31 January 2016

During a medical emergency, might it actually be better to panic a little?

Have you ever gotten a frantic call from your childcare provider? On Friday morning, I got that call.

I had literally just stepped out of the shower when I got a phone call from our nanny's daughter. Our nanny is Nepalese, and her English is pretty good but she's not that comfortable on the phone. Her high-school-aged, totally-Americanized daughter was home as schools here had been closed all week after we got 30+ inches of snow last weekend, and so she made the call for her mom.

"Declan's having a hard time breathing. Should we call 9-1-1?"

He had been fine in the morning. It was less than five hours since I'd seen him. These things ran through my head, along with "no family history of asthma," and so I said, "Please take him outside in the cold air and I will be there in fifteen minutes or less. If you think he needs help faster, go ahead and call an ambulance." I threw on clothes and left my house within two minutes, with soaking wet hair. I left the house completely insecure because our front steps never got shoveled from the huge snowfall, and my husband had taken our only one garage door remote with him and I had no way to close it behind myself.

When I got to my nanny's house, she was standing on her front step, in short sleeves, even though it had started to snow again. Declan was in her arms, gulping shallow breaths. I put him right in the car and called the pediatrician, already driving in that direction. The flurries that had been falling had metastasized into legitimate driving snow by now. Declan fell asleep before I was out of my nanny's neighborhood, but he was still breathing shallowly and periodically coughing. 

It took almost 20 minutes to get to the pediatrician's office, because the driving snow and the poorly plowed roads slowed everything to a crawl. By the time I carried him inside he was loudly wheezing. The doctor -- the only doctor in our one-man-show of a pediatrician's practice -- was in with us within two minutes. 

We opened up Declan's clothes and his sides were heaving as he struggled to take in enough air. Our doctor listened to his chest and told me he had bronchiolitis and would need to be given a nebulizer treatment immediately. After the treatment, the wheezing had mostly stopped and I left with my son, calm now, plus a prescription for an inhaler and a warning that whenever my son gets a cough or cold from now on, my first thought should be "albuterol." 

So we have a family history of asthma, now, for all practical purposes. 

He's doing really well. He's fairly cooperative taking inhaler doses, especially for a typically-frantic medicine refusenik, and we haven't heard any wheezing since early yesterday. The doctor said to listen to his breathing, but ultimately it's just a cold and we should treat him normally. I think he took five years off his nanny's life.

I can't decide, though, if I reacted correctly. I am, by nature, Not A Worrier. I'm a consummate coper and I try not to borrow trouble (which presents an interesting contrast -- and eternal source of conflict if we're not careful -- with my worrywart husband). Even though it worked out that he's fine, part of me wonders if I was arrogant not to have the nanny call 9-1-1. The loudest part of me just refused to think it was very serious. But a one-year-old struggling to breathe is serious, especially when I couldn't evaluate him myself over the phone. Once I saw him myself, I could see that he needed medical attention, but his need wasn't so acute that I couldn't drive past the nearest emergency room to our own doctor, which is what I did. Should I have been more worried? Slightly panicked? 

I'm going to be kicking this one around for a while. I don't know the right answer.

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