Like most parents, my phone is filled with photos of my son. Each morning, I get a little reminder to look at flashback photos; what we were doing a year ago, two years ago, three… It’s one of my favourite parts of the day, seeing forgotten videos of him playing, photos of us pre-kids (so young, so well rested!), memories that otherwise would be lost in amongst the 15,000+ photos I seem to have collated on my phone. Most recently, having just had his second birthday, I’ve been inundated with shots of newborn squishiness that take me right back to those precious moments just after his birth. Exactly what I need to get me through the last few days of this pregnancy. But they’re starting to make me nervous.
I know what’s coming. I know that tomorrow morning, I won’t be opening up that app and looking at photos. Because I don’t want to re-live two years ago. I don’t want to think about one of the worst experiences of my life and how medical negligence nearly cost me my son.
Two years ago, my son was two weeks old. Exactly. It was the Bank Holiday weekend and we’d been out for a walk with family. The next day we were due to go to a local food fair before waving my parents off on holiday and sending my brother back to Australia. We felt like we were getting the hang of this parenting thing; he slept well, he fed perfectly and he didn’t cry much at all. We were pretty sure we had parenting nailed.
Then one night, he didn’t. It started with him feeding poorly and progressed to plenty of tears. By early Saturday evening, he was inconsolable and would only settle if we bounced him continuously against us. As the night progressed he was hot, he was screaming and he wasn’t eating. Phone calls to 111 put us straight through to a paramedic who requested a doctor visit us within the hour. Things were sounding serious. Two hours later, an on call doctor rang us. After a hell of an evening our son had stopped screaming for just a moment. Long enough for the doctor to decide we weren’t a priority on that phone call. We were told that he’d call us back in a few hours to check in but if the baby wasn’t screaming then he was most likely fine. Thank goodness.
Ninety minutes more of screaming, bouncing and refusing to feed passed. Just as we were about to ring 111 again, lights pulled up on our drive. The doctor had decided to come after all, finally someone to give us some reassurance. ‘It’s colic’ he pronounced, having checked our silent, sleepy son over briefly. ‘His temperature is a little high but it’s probably because you’ve been holding him all night. It’s definitely just colic’. And with that, a brush off, we were made to question our instincts. How would we know any different? Maybe this is what babies are really like.
Having put our minds at rest we went up to bed, tired and emotional, expecting him to improve overnight. Only he didn’t. He lay on my chest, refusing to feed beyond miniscule amounts and still rocking a huge temperature. We text our parents explaining what had happened, ‘perhaps you should ring the doctors again?’ they said. But we’d been told once that it was nothing, we didn’t want to cause a fuss.
At 8am we got a phone call from the doctor who’d been out the night before. Perhaps we should take him to the hospital. Just to check how he was this morning. We explained the lack of eating and the high temperature. ‘Come in for 10am’ and so off we went to the Minor Injuries Unit to see an on-call GP. It was a Bank Holiday Sunday and packed. With a two week old baby, we sat and waited, well aware of the irony that two days earlier we’d have been still under the midwives care and would have walked straight in to the maternity ward next door.
After two hours and countless complaints later, we made it through to the GP. Within a minute, we were hustled into another room.
“Call an ambulance immediately”
“Hold an oxygen mask”
“Put it as a 999”
“Do not let that baby sleep”
We thought his silence and sleeping in the waiting room was an improvement. It wasn’t. Time and my heart literally stopped. He hadn’t fed in 12 hours. He had a rash all over his chest that hadn’t been there when we’d left the house. His heart rate was erratic. His temperature was over 40 degrees. The nurses stripped him off whilst I held him in my arms and attempted to hold the oxygen mask over his face. His head was too tiny for it to stay in place. He was too tiny to be there, full stop.
My husband was stood on the other side of the bed. A wall of medical professionals stood between us. Our eyes caught as they explained I would have to go in the ambulance and he’d have to follow. There was no other option. We walked out through the waiting room with a trail of paramedics, nurses and a naked baby bundled in my arms covered in monitor cables and breathing apparatus. We’d only been sat there ten minutes earlier. We were meant to be meeting my parents for lunch. This wasn’t meant to happen to us.
During the ambulance ride, the paramedics helped to explain what was going on. They chatted to me about their families, all the while asking questions about mine and my son. They took samples, monitored his vitals and inputted our history into a system that would save time on our arrival at the hospital. They joked about the weekend. They made it seem normal.
When we got to A&E, we were swept through triage and quickly placed at the end of the highest priority ward. Being so tiny, they had me sit on the bed and hold him whilst they flitted around him; inserting IV’s, giving him a catheter, taking blood samples. To rule out any bowel or chest issues they requested two x-rays, his body so tiny that they could do both of them on just one image.
Finally, in order to rule out meningitis they performed a Lumber Puncture – explaining the risks associated were far outweighed by the need to know as they hustled us out of the room. A traumatic procedure requiring him to be pinned down still whilst they removed spinal fluid, they suggested we wait next door in the relatives room.
As soon as the door shut, the tears started. We called our families to explain what was happening and why we hadn’t replied to texts. We cried and cried and cried. We blamed ourselves for not coming in sooner. We’d ignored our own instincts. We hadn’t known better. We didn’t know his normal yet. We barely knew him.
When we went back in, we were transferred to the intensive care area of the children’s ward for continuous observations whilst they rehydrated him and awaited results. We sat there and waited. Our families visited us to bring clothes to allow us to stay the night. We were told to prepare for the worst. The long haul. That a bedroom had been set aside for us.
At 2am – 24hrs after the first doctor’s visit – we were given the incredible news that the LP was clear. It wasn’t meningitis. Exhausted, we took it in turns the rest of the night to sit next to him whilst the other attempted to sleep. Temperature checks were performed constantly, the monitors beeped every time his heart rate rose and we weren’t able to move him further than a metre due to the cables.
Over the next couple of days, more results came in. No bad signs and slow, small improvements in amongst the setbacks. A cocktail of antibiotics started to take effect, he regained his appetite and we were moved to a quieter ward. After six days, we were released to the GP with further antibiotics. Finally, we could go home.
Since that day, things have been different. We’re nervous about illnesses, ask a million more questions and refuse to be brushed off. We’ve barely spoken about it, instead choosing to ignore how close we came to losing something so precious to us. But I know, as the date rolls past and we welcome another newborn into our house, we’ll be holding our breath and relying on our parental instincts to get us through. Because sometimes, it’s not just colic.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the team at RD&E Wonford for their treatment and support of our family. From the moment we were finally seen at the local Minor Injuries Unit, we received incredible care that could not have been more different than our experience up until that point.