My Wake-Up Call with Whooping Cough

My Baby Got Whooping Cough from Me

Heidi Bruch?s daughter Caroline

At Children's they ran tests for RSV, pneumonia and pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough. Caroline tested positive for pertussis. The doctors immediately asked if anyone around her had been sick with a cough. My heart sunk. I told them that I had. It was quickly determined that I didn't have asthma, but pertussis -- and I had passed it on to Caroline. I felt guilty, knowing this had been preventable, but my main thoughts were about how to get the ball rolling and fix this.

We were quarantined on the medical floor, where Caroline's heart and oxygen levels were monitored 24/7. They started us both on antibiotics, which only made us not contagious -- the drugs didn't actually cure the disease. On day two of our stay, Caroline's started to cough more often.

When a baby with pertussis coughs, the cough starts off silent, which is a result of not being able to get oxygen. She turns blue, her heart rate drops to extremely low levels (Caroline's would fall from an average of 165bpm, to the 50s) and oxygen saturation levels plummet, causing monitors to set off alarms and medical staff rushing in to assist. It looks as if the child is choking to death, and in reality, she is. The classic "whoop" sound results when she finally catches that little breath and gasps in. There is nothing doctors can do for these children, except be there to support them with oxygen, which doesn't do a whole lot if the baby isn't able to breathe it in. I found myself at her bedside with every cough, whispering, "Please take a breath. Please take a breath, Caroline."

She required too much care for the medical floor, so Caroline was transferred to the infant ICU, where we spent a week praying for the worst to pass. We were told that pertussis peaks and then plateaus for a while before you see any sign of recovery -- it's a long road. It's sometimes referred to as the 100-day cough. But pertussis is deceptive: Between coughing fits, Caroline would seem completely healthy and her vitals would maintain normal levels.

Once her fits were less frequent, she was sent back to the medical floor. Jon and I were relieved to see her leave the NICU, but nervous to not have her NICU nurse right there all the time. We also knew that we could still be in the hospital for a while, and we were.

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