Sunday, 2 March 2014


Anyone who has children knows that they get ill.

They get ill often, they get ill easily, and if one of them is in any sort of day-care, they get ill twice as much and twice as messy and twice as hard. As a parent, you accept that. After a while, you expect it, too. And while you are looking forward to the time when their little immune systems become a bit stronger, you know how to handle their illnesses, you don’t freak out so easily any more, you take it in your stride and try to act like, as my daughter would say, “a real doctor” (well – a self taught nurse, maybe).

Which is why when Sacha’s nose was running for one week, but otherwise he seemed completely well in himself, I didn’t really worry too much. I didn’t take him to the doctor’s because we'd been through a situation like that so many times that I knew off by heart the questions I would be asked:

-          Is he eating?
-          Does he have fever?
-          Is he showing any other signs of being ill?
-          Does he seem his normal self?

With the inevitable conclusion, it is just a virus, it will pass in its own time. No medication is needed and antibiotics wouldn’t have any effect on a virus anyway. Come back if anything changes for the worse.

 Little man in the early days. 

And then last Tuesday it changed for the worse.

We were in the middle of getting the children ready for bed. I had stripped Sacha off his day time clothes and was enjoying a quick moment of snuggle against his warm, naked skin. And then I thought – his skin feels hot. Not just a little bit warm, as I would expect from a delicious baby who’s just come out of a bath, but actually fever-hot.

Some Calpol later, he seemed better, although the night brought even less sleep than usual. But in the morning, he started to burn up and I rang the doctor to request a same-day appointment. I was told that someone could see him at 6 o’clock that evening so we settled in for a quiet morning of TV and snuggles on the sofa. Wayne came home at lunchtime to take over as I needed to get Ana to a sport session. When we left the house, I didn’t really worry, Sacha was a little subdued but in very good hands.

Then, in the middle of the sport session, an SMS arrived:

‘Little man woke up burning up. Very high fever. What do I give him?’

I was relieved when Ana’s class was over and we could get back home. Sacha was still very hot despite the medication that Wayne had given him, lethargic, just wanted to be held and to snooze in someone’s arms.

Around 5 o’clock his fever was 39.5 and I wasn’t quite sure what to do. It was too soon to give him another Calpol, I wasn’t sure about the minimum time that must elapse before trying some Calprofen, I didn’t really want his fever to get any higher, and I decided to call 111 (this is a new NHS service for when you need quick help, but it’s not an emergency). While I was on the phone to them, his fever kept going up. I was checking it every few minutes as I almost disbelieved my eyes, but it went up, and up, and up, until it reached 40.8 degrees Celsius. I wasn’t sure whose heart was beating more wildly, his little one or mine. Thankfully it was now almost 6 o’clock and Wayne could take him to the doctor.
They came back with some antibiotics – ‘just in case’ – and some basic advice on what to do with high fever – strip them down, keep them cool, and so on, all stuff we already knew. The doctor wasn’t concerned, he’d said children react to viruses with high fevers, this was quite common and he just needed to ride it out.

A second restless and sleepless night ensued for all of us. In the morning, Sacha looked dreadful. His skin, usually a pearly pink, was almost yellowish in its tone. His blue eyes looked huge but pale, the whites coloured with pink blood vessels, dark marks underneath them. He didn’t want to be put down for a second. He had by then had two doses of the antibiotic but it didn’t seem to make any difference. He was refusing all food and water, and although it was early in the day, was again starting to burn up. We tried all the medication again but nothing would bring his fever down.

Within a couple of hours, the thermometer was reading 40.8 degrees again and I rung the doctor again, with just a trace of panic in my voice. I had never experienced one of my children having such high temperature and I had no idea what might happen from it – would it just keep rising up and up and up? Until when? What would happen then?

“He’s just really really poorly”, I said to the doctor with that insistence of a mother who just knows when her child is not right, however much the doctor of the previous night didn’t seem to think that anything particular was going on. Then Sacha started throwing up, the house looked like we were in the middle of a war, I didn’t want them to miss the appointment but Sacha just wouldn’t stop being sick, everything became very hectic and even more stressful. Finally I managed to dress him and ushered Wayne & him out of the door – the doctor’s is where they needed to be, and fast.

