Dreams, Aspirations, and Other Things That Cause Pneumonia

I feel like there’s an unspoken rule that if you keep a blog, you’re supposed to update it regularly. (I feel like most people just abandon their blog after a few posts, but that’s another story.) At any rate, let me explain my absence.

First, there was the week I swallowed a land mine. And by “land mine,” I mean “two-day-old sausage kolache.” It was so delicious. I have no idea why I didn’t think to refrigerate it. It was the worst pain I’ve felt since labor.

A few days after I recovered from food poisoning, we woke up to find baby John in his crib, sluggish and covered in vomit, with his blanket wrapped around his face. He was certainly alive, but barely responsive. As my husband Ethan called the nurse, I fed John, who seemed only vaguely interested in food. This is extremely strange behavior for an Unklesbay. The nurse didn’t sound too worried, and told us we might as well just come in for our regular appointment, which was the next day. By the time Ethan hung up, however, I had noticed a raspy quality to John’s breathing and some blueness in his fingertips. We took him to the pediatrician and they rushed him in.

Our pediatrician measured his oxygen at about 70%. She gave him some oxygen, took a few more vital signs, and used some albuterol to open up his lungs. She then personally carried our son to the elevator, told a perplexed woman holding a lunch tray she would have to wait, and loaded us in. (Someone had pushed the “up” button, so we ended up coming back the other direction and letting the lunch-carrier in. She looked annoyed. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would be annoyed at being inconvenienced by a baby in respiratory distress.) The doctor then marched us into the E.R., checked us in, explained to the staff everything they needed to know, and told us to let her know how he was doing later. We are never changing pediatricians.

In the E.R., more stuff happened. I’m no doctor. I know there were a lot of monitors, and some more oxygen and an I.V. Also some chest x-rays that showed he did, in fact, have fluid in his lungs. Aspiration pneumonia.

We were then transferred up to the pediatric section of Utah Valley Regional hospital. Ethan’s sister was flying in to see the baby (good timing,) and we were supposed to pick her up from the airport, so Ethan drove off while I sat listening to Dr. Doom (that’s what he called himself) explaining the worst possible scenario: John gets put on a ventilator and flown to Primary Children’s Medical Center in a helicopter. Dr. Doom did, fortunately, reassure me that this scenario did not end in death – just longer recovery.

After a few hours, Ethan and his sister Sarah showed up to see John with his new, improved oxygen apparatus – “high-flow.” It’s basically a Lorax mustache that forces the oxygen in. John wasn’t super excited about it, but he got used to it. He also got a feeding tube put into his nose, since the Lorax device might make it hard for him to eat. I volunteered to stay the night at the hospital, and Ethan and Sarah went to get some sleep. I slept very little, since John cried every thirty minutes or so. I was paranoid that if I left him alone, he’d throw up again and inhale it. Or something. I don’t know. The night before all this, I remember feeling worried about him, realizing there was nothing I could do to make him any safer, and praying, “Well, God, he’s in your hands now.” At this point, I wasn’t sure how much I trusted God. That didn’t stop me from praying, though – a lot.

Around four in the morning, all hell broke loose. His breathing was still labored, so the doctor wanted to put him on a CPAP machine – the kind used for sleep apnea. Apparently, that would force even more air in, so he wouldn’t have to work so hard and his lungs wouldn’t get tired out. Trouble is, my son is stubborn. He gets it from both sides of the family. And probably both sides of those families. As soon as the CPAP machine was on, he was not having it. He started fighting against the oxygen flow, and it was soon clear that this was only going to make things worse. The doctor quickly decided to intubate him (put a tube down his throat and put him on a ventilator.)

Suddenly, I was sitting in a chair in the corner while twelve (I counted) medical personnel went running around like headless chickens. I remember a few confident-but-worried-looking people by his crib, and two nurses near me who would have been a good comedy act under different circumstances. One looked completely indifferent to life, while the other had wide eyes and a look like she had just realized the Apocalypse had come, and it was her fault. Both of them kept messing things up and getting yelled at. Eventually, they worked as a team and yelled at each other.

