was completely unresponsive. All of a sudden, he opened his one eye and then closed it again, took a very shallow small breath and started to cry a little. I cannot tell you the relief we felt, but we went into overdrive of getting George and Alexi into the car. We needed to get to the hospital immediately.
As we got into the CBD, we saw police and traffic officers barricading several roads for the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival happening that night. The pit of my stomach burned. The roads that were open, were bumper to bumper in traffic. Sox pulled up next to a traffic officer and begged him to help us, telling him it was an emergency, that our baby wasn’t breathing properly, and we needed to get our baby to the hospital. He asked which hospital, we told him and he told us which road was open. We knew that, but it was bumper-to-bumper and we begged for help. He literally turned his back as he said: “No I can’t help you.”
The anger and disappointment I felt in law enforcement that are meant to serve and protect is hard to describe.
Sox got into the traffic, we had our hazards on, hooting and our windows down, begging motorists to allow is to weave in and out as we made our way to the hospital. At one point, the traffic was so bad and we couldn’t get through. 2 lanes had become 4 lanes from cars gridlocking. Sox suggested that I drive and he get out the car with Alexandros and RUN with him to the hospital. It was horrible and beyond stressful.
We arrived at the hospital, relieved that Alexi was breathing. He was however, really cold, so they put him in an open incubator that was heated. He was too cold for them to find a vein to put a drip up and take bloods, so they needed to heat him up first.
It was awful to see them putting tubes and wires up on this tiny 5 week old body, but also a relief to see his colour coming back properly.
Despite the chaos, George was a real little champion and was sweetly concerned. He kept telling me: “Mommy, I help brother. I help. I help the doctor.”
While we were in the ward, there was a private staff room that George kept wanting to go into. We told him he couldn’t because it was for doctors only. We laughed when he replied: “Yes, it’s for me!”
He visited over the 4 days and was a little star. So mature for his 2.5 years and seemingly understanding that Mommy and brother have to stay in the hospital. I am so incredibly proud of this little boy, I could just burst!
There wasn’t much we could do other than keep Alexandros comfortable and wait for various tests to come back to find out exactly what was wrong. I was exhausted because I couldn’t really sleep properly, but also strangely “energised” because I felt I needed to be alert and ready for anything should something happen again and should he need me.
The second day we were moved into the Paediatric ward. Here he is being wheeled in…
Breastfeeding him every 3 hours, with the wires and tubes was quite challenging, (I got more nipple damage from not having a great latch because of it) but we did it and I expressed once or twice to give my nips a chance to recover a little.
While it was horrible to see our baby like this, I was so grateful that we were in the best place for him. I also kept thinking: it could be so much worse, and I am so thankful that he is actually alright.
The results came back that it wasn’t bacterial, so they could stop the antibiotics and remove the drip from his baby hand. It was the Parainfluenza Virus, which is a Respiratory Virus.
I know I shouldn’t have Dr. Googled it, but this was what I found (and at:
Parainfluenza is a common virus that can cause both upper and lower respiratory infections, including colds, bronchitis, croup, and pneumonia. Despite the name, it is not related to influenza (the flu) because it is caused by an entirely different virus known as human parainfluenza virus (HPIV).
We were kept for another night to monitor his breathing and also to suction his nose. That was probably the worst. They’d saline his nose, hold him down and use this pipe attached to a high pressure machine and suction his nose. The amount of secretions that came out of our little boy was crazy. It was awful to witness and his cries made my heart cry, but I knew that it was minutes of discomfort, for hours of him being able to breathe properly and of course breastfeed properly too.
After 3 nights in the hospital, we were discharged and took Alexi home where he could recuperate.
I couldn’t wait for a decent shower and my own bed too.
I am just so thankful to the doctors and nurses at the Mediclinic Cape Town, who were excellent. I’m so thankful to my husband who is just our rock and held the fort with George, while I was in hospital with Alexi. There’s something hard to explain about feeling utterly torn between your children and Sox made that whole process so much easier for me.
Well, here we are 3…4 weeks later and Alexandros is healthy and growing beautifully. I feel like I need a word that’s stronger than “grateful” or “thankful.”
I stayed off social media completely until we were home and focused solely on Alexi, but thank you for all the kind messages that came in – I was reminded of how special this community is and it was heart warming.