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Heading to the ER with Your Child? Here are Some Things to Know!

Spring Break is here.  For some, this is a time of relaxation and taking time to enjoy your family, instead of worrying about the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  For others, Spring Break means vacation time, a chance to travel and go on adventures.  I am an elementary school teacher, so I look forward to Spring Break as a chance to recharge and gear up for the rest of the school year, while also spending extra time with my daughters.  However, I also get nervous when Spring Break rolls around because of an incident that happened nearly 4 years ago.  

High Fevers

Both of my children have great immune systems and are not sick often, thankfully.  But, when they do get sick, it’s usually a doozy!  My daughters are known for having high fevers.  It’s something we have dealt with since my oldest daughter’s first major sickness, when her fever went higher than her pediatrician had ever seen in his 35+ years of practicing medicine.  Little did we know that she was just preparing us for her little sister’s future fevers.  

My youngest has always been a high fever girl, but we couldn’t have predicted just how high those fevers would go.  During one particular illness, when she was 1.5 years old, right as Spring Break was starting, she woke in the middle of the night burning up.  Our forehead scanner is always my go-to for checking temps since it’s the easiest, however, it gave me error message.  I tried the thermometer again, and it said ‘error’ for the second time.  I figured the batteries must be going bad, and grabbed the rectal thermometer.  I stared in shock as the temperature on the screen kept rising, higher and higher, until it beeped notifying me it was done.  It read 106.8 degrees (no that’s not a mistake)!  I literally didn’t know a person could be so hot.  

No Time To Waste

I knew instantly that we were heading to the ER (and it would be our first trip there as parents).  As quickly as I could, I gave my daughter medicine to reduce her fever, put her in a room temperature shower, wrapped her in a wet towel, and called the pediatrician (I swear I did that all at the same time- it’s amazing how much a mom can multitask during an emergency).  Her doctor was speechless when I explained how high her fever was, and he asked me if she was still conscious.  Now, I knew that febrile seizures were a possibility, but had no idea that she could go completely unconscious.  I asked if we needed to call and ambulance, but he said as long as she was coherent we could drive ourselves to the hospital.  

She was more than coherent, she was calm and acting completely fine (how?  I still don’t know!  She was completely burning up!).  In fact, she was trying to calm me down, since I was crying hysterically as I shoved clothes in a bag.  My toddler with the 106.8 fever was laying on my bed, in a soaking wet towel, watching me freak out.  She said, “Momma sad?  Momma cry?  I give momma a hug!”  Talk about breaking my heart!

Our 1st Hospital Experience

While in the ER, it was determined that our baby girl had Round Pneumonia (even though she had no signs or symptoms of it besides the fever) and would need to be admitted.   The ER staff took her blood, did a chest X-ray, and placed a port in her hand for IV fluids.  However, there was a major problem.  Three days later we were told that my daughter (who was feeling better by this point) would have to stay another 3 days minimum due to an extremely dangerous infection in her bloodstream.  There are no words to describe how scary hearing all of this was to my husband and I.  What was harder yet to comprehend, was how this full of life little girl, who was acting fine now, could possibly have this awful new infection that has more than a 30% mortality rate.  It just didn’t make sense!  

We spoke to countless doctors, nurses, and the Infectious Disease Specialist, who all tried to figure out how in the world my daughter could possibly have acquired this blood infection.  She was put through many tests, procedures, and started on a high dose of antibiotics.  The problem is that this blood infection takes 3 days to grow in culture in a lab.  So even though she didn’t seem to have it, we couldn’t take any chances.  We spent our entire Spring Break in the hospital.  

It was eventually determined that the ER nurse had not followed protocol while obtaining my daughter’s blood sample, and that contaminate on her skin (we all have it), had shown up in her blood sample, thus giving us a false positive for the serious blood infection.  We could finally breathe a sigh of relief.  

Lessons Learned

We were thankful that our daughter was fine, and that we had such a knowledgeable Infectious Disease doctor who calmed our fears from the beginning.  But we were furious that an error in the ER had given us such a scare, and forced our daughter to be treated for something she never had in the first place.  It ruined our Spring Break, and left me with nightmares about our time in the hospital.  

Prior to this I, thankfully, did not have much experience with the ER.  I had been admitted once when I was 2 years old (which I obviously do not remember), but that was it.  So, I learned a lot in a very short amount of time.  Here are some of my take-aways that I hope can help someone else if they don’t have previous experience with hospitalizations, because you don’t know, what you don’t know.  

What to Know if you are Heading to the ER with your Child

  1. Choose the right ER- any ER can see pediatric patients, but if your child needs to be admitted, you want a hospital that has a pediatric unit, otherwise your child will be transported via ambulance to a hospital that does. 
  2. Pack a bag of clothes and toiletries for you and your child (if you have time).
  3. Bring your own medications and vitamins.  Hospitals are supposed to provide these, but don’t always.
  4. Bring some small toys and an iPad (if your child will be confined to a hospital bed, this will be a lifesaver.  Some hospitals have play rooms, but your child needs to be able to get there, and could get new germs by playing with those toys). 
  5. Call your pediatrician and let them know what’s going on.  Often they will visit the hospital if they know your child has been admitted.  
  6. Keep track of everything.  Write down doctors/nurses names, times that medications were given, vital signs, diagnosis, etc. 
  7. Ask ALL the questions, and don’t accept no for an answer. 
  8. Mistakes happen often, especially in the ER.  Be aware, alert, and vigilant.  
  9. You do NOT have to leave your child for most medical tests/procedures.  (This is something I wish I had known prior to our experience).  Doctors will often say you can’t go with your child, but this is not always true.  Fight to be by your child’s side.  
  10. You can speak with a patient liaison if you are unhappy with any aspect of your child’s hospital stay.  Be vocal and express your concerns immediately and with conviction.  Do not stop until you receive the attention/answers that you and your child deserve.
  11. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Inform your village and ask for friends and family to assist with whatever you need (taking care of the sick child’s sibling, bringing food or clothes, etc.).  People want to help, they just don’t always know what you need.   
  12.  You know your child best, and are his/her best advocate.  Listen to your gut and follow your parental instincts.  

No one wants to have to go to the Emergency Room, but since emergencies happen when we least expect them (Yes, even during Spring Break!), it’s good to be prepared and know what to do or what to expect, should the worst happen.  Hopefully you never need this list, but in case you do, please know that you are not alone.  There are always people willing to help, both in and out of the hospital.  

 

 

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