I know I should not be surprised that my daughter has asthma. I had asthma. My husband had asthma. My son has asthma that he is now thankfully outgrowing. Asthma is common. Many (most?) children have some type of physical, psychological or developmental shortcoming, ailment or challenge. Everyone has problems. Nobody’s perfect.
Yet, when I held down my 14 month old daughter today for ten minutes, alone, to administer an albuterol nebulizer to open her lungs, a part of me died. She twisted and screamed hysterically in my arms. She sweat and cried and turned red. She thought I was trying to harm her. I wondered if she knew who I was. In a flash, I remembered how I held down my son when he was an infant with severe asthma, and in muscle memory re-adjusted my positioning with my daughter.
Other memories flooded in during those 10 minutes. I remembered putting medicine in my child’s mouth that was so strong that doctors considered the potential side effects with every dose. I remembered watching my son lie barely responsive on the floor, chest indrawing with each breath, during his first major asthma attack. We immediately took him to the children’s hospital emergency room where they nebulized him three times in succession as his heart fluttered like a hummingbird’s wings. He spent five days in the hospital while they tried to pull him out of his attack. I remember once telling medical staff on break who were ignoring our pleas that I would give the medicine to him myself if they did not come help him. It changes you, having a sick child. A part of me died inside then too, and was replaced with a fierceness that would not let anything – not even my child – stand in the way of my child receiving a necessary treatment. This is what happened today.
In the end, what saved my son was a pediatric pulmonary specialist at the children’s hospital who had a wonderful philosophy. She said we would throw every tool we have at the asthma to stabilize him, then slowly withdraw the tools as he outgrows his symptoms. She empowered us to know when to give a small starter-dose of the strong steroids so that they would be administered immediately rather than waiting for him to be seen by a doctor a few hours later. Those first few hours were critical in my son’s case, so we were instructed to give him the small dose at his first cough. Radical as that may sound, her plan precluded our needing to administer longer courses of the steroid and so the little doses amounted to much less steroid in his system overall. The woman was a Godsend. She saved us.
Still, the memories remain of nights watching his chest rise and fall, so many decisions of whether we’re at a certain action threshold, so many times holding him down to give his twice-daily prophylactic inhalers.
And it’s happening again.
I only hope that this time we know better what to do.