Jaz and I experienced his first asthma attack the other night.
It was shortly after midnight when I heard him start to cough in a way that grabbed my attention. It wasn’t a hacking cough, nor would I call it wheezing. It was raspy and desperate, and something about it made me jump out of bed and rush to his room. He was on his side, gasping and moving in a way one does when trying to cough.
Jaz was trying to breathe, but it wasn’t happening easily.
I lifted him up out of bed, and realized he wasn’t really awake. It didn’t seem like he was choking on anything, but I whacked him on the back a few times thinking maybe whatever was causing him to cough needed to be knocked from his throat or lungs. He had a runny nose the past few days, occasionally coughing up whatever was draining down his throat. But it was nothing out of the ordinary.
It certainly wasn’t anything like this.
Whacking him woke him up more, and he started to protest, but without the ability to make sounds other than gasps for breath, the noise he was making was not a cry. That’s when the bells in my brain started going off, and I could feel the adrenaline begin to pump into my own chest.
Why was my son struggling to breathe?
My mind raced as I looked at his lips and fingertips. They were still pink, but he was looking pale. The fact that he was fussing, and gasping, and fighting me was good, but I could feel his stomach sucking in hard.
I never had asthma. While I know people with asthma, I never witnessed an attack. At the most, I’ve seen asthmatics get winded, whip out their inhaler, and move on. I had a faint memory of being told breathing in a paper bag would help during an attack, but was that an asthma attack or a panic attack? Do I even own paper bags? Or an inhaler?
That’s when I remembered that we had a nebulizer from last year when he had some chest congestion. At the time, we were given a bunch of vials of medication to clear his airways. We didn’t use them all, and still had some in our medicine cabinet. I immediately got it set up for him, strapped the mask over his face, and propped him up in his rocking chair while I got on my knees in front of him.
He stared at me over the mask, his mouth open as he tried to breathe, his whole body heaving with each attempt. After a few minutes of this with no change, I decided I was going to take him to Urgent Care.
I put a pillow next to him and then ran out into the hall towards the girls’ room, instinctively calling for Martin before realizing I really meant to call for Miss C.
I shook her awake and asked her to sit with her brother while I changed clothes and pulled on my shoes. Like a zombie, she did as asked without complaint. I rushed downstairs and knocked on Miss Mary’s door, waking her up to tell her my plans to leave with Jaz and that I would have my cell phone with me if she needed anything.
Then I raced back upstairs to find Jaz sitting completely straight up, still gasping, before falling forward in the seat to vomit.
The exertion from trying to breathe forced the contents of his stomach up and out. Then he sort of limply fell over onto the side of the rocking chair, the mask hanging loose from his face as he continued making that pathetic sound.
That’s when I knew there was no way I was going to drive him alone to the Urgent Care.
So I called 9-1-1.
I told the dispatcher that I thought my son was having an asthma attack. She could hear him crying and gasping over the phone, and made some recommendations, such as keeping him upright and having all the medication I’d given him ready so the EMTs would know what he already had in his system.
It took about 10 minutes for the emergency responders to show up. They sent both a medic and a fire truck, and soon there were about six folks in navy blue standing in my kitchen and checking over Jaz, who by that time was quietly wheezing from his perch on our kitchen island, waving as each new face appeared.
The nebulizer had kicked in by then, and the urgency and desperation in his breathing was gone.
The EMTs checked his heart rate and checked for fever, and confirmed he sounded congested, but Jaz was breathing in-and-out again. They said they could take him to the ER for me if I wanted, but they didn’t see a need to give him anything from their bags of goodies since the nebulizer seemed to work. I immediately started second-guessing my decision to call them, but felt better that they were so patient and reassuring, especially when I pointed out that I’d never experienced an asthma attack.
They suggested I make an appointment for him to be seen first thing in the morning, and reminded me to call if his breathing changed.
So, after they left, I made the appointment.
And then I sat up with him in the rocking chair the entire rest of the morning, counting his breaths and listening to the wheezing.
Later that morning, I took Jaz to his peditrician to be checked out, and we were immediately ushered to the back by the nurse, where his vitals were taken.
He was still breathing hard with his stomach. His heart rate was racing. And his blood-oxygen level was low.
I felt like a moron.
Especially when both the nurse and the pediatrician gently pointed out that I should have driven him to the Urgent Care after the EMTs left our house instead of waiting for office hours.
But I didn’t know.
I mean, of course I know, but I was just grateful that he was breathing again. After the nebulizer, his wheezing sounded like what the girls do when they have a chest cold, something that wasn’t as scary as how he sounded before. I thought waiting at home a few hours where I could hold him and watch him and respond to him was a lot better than driving 45 minutes to their Urgent Care, alone in the minivan where he would be strapped behind me, wheezing and out of reach.
Dear lord, did I make the wrong decision?
Suddenly, I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
But before I could let the Mommy Guilt twist me into a fetal position, we were moved to another room, where he was hooked up to another nebulizer. After a round of that, he was also given steroids, and I made a Lance Armstrong joke that really wasn’t that funny, but at least I’m being honest about it.
After all that, we were moved to another room with a television on the wall, where we hung out for about 45 minutes for observation. They wanted to make sure his blood-oxygen levels were back up after the treatment.
So, Jaz and I sat and watched cartoons. After that got boring, he got up to explore the room and all the buttons while I took photos and looked up some asthma information from my phone. The nurse kept popping in to check on us, complimenting Jaz’s behavior and pointing out his cheerfulness as a good sign.
Our pediatrician finally came by, checked him out, and announced that she officially diagnosed Jaz with childhood asthma. She thinks that when his head cold reached his chest, it triggered the attack. So, we were prescribed some things to treat the cold, as well as some things for maintenance to prevent another attack.
I left the doctor’s with a smiling, breathing Jaz and two bags full of goods, and a schedule for his treatments.
For the rest of the day, I worked from home, answering email and calling into meetings between treatments, writing everything down and creating a chart for Mary to use during the day. Jaz was pretty upbeat, and took an extra long nap when we got home.
After his bedtime round of treatments, he started doing this little crazy dance in the family room.
Sure, it was probably him working out the hyperactivity side-effect, but for me, I just took it as a good sign.
And I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
And as if the day couldn’t get any more exciting, Martin called for the first time in two weeks.
He asked if anything new was happening.
I took a look at our son spinning circles and said, “Oh, you know. Jaz went and got new meds for a silly chest cold. Alles klar!”