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Col wins this round

February 8, 2010

This is for any parent who, in the dark of the night, has prayed, bargained or simply exhaled during the seconds between the sputtering explosions of their child’s cough.

I’ve been there too; I spent this past weekend there, listening to Col’s coughs battering against his ribcage like something trying to get out.

Col has chronic lung disease, a result of being born at 25 weeks. If there was a preemie handshake, it would be the passing of the inhaler from one small hand to another. And as far as the preemie menu of challenges goes, chronic lung disease is a mere appetizer compared to some of the more debilitating entrees parents chew up and swallow daily.

But it does mean that several times each year, while the rest of the Northern Hemisphere sleeps, Dan and I alternate holding Col’s tired, floppy body in our steamy bathroom while our piping hot shower rains like a summer storm; or we’re administering an apothecary of herbal medicine to Col’s weary, reluctant mouth at 3:00 AM; or slipping spoonfuls of honey, warm apple juice or OTC cough medicine down his inflamed throat; or hooking up the nebulizer at 5:00 AM, buzzing inhaled steroids into Col’s lungs while his head rises off the pillow in intermittent coughing spells. 

It doesn’t help that nighttime is when fevers spike, coughs worsen and hooded demons slink around my addled mind. Hearing Col’s lungs stuck like a skipping CD on a bad patch of coughing fills my chest with jagged rocks. I’ve cleaned up puke in the middle of the night, and placed wet, cooling washcloths on a feverish body and neither of these symptoms rattles me like hearing my baby’s chest racked with coughs. Perhaps it’s that the lungs are the agents of breathing, and breathing is synonymous with life. It doesn’t matter that we’ve spent years acquainting ourselves with the whistly lung songs of wheezing, or the settings on an oxygen tank, or the sight of Col’s chest retracting, tugging, while the nurse on the line asks “is he turning blue around the mouth or eyes?” Goodness knows we’ve been broken in by nebulizer treatments on a baby not yet ten pounds, oral steroids that replaced our cheerful boy with a snarling, howling tiger, and loads of antibiotics.

When Col was not quite two and we were living in Humboldt County, CA we took our coughing, wheezing, feverish boy to the doctor. She took one look at his naked chest and said “are you familiar with the signs of respiratory distress?” Without further ado, she scrawled a quick prescription for antibiotics.

“So, you think he has a bacterial infection?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but it could turn into bacterial pneumonia quickly.”

I told her I’d rather not give him antibiotics if he didn’t need them, citing overuse, superbugs, and the annihilation of beneficial bacteria.

The doctor sat me down with her stare. In diplomatic doctor-speak she told me I didn’t get to be a pharmaceutical-skeptic, herb-loving hippie in regards to Col. Because of Col’s lung weakness, viruses quickly turn to secondary lung infections requiring antibiotics.

And damn, she was right. Col’s had pneumonia three times and many lung infections that didn’t clear up until a few doses of chalky pink, prescription liquid snaked down his throat. And always, we’ve been grateful for this medicine that leads our son out of the forest of lung-attacking beasts.  

On Friday we filled a prescription for Azithromyacin; it’s been sitting on our counter, gleaming and beckoning with pink-smelling promise. On Saturday, we told the on-call nurse that Col was breathing rapidly, his fever rising; “give him the antibiotic,” she said. Later, we talked to a doctor who said to wait on the medicine, the fast breathing could be due to the fever, or the nebulizer treatments. Five hours later the same doctor said fever and fast breathing were markers of pneumonia and that we should administer tylenol and the antibiotic, just in case.

Col spent much of Saturday in bed, in and out of sleep, his body shivery and hot, his respirations frighteningly fast at 56/minute. Sometimes we’d move him out to the couch where he’d sit glassy eyed, silent and red cheeked; when he’d crack a quick smile watching Dan and Rose wrestle on the rug, all of our hearts would swoon.

Dan and I decided not to leap to the arms of the antibiotic this time, but to give Col a few days to fight this infection on his own. Instead of treating his fevers, we’ve let them run, allowing his internal fire to create an inhospitable environment for this pathogen. We’ve dosed him with elderberry syrup, Vitamin C and D, osha glycerite, and an herbal lung syrup I cooked up while snow slanted gently past our windows. Also, frequent nebulizer treatments to reduce inflammation and open his airways.

Rose has been alternately helpful and little-sisterish. Sometimes she performed these brilliant vaudeville acts, stumbling around the living room in sunglasses, singing silly rhymes and tripping over her own feet in that particular brand of slapstick sure to break Col’s solemn face up in a smile. Other times, she felt terribly left out, imploring “when I’m going to start coughing?” Or she’d elbow Col out of the way and insert her open mouth when I approached with the next dose of herbs.

