I have a relatively healthy daughter who would get colds twice a year that were hard to clear up. What started as typical symptoms would turn into a post-nasal drip cough that would go on and on and on.
Then she took a nose dive during what our family now refers to as the “Worst Spring Break Ever.” On Friday, we were packing to head out on a cross-country trip when my daughter developed a high fever accompanied by the strangest cough. My first thought was the flu.
Monday came along and she still had a high fever and a cough that seemed to have a wheeze at the end of it. I hadn’t heard her cough like that before. Off to the pediatrician. After the flu and strep tests came back clear, it was deemed a virus was affecting her lungs, and we were given an inhaler. I talked with the pediatrician about our trip. We were supposed to leave the following morning, but given my daughter’s temperature and the distance we were going travel, we were advised to stay home. Spring break was officially cancelled.
During the next two days, we made two more trips to the pediatrician’s office and one to the hospital. In addition to the inhaler, my daughter was given steroids for the cough and X-rays for pneumonia. By Wednesday, her cough was loud and deep, and that night she started coughing and didn’t stop. It seemed to shake the walls and floorboards in our home. No one could sleep. I thought to myself, “What kind of virus is this?”
The next morning, I called the pediatrician and spoke with a nurse, who could hear my daughter through the phone, and she mentioned whooping cough. Apparently around the age of 10, some children can catch whooping cough just as the vaccination begins to wane before the booster. The nurse told me to bring her in again.
We got to the doctor’s office, and my daughter’s cough was rattling off the office walls. Before our pediatrician could even walk entirely into the room, she said, “Oh no!” Then she told me she could no longer help my daughter, and she needed to go the ER. I associate the ER with life-threatening conditions. “Really, is it that bad?” I asked. The doctor grabbed both of my hands and answered, “Yes, she needs breathing treatments that I can’t give her.” “Oh,” I replied, feeling deflated.
At the ER, they gave my daughter breathing treatments and released us with a breathing machine they give to children who have asthma. The ER doctor indicated that perhaps I’m overreacting. I wanted to yell, “My doctor advised me to take her here. I didn’t just rush here because I’m worried about a little cough!” I held my temper and didn’t comment, but now I was mad.
It turned out that my daughter does have asthma. Remember the colds I mentioned earlier? That was actually a cough-variant asthma triggered by seasonal allergies and exasperated by cold viruses. We didn’t pick up on it at first because it only presented as a cough for her, not as the wheezing you might see in the movies. It took the “Worst Spring Break Ever” and my daughter’s asthma attack to realize she had it.
My daughter’s pediatrician, who is a former pediatric ER doctor, stands by her decision to send my daughter to the ER. Now my daughter takes multiple medications to help manage her asthma. She no longer consistently gets never-ending colds, but it’s been a learning process because her day-to-day asthma symptoms don’t present themselves the way I’ve seen them depicted in mass media. For her, the most telling symptom when she’s having problems is a cough, and it’s something we can no longer ignore.
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