I'll never know if his coos and babbles sound raspy because he spent two weeks on a ventilator, or if that's just his normal voice.
I'll never know what would have happened if we had gotten to the ER just minutes later than we did.
I'll never know how he was exposed to the germs that caused him to get so sick, so quickly.
But I do know how frighteningly severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can be, and I have learned more than I ever thought possible about the respiratory system. Spending hours upon hours staring at monitors and waiting on test results, CO2 levels, and blood work reports can feel like a crash course in medical school.
In January, when my son, Hayden, was just 4 weeks old, he woke up one morning with a bit of a runny nose. Since he was my third child, I'd had many experiences with sneezes and sniffles, so a clear, runny nose didn't faze me in the least.
Throughout the day, there were no other issues, no worrisome symptoms—nothing out of the ordinary. Then the following day, Hayden began to seem irritable and slowly cut down on feedings. I knew I was going straight to our doctor's office first thing the next morning, a decision that was confirmed when he woke up with a fever.
Our wonderful pediatrician could hear some congestion in his lungs, and she suspected bronchiolitis. She sent us to the ER and prepared us for the tests they'd run because of his fever, but I don't think she even could have imagined what would happen next.
When we walked in the ER of Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, we were taken straight back to a room for a nurse to check Hayden out. Within a matter of minutes, his oxygen saturation was dropping into the 70s, and our room was filled with nurses. Things had gone from worrisome to terrifying in what felt like seconds. My 4-week-old son was in respiratory failure, but at this point we didn't know why.
Once he was somewhat stabilized and on the support of high-flow oxygen, Hayden was moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), where we began the agonizing wait. Waiting to hear what was causing his breathing difficulties, waiting to hear whether or not he would be intubated, waiting to see if he would make it through the night.
In time, we received answers. RSV—a common cold to older children and adults—was the culprit trying to take the life of my baby. I was shocked. I had heard of RSV, but I never knew it could be life-threatening to a full-term, healthy baby.
In that time, we did all we could do—pray and wait. Before long we learned Hayden would need the support of a ventilator, which he required for a full two weeks. There is nothing that can prepare a parent for the sight of their precious, perfect tiny baby relying on a machine for every breath.
In total, we spent 21 days in the hospital, and during that time I paid attention to every number, inquired about every test, and talked through every decision with the medical staff and my husband.
When Hayden was discharged on February 9, we were very aware of the fact that we were still in the midst of RSV season, so he spent the next few months hidden away at home in an attempt to keep him well, because we had no way of knowing how even the smallest cold could affect him.
When the summer rolled around, I felt a huge relief, like a weight had been lifted. I felt like we were home free and could let down our guard, because we could finally go out and about as a family of five.
However, what I didn't expect was the sense of dread that would come as we approach yet another RSV season. I'm thankful that Hayden has been doing so well for these months, but when RSV seasons starts again, he'll still be a baby, not even a year old yet. Although he's older, bigger and stronger now--as you can see from the photo below--I know I'll still panic with every sniffle and cough, something that wouldn't make me bat an eye last year.
Like any parent who has experienced a child's major medical crisis, I can already tell I'm forever changed. I'm determined to do everything in my power to keep my son healthy, and to educate others on the dangers of RSV.
Hospital photo courtesy of Le Bonheur Children's Hospital