Christmas, in a moment

Two weeks ago, our little Aimee spiked a fever, became lethargic, and refused to eat. She slept. And slept. And sat up to drink juice, and slept some more. It was worrisome, but I figured she’d pull through it like our kids always do. Three days passed, and she wasn’t getting better. We were watching her chest rise and fall way too fast, muscles pulling in, sucking in air. All she wanted to do was sleep. Ricky bundled her up and took her to Urgent Care on Saturday morning. Her oxygen level was 83%. They called an ambulance.

My family was in town, and we had plans to spend the weekend at a cabin, with snow and a cozy fire and presents and the like. It all fell away. My brother helped me get to the hospital (my keys were in the vehicle Ricky had taken), my mom went into laundry and cooking mode, my other brother played with the boys. Family.

At the Emergency Department, Aimee was receiving breathing treatments, fighting her mask and looking pitiful. She kept rasping juice….drink…..go…..no and we could only hold her, and try to distract her, and keep her from pulling at her lines.

Her tests started to come back. Negative for flu. Positive for RSV. Chest x-ray shows right lower lobe pneumonia. She was still breathing so fast. Her heart was beating 180 times each minute. Faster than a newborn. Grunting. Retracting.

Albuterol, Xopenex, repeat, repeat. No significant response. The doctor came in and said Aimee needed to be transferred to a Pediatric ICU for close observation and high-flow blended oxygen.

I tried to get Ricky his backpack and phone charger before the transport team arrived, but had just pulled into our driveway when he said they were there. He went with them, and I told the boys what was going on and started getting things together.

Aimee was well cared for. We all were. The high-flow oxygen was holding her airway open, providing positive pressure. She stopped grunting, which had been her attempt to stent her own airway. She had been working so, so hard. The first night, I slept in the chair, pulled right up to her crib, lulled to sleep by the knowledge that she was on monitors and they would alarm if anything went wrong. I was so grateful for that. It was like having that first newborn–just needing to know that they’re still breathing until you get used to the idea that they’ll be okay.

Ricky and I switched off, twenty-four hours each. Aimee was a little better each day, and we texted each other updates. O2 down to 6. Back up to 8–she started grunting again. Down to 7. Down to 6 now. Clear liquid diet. O2 at 3. Soft diet. Assessments every 4 hours now. Watching Dora. 

We couldn’t eat in the room, so I talked with other parents in the kitchenette over our food, asking about each others’ babies, offering well-wishes. You feel a bond with other parents whose kids are suffering, and walls break down a bit. You recognize the same tired, brave look in their eyes.

After four days, she was transferred to the regular pediatric floor. No more glass door and constant lights. Oxygen at 2. Regular diet. These markers of progress being checked off, one by one. Little victories.

On the morning of Christmas Eve, she was lively enough to video chat. Nicky did his silly slapstick routines and it was the first time in a week we had seen her smile. Oh there you are, little girl. We’ve been missing you.

I packed up the boys and we made the now very familiar drive into downtown Baltimore, and went up to the family lounge outside the unit to bring Ricky his lunch. To our surprise and delight, both boys were allowed to come in for a visit (Silas with a mask, since he’d been coughing) and Aimee lit up.

A few days earlier, I’d been invited, along with other parents in the PICU, to upstairs and “shop” for any kids on my list. A volunteer handed me five tickets and took me to a ballroom filled with toys (and very nice toys at that). I chose some things for the kids and took my gifts to a row of more smiling volunteers who wrapped them for me. I put them in the corner of Aimee’s room, thinking maybe we’d have a chance to open them. At that point, she wasn’t excited about anything, so I knew it might not happen.

There is something magical about more than one child in a room. They speak to each other differently than we can. So when Aimee and Nicky and Silas were together, the mood changed completely and their two tired parents felt a new energy.

Since we had this unexpected time together, we (giddily) told the kids we had a surprise for them and pulled out the presents. It was a much sweeter moment than I’d thought to hope for.

We had our Aimee back.

Even though we were able to go home later that evening, taking our girl with us, that moment was what made it Christmas. There is no better gift than having your people all together in one room.

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