You don’t imagine, the first time you hold your baby in your arms, that the day might come when you have to contemplate life without them. Yet in the early hours of one unforgettable Monday morning, that was my reality as I sat in resus at Bath Royal United Hospital.
There was a possibility my little girl wouldn’t get better. I struggled to take it in. How? Why had this happened? After all, it was ‘only’ croup, wasn’t it?
Ivy-Alice, then around one year old, had woken up on the Sunday with that distinctive barking cough most parents know is croup. Fresh air was supposed to help, I’d heard, so that afternoon we decided to go for a walk to a local agricultural show – me, my husband Daniel, Ivy-Alice and her older brother, Henry.
Ivy-Alice was a bit under the weather and coughed throughout our trip, but she didn’t seem particularly unwell. Once we were home, she did get more distressed as the evening wore on – but then it had been a long, tiring afternoon. I dosed her with infant paracetamol and hoped a good night’s sleep would do her the world of good. Once she was settled, as Daniel had a couple of weeks off but I had work in the morning, I went to bed.
Just a few hours later, Daniel woke me up saying he needed help. Ivy-Alice was upset and struggling to breathe. I called 111, the NHS medical helpline, although I very nearly didn’t – I really thought we were over-reacting. However, after taking the basic details – Ivy-Alice’s name, age, our address etc – the lady I was speaking to said she was sending a paramedic. “I can hear how she’s struggling over the phone,” she told me.
The paramedic arrived and used a nebuliser to give Ivy-Alice some salbutamol, a medication commonly used in asthma inhalers. Then she said she was calling an ambulance to take us to hospital. We were greeted by several medical professionals, and my little girl was treated with steroids, adrenaline and other medication. They didn’t seem to be working.
As I sat in the resuscitation unit, holding my beautiful daughter in my arms, I was told they expected Ivy-Alice to stop breathing. If she did, they planned to take her to theatre where they’d put a tube down her throat that would hopefully save her. ‘Hopefully.’ No promises. That’s when I felt I was falling apart. It was just croup. She was only one year old. A day earlier she’d been absolutely fine. And yet now I was being told they could ‘hopefully’ save her?
It was decided to administer one very high dose of adrenaline – a final kick before we played ‘wait and see’. Thankfully, Ivy-Alice had become exhausted and fallen asleep. I was able to keep her in my arms and hold the little mask over her face, while the intensive care nurses, paediatricians, a doctor and ear, nose & throat specialists all stood watching her like a hawk – those are the words they used.
It felt like an eternity passed before finally, thankfully, my daughter’s gasps became manageable. Her oxygen levels rose and her heart rate dropped. After some deliberation, they decided she could be admitted to the baby unit. It took a day and another night in hospital, with close observation and several further doses of steroids and adrenaline, before Ivy-Alice was allowed home. She slept soundly in her cot while I looked at the direct numbers I had for the hospital – just in case we needed them. If she got worse, we were under instructions to call 999 without delay.
I have never, ever been so thankful for the National Health Service in my life and I am truly grateful to the amazing staff at Bath RUH. They had a plan, they worked hard to keep my baby girl alive, and luckily she was a fighter who wouldn’t give up.
Eight months on, and Ivy-Alice is almost 21 months old. She seems fine, but it doesn’t mean this won’t happen again – kids are prone to croup up to the age of five. A couple of months after this happened, she had a series of seizures and ended up in hospital for a week. At first, they thought she had a brain tumour or possibly a bleed on the brain. The hospital never found out what caused them, and although they’re pretty sure the seizures were unrelated to the croup, I can’t help but wonder. it seems a little coincidental. Ivy-Alice now has a seizure sensor mat in her bed, which also monitors breathing – so if she gets croup again, it will be useful for that, too.
I’ve learned a lot about croup and realised there are some common misconceptions. For example, people say steam is good as it helps clear the airways. This is not true – it’s no help at all and can actually make things worse. We were told that in the hospital – it’s a complete myth. Oxygen is important, so fresh air is what’s needed, and as croup often brings with it a temperature, infant paracetamol is good too.
The most important thing to be aware of is stridor – that loud, harsh sound that comes as a child is desperately trying to breathe. It might start as a kind of low-pitched croaking and progress to a high-pitched crowing. But it’s distinctive, and that’s when you need to seek help. If your child has stridor and is floppy, as Ivy-Alice was, don’t delay. I’m not one to run to the doctor over any little thing, but I’ve realised it’s possible to be too dismissive of what you think is a common illness.
Please, if you’re a parent of young children, do your research about croup. Learn the symptoms and seek help if you think you need it. I knew little about it and didn’t realise it could be so serious – something the staff at Bath RUH weren’t surprised to learn. Now, I know that 15% of respiratory infections are diagnosed as croup, and 9% of cases need medical assistance. Thankfully, death as a result of croup is rare – but it does happen, and my blood runs cold when I realise how close my little girl came to being part of that statistic. If I hadn’t called for help that night, I’m positive I’d have lost her. Please don’t let that happen to you.
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