Despite the doctors’ previous reassurances, I was convinced my son was dying. I’ve seen TV. You can’t fit that many people in a hospital room unless someone’s just been shot. I sat in the chair with wide eyes, trying not to lose it. After an eternity (probably about fifteen minutes), a kind nurse named Carson noticed me, made his way over, and reassured me that everything was fine, and my son was actually doing very well. He also called Life Flight to make sure I had a seat on the helicopter with my son, folded my blanket up for me, and packed up the rest of the diapers so I could take them home. The doctor tells me this nurse is leaving soon to go to law school. I say if he wanted to become a pediatrician, I would personally pay his student loans.

The helicopter flight was actually really cool, although I was worried about my little baby boy in the back. I got to sit in the front seat next to the pilot, with a headset on, and watch as we flew over the lights and gorgeous temples of the Salt Lake Valley. (If my son was a little older, I would get “Coolest Mom of the Century” for this.) The flight only took about fifteen minutes, and we checked into the Pediatric ICU at Primary Children’s.

I sank into a chair in the ICU room, sleep-deprived, and answered questions from half a dozen medical students hovering nearby. For about the fifth time, someone asked if my son had a history of seizures. Apparently, most children don’t just breathe vomit without a darn good reason. I kept telling people he had a vomit-soaked blanket wrapped around his face, but they still wanted to cover all the bases.

At this point, I broke down. I called Ethan, sobbing, and begged him to come to the hospital, and then collapsed into a chair and slept until he and Sarah arrived. We stayed a few days in the PICU, and then they moved us upstairs to the infant unit. We slept nights at my parents’ house, while my mom and dad took turns staying the night with John.

By this time, I was starting to forgive God and realizing that He could have let us find John a few hours later, when the pneumonia would have gotten a lot worse. Besides that, I was blessed to have a nurse I knew in junior high school. (We both vowed not to mention anything from junior high.) And by this time, John had been moved from ventilator back down to Lorax mustache and down again to a regular oxygen cannula. He was breathing quite well, and was only in the hospital for some tests. And some antibiotics. Apparently, they found a staph infection in his blood.

He had an MRI to determine whether there was any damage from the low oxygenation, or whether there might have been a seizure. He was normal. And while he was sedated for that, they put a PICC line in, which is basically a more permanent alternative to an I.V. Then the next day he had a bone scan to determine whether there was an infection in his bone. He was fine. I was starting to get really anxious to go home again. Then they found something a little off in the MRI, and asked for another one. They sedated him again, got another MRI, and then told us there was something off in the bone scan, and they wanted another MRI. Every time he got an MRI, he couldn’t eat for several hours, got super ornery, and then had to be sedated. Which meant he had to stay in the hospital for another twelve hours. And of course, they had to read the results of one before they could decide about another. I was furious. I would have given a doctor a piece of my mind, except they rotated through so I only saw the same one around once a day.

Another blessing – possibly for the doctors as well as for me: the morning I finally decided to let them have it was the morning they compared all the tests and said, “Well, there’s really no reason we have to keep him here any longer.” Glory, hallelujah! We were out the door by noon, and heading home to freedom! John was happy, playful, and sticking his tongue out at everyone. I was relieved to be going home with a healthy baby. Ethan was thrilled we were coming home.

The past week and a half has been a rough transition – John has been very clingy, and I think he’s afraid we’ll starve him or leave him again. But he’s slowly starting to loosen up, and once he finishes his antibiotics next week, he should be able to get the PICC line out of his arm. Until then, we’ll distract him with tongue exercises and the baby in the mirror while we give him his medication. ♥

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2 thoughts on “Dreams, Aspirations, and Other Things That Cause Pneumonia

  1. Hospitals are places where you learn a lot. Its not a fun education, but you learn a lot. We learned we have a lot to be grateful for from this.

  2. We’re so glad that John is getting his health and strength back. Going through an experience like this is life changing–it sets priorities into focus–anyway it did for me when Arianne spent 3 weeks in the hospital when she was 7. Hope we get to see your little guy before he’s walking.

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