There’s been so much focus on Covid-19 for so long that it’s easy to forget how a common cold can be just as tough for a preemie to deal with. What amounts to a snotty nose and a bit of a cough for most of us can be enough to land a preemie back in hospital on oxygen, antibiotics, nebulisers, steroids and worse.
I once had a conversation with our daughter’s consultant and she said that after preemies get through their first year and are usually starting to crawl and/or walk around they find it much easier to cope with coughs and colds. Before then, they’re very sedentary which allows mucus to gather and build up, congesting the airways and the lungs and leading to further issues. So, in her experience, you don’t see as many toddlers in hospital for coughs, colds and other respiratory illnesses as you do babies under 1.
I wonder though if she’d now say something different if I asked her again. Because out of the 8 or so preemies I’ve stayed in relatively close contact with, 4 have been admitted to hospital or visited A&E in the last few weeks, 1 of whom was our daughter. And I’ve read dozens more posts on preemie Facebook groups talking about toddlers being admitted for breathing issues this month due to coughs and colds.
One of the nurses I spoke to in the hospital said it was because the population is suddenly mixing again after isolating for so long and germs are spreading like wildfire. And I guess that makes sense. We’ve all let our guard down and forgotten about all the other bugs out there that can floor our little preemies just as badly as Covid-19.
We got off very lightly and just had a 7 hour visit to A&E and monitoring on the children’s ward. Our little girl (now 2 years old) wasn’t breathing properly after a couple of days of a snotty nose. But it was a sobering and frightening experience all the same, triggering many nightmarish NICU memories for me. We were away staying with friends as well so it was a strange hospital in a strange place and I was on my own without my husband at first, although he caught the 2 hour train pretty sharpish which made a huge difference to my ability to cope. He wasn’t allowed in the hospital due to covid restrictions, but just knowing he was in the car park a few metres away made me feel so much more reassured. From a practical perspective I no longer had to worry about putting more money on the car parking ticket. But also it helped to share the burden of being responsible for our daughter’s welfare. It was extremely stressful making decisions on my own before he arrived – did I really need to take my little one to hospital? Could I leave my eldest with our family friends or should I take her too? How long should I put on the car? Should I use my phone or conserve battery? Should I agree to them giving her dexamethasone or did she not really need it because she wasn’t displaying croup symptoms?
All in all it left me feeling exhausted (understandable after 5 hours of pacing up and down in A&E cradling my little girl in my arms while she slept fitfully, often waking and screaming and flailing like a wild animal), and shell-shocked that it all could have so easily blown up in our faces. If the congestion had spread to her lower airways, my daughter would have been admitted to hospital, put on antibiotics, likely needed oxygen and nebulisers, and even ended up back on a ventilator or an oscillator – petrifying machines I never want to see or hear again. She may have faced a hospital stay of days, weeks or even months. We could have got stuck away from home again like we did when she was born in the middle of a family holiday. My mind went spinning, fretting about how we’d get our eldest to school for the start of the term.
None of that happened, but it was enough that it could have happened. It took both me and my husband the best part of a week to recover from the whole experience. It reminded us of the fragility of our lives, of our family and our happiness. My thoughts go out to all the families out there going through similar experiences with their little ones.