And then Sunday morning, after a night of decreased coughing, where Dan and I were roused from sleep only to prop Col’s pillows and murmur soothing words, I carried him to the couch and he said with a smidgen of life in his voice “look Mama, there’s a mourning dove on the wire.”

By Sunday night—still feverish and choking on an intermittent cough—Col was the tiniest bit naughty, taken by all as a great sign.

Today is Monday morning; I exile the antibiotics to the medicine cabinet for a later date. Col is cheerily building lego race cars and Rose, thrilled to have him back, is battering his ears with questions. “How ‘bout I’m Dora and you the monster. Okay Coley?” Or “Coley, I be the baby coyote and you be the Daddy coyote?”

I think we have won this round. And I feel like Col should be receiving a trophy for fighting off an illness on the merits of his own immune system. So, we’re celebrating with lego race cars and baby coyotes.

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. Peggy permalink
    February 8, 2010 11:56 am

    Oh Rachel how terrifying! I’m so glad to hear though, that Col DID win this round all on his own (well, really with the unending help of his parents too!). What a brave and strong boy. I know how tough it is when one of our 2 are sick, but we are dealing with very different demons than you are, given Col’s chronic lung disease.
    I’m so glad to hear that Col is returning to himself. Isn’t it ironic how it’s at these times we are GLAD to see them act a little bit naughty?!!

    Be well – and stay healthy!

  2. janie permalink
    February 8, 2010 11:56 am

    Yay Col! We lit a Col candle and we all said a Col Prayer, Jasper and Juliet closed their eyes and concentrated really hard.

  3. Diane Howe permalink
    February 8, 2010 12:23 pm

    Way to go, Col! That’s his version of winning the olympic gold. And, maybe his body will remember this and the next time will be easier.

    It occurs to me that modern medicine had him be born and survive that initial time, so I guess it makes some sense that he needs it from time to time to heal. That must have been an eye opener when the Dr. said what she said when he was 2!

  4. Michelle permalink
    February 8, 2010 1:33 pm

    Col does deserved a trophy and so do his parents! So glad he is doing better today.

    I think every parent can relate to those long, scary nights when their littles are sick, but I know I could never describe it so perfectly.

  5. February 8, 2010 3:41 pm

    hope he feels better soon ~

  6. Kerry Smith Deckert permalink
    February 8, 2010 7:33 pm

    Hey Rachel, I was thinking of you today for some reason and stopped to check out your blog. I’m glad to hear that Col is feeling better. I can’t imagine how hard it is to watch him struggle. Keep up the great work and be well.

    (Glenn’s Sister in NJ)

  7. February 8, 2010 8:40 pm

    Oh my. I was on the edge of my seat, tense, and when I got to the part where he was better I realized I wasn’t breathing while reading it… exhale, inhale. Not much worse in the night than a sick child. I’d love to hear what you cooked up for his lungs. I added several plants to our seed order specifically to help with lung stuff. *sigh* Good work, mama.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      February 8, 2010 9:38 pm

      Diane, Do you have lung issues in your house too? My herbal syrup contains licorice root, astragalus root, marshmallow root, mullein leaf and red clover. It’s soothing, immune-system boosting, anti-viral and expectorant; pow pow pow! I really believe in it. We grow elecampane and astragalus for lung stuff and the red clover and mullein just graciously appears in the garden.

  8. February 8, 2010 9:57 pm

    How so scary for you. Hope all is well and your little guy is feeling better and being monster to Rose’s Dora.

  9. February 8, 2010 11:34 pm

    I cannot even begin to fathom how you deal with this every year…

    I am so thankful that your son is on the mend! Sometimes, I guess it just takes the balance of natural and synthetic cures. I am amazed by the whole process!

    And, I laughed a little bit with the mention of naughty. I always know my son is feeling better when he gets back to his mischievous self!

  10. February 9, 2010 12:24 am

    Poor, poor kiddo. Your terrifying descriptions made me want to come take a 3 a.m. shift for you. It’s pure heartbreak, I know, watching your little guy sick; then pure joy as he recovers. Glad he’s finally well!

  11. February 9, 2010 7:00 am

    oh rachel! what a moving piece of writing. wow.

    “In diplomatic doctor-speak she told me I didn’t get to be a pharmaceutical-skeptic, herb-loving hippie in regards to Col. ”

    i’ve had moments like this with our doctor.

    neither of our children have chronic conditions but both have faced accute medical challenges that were much more severe than i felt comfortable treating at home.

    luckily we have a wonderful pediatrician who really supports the “hippie way” we do things, so when he says: nope. not this time. we’re doing it this way. i listen. and off to the hospital we go.

    so glad to hear col is doing better.


