I started this blog to help me overcome my urge to spend needlessly on useless things (thus the day count in every title), then it became about a sudden outbreak of what appeared to be eczema and my quest to heal it…while also not spending needlessly. It became a detox of both my mental and physical self.
Then on Monday these priorities in my life fell by the wayside.
After a lovely weekend, we continued our family vacation by heading to the Ottawa Valley to stay with my mom and dad. It was a long 5 hour drive, but the kids slept most of the way. I felt such joy pulling into my parents driveway. My toddler was complaining about her tummy, and I figured she was dealing with some car sickness.
We got in, hugs all around, and my kiddo headed straight for the couch whimpering about her tummy. And then she vomited. And vomited again. And again.
We’d had some questionable roadside food, and my stomach was a little off, so I figured she was suffering from mild food poisoning. We got her to bed where she continued to vomit until nothing was coming out…and yet still she retched. To the point where I started to wonder when it was going to be over. We’ve had stomach stuff before, and usually after about 5 rounds, the stomach is empty and the retching subsides. But this kept going from about 6pm to 1am. She kept saying her tummy hurt and started to point to one spot. Then she’d sleep for about 15 minutes, then wake and repeat the whole thing. She also kept assuming a position where she crouched with her butt in the air with her head down on the pillow…she kind of looked like me in labour.
When I was a kid, I vomited so hard that I got a hernia. I thought, due to the endless retching, she must have abdominal pain. We stuck it out through the night; me catching a few winks between her bouts. At 4 am I felt a mild temperature increase.
At 6 am she had a fever and my mommy senses were going off. I am not one to jump to going to the hospital. I believe the body can deal with fevers etc. and resolve it. But this was all wrong. A fever AFTER vomiting all night, continued pain and restlessness. Her complaint was continuously the same, and she was pointing to her lower right abdominal area. I did a bunch of googling but couldn’t go by what I saw. I decided to call the Tellahealth nurse line that they have here in Ontario, even though we are non-residents. The nurse had me get little C out of bed to assess. She asked for me to have her stand up. C could not stand on her right leg or even straighten it and she was shaking. The nurse said to go to the hospital.
We headed to Barry’s Bay, an hour away, which has a small hospital but a shorter wait time than Pembroke or Renfrew which were both a half hour away. Also, it is the hospital where my family doctor (when I was a resident of Canada) works. Turned out he wasn’t there, but we ended up with a very wonderful doctor who observed her, thank god, very carefully and listened to our careful descriptions of her symptoms.
Before we went in though, I had to call Kaiser, my health care provider at home in the States to let them know we were seeking emergency care outside of the US. The advice nurse listened to my description of symptoms and she said yes, immediately, take her in.
At the point we were signing in at emergency, C was limp and whining in my arms. I was now extremely worried. When we finally were seen, within an hour (but which felt like 10) they thought initially that it was dehydration. So we stayed for several hours trying to get her to drink a prescribed amount of fluid every 10 minutes. They put in a Motrin suppository and thus began the complete but necessary violation of C’s carefully protected personal space. I started to feel sheepish, like maybe I was being a foolish, trigger happy mom. When we told the doc about how she couldn’t stand, he asked to see, and, of course, she stood on both legs without shaking. So, in the moment he looked skeptical. But, half way through forcing liquids, she vomited again. She did not perk up as they expected. The doc ordered an X-ray that was inconclusive. He said we needed more imaging, and that would have to happen in Ottawa or Peterborough many hours away. Holy jeez.
Then they inserted the needle for an IV, but they had to fish. Oh God. And in that moment, mom was holding her hand while I was on the phone with my sister, and as I looked around the curtain and saw her face flushed red, looking shocked and screaming from the pain, I broke down entirely. My ‘Big Girl’ looked so tiny in that bed. All her innocence seemed to be fleeing in that moment. She was being hurt and I couldn’t stop it or make it better. This is the girl who won’t even let me rub cream on her owie, or give her ear drops when her ear hurts or remove a splinter when she’s got one. Now, she couldn’t say no and be heard.
It was decided that an ambulance ride was necessary. They dosed her with morphine, anti nausea medicine and antibiotics. And my baby, little M, was separated from me so that I could go with C. The first of many separations that has lead her to cry inconsolably any time I set her down now.
The drive was long. In the last hour the morphine wore off and C was in PAIN. The paramedics were not able to give her anything else, so we used an old school method of distraction by wiping her brow with a really cold towel. We weren’t cleared to use the sirens, so we had to inch through rush hour traffic. The last half hour was torture. I thought about how much pain she had been in for such a long time. For a kid, it must have been interminable.
