I wish I had a pound for every time someone has overheard my youngest, sucked their teeth, and said “oooh, that’s a nasty cough!”.
He does a good cough, my No3. When he’s in the groove, it’s reminiscent of an old man who’s been caning the Benson & Hedges for the past 60 years. He puts his all into it, too. His eyes water, his cheeks go a mottled colour and he looks up at me, imploringly, at the end of a bad bout.
When he was 3 weeks old, he caught a snotty, snuffly cold from his older brother and sister. After a couple of days of being a bit miserable, though not apparently unwell, I took him to a walk-in centre more for my own reassurance than anything else. The doctor took one look at his breathing and rang us straight through to be admitted to the children’s ward. His oxygen levels were in the low 80s, and he was put into an oxygen headbox, given a stint on a nebuliser and hooked up with an NG tube so that he would be continuously given milk without having to tire himself out feeding.
We were warned that if he didn’t respond, we would be transferred to a specialist NICU at a bigger hospital, but although we ended up staying in for three nights, 48 hours of which he was still on oxygen, he recovered incredibly quickly.
That was the first we heard of bronchiolitis and RSV, the cold virus which can trigger breathing problems in some babies and young children. Incredibly common as it is – our first two children almost certainly had it as babies, with no complications – it was new to us. Sadly, no longer. He’s gone on to have another several spells of bronchiolitis, together with croup and chest infections, some of which have meant he needed hospital treatment. He’s now informally diagnosed with asthma, has an inhaler and is certain to start coughing (nastily) at the slightest hint of a cold.
We’re getting better at learning when the nasty cough needs more than a puff of the inhaler (itself immeasurably easier now that he’s no longer terrified of it) and a cuddle. Hopefully he will outgrow it. There is no history of asthma or allergy in our family, and he was born healthy, at full term. Whether he became so poorly with the bronchiolitis because of an underlying weakness or whether, more probably, it has caused the ongoing breathing problems, we’ll never know. As well as seeing him suffer, though, there’s the fear that he won’t outgrow it and that managing asthma will become part of his everyday life. Common as it is; controllable as it generally is; it’s still not something I want my baby to have to deal with.
Tonight, we’re on alert. The cough is more than troublesome, his breathing is too rapid and a bit ragged, but maybe this will be the first time that he really does just have a cold and he’ll be better in the morning. Or maybe fate has in store for us a rendezvous with the Friday night casualties at hospital. Whichever, though needing lots of medical input is a new, and a chastening, experience for us, I’m so grateful that we have the NHS behind us. Adapting to the chance of an ongoing health issue for one of your children (even “just” possibly asthma – and I know that there’s no “just” about it) is bad enough, without having to take financial issues into consideration.