Tales from the crib

Full-time mum Emma Milner deals with her son’s first serious sickness


As a first-time mother, you could say I’m a little protective. The baby gates in the apartment are guarded more fiercely than the UAE/Oman border, I check Sam’s vaccination record on a daily basis, and germs are blitzed with the vigour of a kid with a water gun.

OK, so on reflection, ‘protective’ could be an understatement – like saying the Burj Dubai is ‘quite tall’. But, despite all my efforts, this month Sam had his first serious illness, giving me a rude awakening to the incredibly scary fact that my little boy is still vulnerable. Apparently, I can’t protect him from everything.

What started as a sniffle soon became a splutter, blossomed into a sneeze and finally ending up as a savage cough – coupled with a soaring temperature of 40.5 degrees.

Unable to sit back and watch it develop any further, we made the late-night dash to the hospital’s accident and emergency ward, only to be sent home with a bag of drugs and told to see how he went. Now, going to hospital is hard for a first-time mum. You don’t want to come across as fussy or paranoid, but you’re so frightened that if you don’t go, something awful will happen.

All I will say is, if your instinct says go to the hospital, then do it. You don’t need anyone’s permission and you don’t need to question yourself; just go with what you think. When my usually insomniac son slept the day away, lying in my arms, heavy, sweaty and motionless, I decided enough was enough and took him back to the doctor.

Three hospital visits, eight injections, four filled nappies, two doctors and an X-ray later, he was diagnosed with having bronchial pneumonia. Worse than a chesty cough but not quite as bad as fully fledged pneumonia, it is quite the worst bug my little boy has picked up so far, and definitely the most frightening thing I have ever been through.

It was Sam’s first stay in the hospital since he was born, although to be honest I don’t think he remembers much about his first time there – he was too busy getting to know the nurses.
This time he had plenty of opportunities to get reacquainted, as they were giving him medication, nebulisers and cuddles every couple of hours, but my once sociable baby wasn’t having any of it. He spent the entire duration clinging to me like an orangutan and I clung back just as tight. I just didn’t know what else to do to make him feel better.
My pain seeing him struggle felt as real and draining as his. For the three days he was in hospital I think we shared every short breath, every cough and every new indignity, although we didn’t share his suppository – that would’ve been pushing it too far, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Our finely crafted routine was forgotten. We shared a room and didn’t leave each other’s side the whole time. It was like having a newborn all over again. We had previously cut the breastfeeding down to three times a day, but this quickly went back up to every three or four hours, or more if he was given an injection or couldn’t sleep.

It seemed like this illness was going to last forever. I just couldn’t see when he was ever going to get better. It was both terrifying and exhausting. I was woken every two hours in the night, although I can’t blame Sam for that. The nurses spent the first two nights waking me to tell me he had a temperature and the third night telling me he didn’t.

It’s so hard to be strong when your baby is screaming in pain as a nurse injects him with more antibiotics. You can’t explain to a baby it will make him feel better and won’t hurt for long. But, thanks to the fantastic care from the doctors and nurses at the hospital (plus the daily visits, phone calls, text messages and meals cooked by friends), Sam is now back to his usual, boisterous self.

More than anything, the experience has taught me that I can’t offer my boy ultimate protection. He’s going to get bugs. He’s going to bump his head and scratch his knees and trip over five times a day. That’s just what little boys do – and every time he does, I’ll be right there to patch him up, pull him close and give him a hug.

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