  12. February 9, 2010 10:24 am

    Rachel, you are such a great writer! You must be so exhausted and relieved at the same time. I hope he’s feeling better today and that you got some rest last night!
    xo Kyndale

  13. February 9, 2010 11:12 am

    you are so very amazing! and so is dear col!

  14. February 9, 2010 2:41 pm

    Oh, how super scary. Glad he’s on the mend. Does the dry air from CO help?
    Thanks for stopping by my blog- and happy to find yours.

  15. February 9, 2010 3:52 pm

    Sounds like you all are handling it like champs!

    I’m not sure if I’ve already suggested this before (I suggest it to everyone with sick kids), but have you read the book Perfect Health for Kids by John Douillard? It’s about Ayurvedic remedies for kids. And I’ve had so much success using his recommendations. One, in particular, that we use for coughs is called Sitopladi. You have to order it online (we do Ayurvedic Herbs Direct) but it really seems to work. Though our sicknesses sound nowhere as rough as yours.

    Here’s some links about it. (But I still recommend reading the book.)

  16. February 9, 2010 3:55 pm

    What a good mama you are! The hardest times are when our little ones are helpless and sick.

    I love little sister’s “when am I going to start coughing” comment and nudging ;-)

  17. Steph permalink
    February 9, 2010 3:57 pm

    What a gripping story! Yaaaaaay Col! That is such BIG news for his little body! His lungs are getting stronger every year. That sweet little boy of yours never ceases to amaze me!


  18. February 9, 2010 4:30 pm

    What a strong boy; strong family. So glad he’s feeling better!

  19. February 9, 2010 5:34 pm

    My Hawthorn has had croup a couple of times, and Bella every winter hacks and hacks all night long. Not that it comes anywhere close to the severity of what you are dealing with, but I can’t imagine that feeling at night when you just want to go to sleep. You are such strong parents and loving and just amazing with your children. Sending happy thoughts for you and your family throughout the rest of the winter, and the couching season.


  20. February 9, 2010 5:35 pm

    …or coughing season is what I meant. Not sure what a couching season is. When you sit on your couch all season I guess.


  21. February 9, 2010 7:13 pm

    I have been there wanting so bad to trust my intuition and strong belief in our body’s ability to heal itself, but it is darn hard to watch your little one suffer. What a gift this experience was for you and for us who get to read about it.

    Have you ever used wet socks under wool socks to get circulation moving…it is really good to use with fever, congestion.

  22. February 10, 2010 8:07 am

    oh, mama. What words you have! I’m holding Lizzie in my arms right now after another long night of coughs that ran the gamut between gasp and bark and juicy. When she was a month old, she came down with rsv that turned into pneumonia. She spent six nights in the hospital and we were told to “prepare for things to go either way” (seriously. that’s what they said to us). The illness left her more at risk for every lung bug brewing in the county. She basically lives on elderberry and expectorant in the winter– thanks for sharing your homecooked goodness– I’m copying the info you left in the comments for future use.

    these babes of ours, oh, my. how much they can pull our own breathing out from under us. Kudos ti you for holding on to that exhale and riding your intuition. And kudos to col for being so darn tough! :)

  23. February 10, 2010 8:52 am

    25 weeks! wow. what you must have been through . . .

    you’re strong and fabulous. thanks for sharing!!!

  24. Judy permalink
    February 10, 2010 10:31 am

    Rachel – So sorry to hear of this tough spell for Col – & those Nights of Jagged Rocks in your hearts for you & Dan. It’s plenty enough to go through all that, and you’ve gone well beyond – to share it – with such an agony of precision – with others. Words heal!

    I hope that the lego races and coyote games have lotsa prizes for all!

  25. February 10, 2010 2:39 pm

    oh my goodness. i am so glad to hear he is well again. you and dan.. an amazing and loving team working together.. what love.. the best medicine.

  26. February 11, 2010 5:35 pm

    This was hard for me to read. I am so afraid of what kind of chronic lung issues Ruby might have. I so know the feelings you describe with sleepless nights, counting respiration, sucking snot, ear to chest listening to the wheeze.

    And I only have three months under my belt. I’m so naive. And I kinda want to stay that way.

    Your parenting is so honorable. Thanks for sharing your journey in such detail so the rest of us can learn.


  27. Melissa permalink
    January 12, 2011 2:48 pm

    Rachel. I feel like an asshole for complaining about Lilit’s mild bout of RSV. I know, I know, it’s okay and there’s room for all problems, big and small, but jeez . . .this post moved me to tears. xo


  1. Col wins this round « 6512 and growing | Health News
  2. Herbs and antibiotics: can’t we all get along? « 6512 and growing

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