Finally we were in emerg at CHEO the children’s hospital in Ottawa. A top notch place. Word had been sent ahead about us being out of country. As we got her in a room and on pain meds, the finance department came. I had to give them my visa and sign my life away to receive service. God how I wish I were still a Canadian resident and covered by OHIP. Growing up with universal health care made it such that I never had to think about money when receiving care. But this, I am now a Canadian citizen residing in the States…I don’t have health care coverage in Canada…I do in the States, but we pay for it. Apparently we are covered for emergency…but we have to pay out first and then we can apply for reimbursement ( not for all of it thought) later. That means a massive pulling together of funds. I was trying to do the math: first hospital emerg: $550 approx. Additional stuff like X-ray and drugs:??? Ambulance ride:??? CHEO emerg: $900. One day at the hospital once admitted: $5,300 with promise of at least a 7 days stay.
I know that the only thing that matters is C’s health. So we will do what we need to do. I just never thought I’d have to worry about money along with dealing with the emotions of a medical emergency.
We got an ultrasound. The doctor finally came to talk to us: Her appendix had ruptured. This is extremely rare in children her age (she’s just over 2.5 years old) but it is normal that they come into the hospital when it has already ruptured because they are not equipped with the ability to express what they are feeling in their body. My gosh. What kind of pains was she experiencing but not telling me? What did I miss? When she says her tummy hurts, it usually means she’s about to have a bowel movement. It seemed to come out of the blue, because she’d been eating relatively well and was having so much fun playing with her aunties. Any slight differences could be chalked up to the fact that we were travelling and our routines were all off….but apparently not.
The course of treatment, now that is has ruptured is antibiotics. Three different kinds. Her beautiful intestinal biome that she has built since birth is being nuked. But I can’t think about that. What needs to happen is the infected areas where puss has formed, needs to to heal. So we are doing all the conventional treatments and are grateful for it…somewhat ironic as I’ve been so focused on avoiding conventional in my eczema struggle. But this is on a whole other level. Though I believe in the natural, I have always believed there is a place for Western medicine, and this is a case in point.
So, we are five days in. She is improving. It has been stressful, awful, exhausting, emotionally draining. But through it all my mom and sister have been here tag teaming, watching the baby, holding her while she screams for mommy, then taking over with C while I nurse or sleep with the baby. They are the heroes of this story.
The other heroes are the staff here. They know kids. Everyone is amazing. And not only do they care for the patient, they care for the parent to. I have had a social worker come and talk to me to help ease any stress I might have around the cost, acting as a liaison between me and Finance. There is an amazing lounge room and play room where those of us not in the ward can hang out, essentially camping there during the day, so that little M is always near…I can run back and forth as needed. All the nurses are so kind and understanding, so thoughtful. When I am hair trigger with the call button, showing them any changes in her appearance or complaints, they say “thank you” for letting them know and don’t role their eyes. They trust the parent to know their child best.
And C, she’s my hero. In a way she had to grow up really quickly. She had to learn some harsh realities in a very strange and ever changing environment. It was impossibly hard to watch her in pain. But day by day, her personality, lively, imaginative and stubborn, return. She was happily bossing my sister around and refusing her medication today. Tough for us, but a good sign. Through it all I’ve tried to just keep talking, letting her know what everything is for, to the best of my own ability. It’s the mystery of things that can be frightening. All of this is new to her and I let her know it’s new to me too.
My concern is that there will be some trauma to overcome once we leave here. But we will take that in stride. And I’ve been able to talk about that with another staff member who was able to give me ideas about how to work through it with her when and if it crops up.
So, it’s Friday now. This all started Monday. We are not through the woods, but we are through the densest part. Daddy arrives tonight. We couldn’t be happier. Just the news that he is coming marked a huge change in C’s energy.
To top it all off, my eczema which had been healing amazingly, flared up with a vengeance. It has been awful. It is the last thing I want distracting me right now. I’ve had moments of almost losing it with the itching and pain, but I remind myself that this is not about me. I’ve been eating when I can, and when I can, it isn’t really food…certainly not what I’ve been eating this past month. All of it’s out the window. The stress has been intense. Also, the excessive use of hand sanitizer (required in a hospital) and foreign motel sheets have probably been a big trigger. I will power through.
C is sleeping right now as I type. It feels good to be blogging again. For the first while, that was not the priority as this laptop was a video player for C. Distraction is the name of the game. True to her preferences, though, more popular than movies, has been books. It has been her coping mechanism to have us read to her, hour after hour, stack after stack. Thank god they have a library down the hall. They are running out of books!
I will sign off right now. A moment of calm before I dash out to comfort little M who, no doubt has cried herself out and surrendered once again to being with ‘not-mommy’, but a safe family member. When she sees me, her eyes will open wide and she will cry, again, out of relief and struggle to get into my arms. She will not let me put her down. She will eventually relax and then smile, and then play, keeping me in her sight. I will try to shower her with my love and attention to fortify her for our next separation.
C whimpers in her sleep. I am helpless to stop the nightmares she may have as she incorporates her experience. We will figure this out. I am very hopeful.