“I want you to head straight to the emergency room. I’ll call ahead and let them know you’re coming.”
And with those words, the scariest night of my life as a mother, commenced.
Dove had been coughing for a couple of days, bark-like and definitively worse at night and first thing in the morning. I thought it could be mild croup, but she had weathered that before, when a steamy bathroom and a cuddle offered all the relief she needed. I thought this night would be similar.
I was mistaken.
Curled up on the couch after a great dinner with two friends, I was sipping a cup of tea and getting ready to watch a movie, when I heard Dove stir over the monitor. Her cough was a bit higher pitched and more staccato than it had been the past two nights, and instead of sleeping through the episode, as she had been doing, she woke up, the coughs turning to throaty, reedy cries.
I went up to her, and although she had no fever, I could tell that something had turned. She seemed pale, and she was breathing hard. I brought her downstairs and walked around with her a bit, thinking that being upright would help. She cried and struggled to lay in my arms, so I sat down with her and tried to nurse.
She couldn’t hang on, constantly interrupting herself to breathe deeply and cry. Alarmed – nursing is the ultimate comfort, and if she was rejecting the breast, there was surely something very wrong – I called Telehealth and described what was going on.
The nurse on the line assessed the situation, and asked me to put the phone up to the baby, so that she could listen to the sounds she was making. Dove was now crying, each sob punctuated by a high-pitched keening sound. I let the nurse listen for about 20 seconds and asked her if she was able to hear.
That is when she told us to go to the hospital. Do not pass Go, do not bother brushing your hair or checking to see if your sweater is on inside-out. Just go.
So we went. The hospital is only a block away from my house, so at 11:20pm, I left with Dove in my arms. I walked in to the emergency room at 11:25, and readied myself for a long wait.
By 11:31, Dove was in a room in the ER, with an oxygen saturation monitor attached to her foot, dexo-metho-something having been administered, being given oxygen as she screamed hysterically, bucking against my arms as I held her down and my heart shattered.
Within a few minutes, Dove’s oxygen level was back up to 98%, and we were both breathing more easily.
Still upset and unsure of whether she most wanted to cry, nurse, sleep or point at the mural of fish on the wall, I walked her in circles in the little room for hours. Arms and back numb, I was finally able to lay her down on the bed in the room at about 4am. Her breathing was still pretty deep, but nowhere near as bad as it had been, when the hollow at her throat caved in with every struggled breath.
She slept. As she did, my mind had time to shift focus and I realized three things – 1) I had been drenched in a cold sweat for hours and I stank 2) my bladder was about to explode, and 3) I was lucky. So lucky.
This had been one of the scariest nights of my life, but it was almost over. Dove was ok, and at 5:30am, after being monitored all night, Dove was given an oral dose of a bronchial-dialator, and we were allowed to leave.
Our short walk home was so peaceful. It felt, in our big, busy city, like me and Dove and the birds were the only living creatures on earth. Living. Healthy; on our way home. We were so lucky. I sat on the front steps of the house with my sleepy, soft, beautiful baby in my arms, so tired, but wanting just a few minutes more of this calm peace between me and my baby and the world. I wanted to appreciate all that was in my arms and around me.
I wanted the universe to know how much I valued the gift of my two beautiful, healthy children; wanted to acknowledge the strength and courage of the mothers that endure nights like the one I had, with their own beautiful babies, time after time.
Dove layed back on my chest, and I leaned into her head. I whispered my love into her sweet, sweat-formed curls, and then, weariness crashing over my body, climbed the steps and entered the house, leaving the dawn to wash away the dark.