Ana and I stayed at home and waited. Ana was drawing and painting and I was cleaning and tidying up like a maniac. Partly to bring the house back into order, partly to pass the time which was moving at the speed of – well, if speed of light is the greatest speed which exists in the universe, then time that morning was moving at its exact opposite, the speed of darkness.

Finally, Wayne called me. “We are just waiting for an ambulance now. Sacha has to go straight to hospital.”

None of my questions could be answered because hospital was where they would examine him further, do tests, try to understand what was going on.

“I will call you as soon as I know more”, Wayne said.

More painting, more cleaning. I will forever be grateful to my daughter for the patience and maturity she displayed that morning. She just entertained herself, stayed very quiet and calm, and allowed me to pace the house and clutch the phone like a mad woman without any disturbance from her – more than you should expect from any child, really, let alone a three year old.

Finally, Wayne called again.

“You and Ana should get ready and come over now”, he said. “I don’t have anything with me, not even nappies, so bring some stuff. Little man is still as hot as before, and sleeping, so they’re just waiting and observing him for now.”

What stuff, I thought to myself. Stuff for staying over? For him, for me? For how long?

With what brain cells were still functioning, I packed a rucksack with necessities, got Ana dressed and called a taxi. The operator must have sensed a real urgency in my voice (coupled with my stated destination) as he said he’d find an available car straight away.

We were only on the street waiting for a couple of minutes before a taxi arrived. We jumped in, and first drove to the nearest cash point. When I got back inside the car with the required funds, the driver looked at me in the mirror and asked:

“You are going to Cheltenham General, aren’t you?”

“No, no, I’m going to Gloucester Royal hospital, I’ve told you already’, I replied somewhat unkindly, with impatience. My mind was a beehive of thoughts and worries. Where did Sacha catch whatever it was that was making him so ill? Had I taken him outside and not put his winter hat on? (No). Had I dressed him too warmly and allowed him to get sweaty? (No). Had I let his nappy overflow in the night and soak his clothes and not change him soon enough? (No). Had I let strangers who harbour god-knows-what-germs kiss him and cuddle him in the street? (No). Was I somehow to blame for his illness through whatever it was that I had, or had not done? Absolutely.

The man’s voice startled me from my thoughts.

“You’re in the wrong cab, madam. I’m really sorry, this car was not for you, it was for one of your neighbours. I didn’t realise at first, I apologise.”

I could barely believe my ears, as it became clear what had happened. What was the chance that we, at no. 3, would be calling a taxi for one hospital at the exact same time as our neighbours at no. 7 were calling for another? I felt awful – we live in an area with many elderly people and I was hoping I hadn’t made somebody else’s emergency even more urgent.  At the same time, I was desperate to get to the hospital to be with Sacha.

Eventually, the driver decided to tell his controller that he couldn’t just chuck Ana and me out on the street, so we stayed on and raced on towards the hospital. (At the same time, I was swearing an oath to myself that I would start driving again as soon as humanly possible – but that’s another story).

When we arrived at the hospital and the right ward, we were shown to a bed sectioned off with some lively coloured curtains (this was a children’s ward, after all), and behind the curtain there was (what seemed like) a huge big bed on which lay one little boy, poorly as anything, looking very sorry for himself. Next to him was my husband, smiling with worried eyes.

Sacha was completely naked (the doctors were trying to catch some bodily fluids, for analysis), just in a tiny hospital gown which was open and showing his pale body that seemed to have become void of any puppy fat over the last two days.

I would never have though that I’d be so relieved to be in a hospital. But the worry and the responsibility of having to make the correct decisions for his health had completely worn me down. It wasn’t that I didn’t want the responsibility, it was that my total lack of any medical knowledge (outside of the usual parameters of being a mother) made that decision making precarious and stressful at the very least. Here, he was being looked after by the experts. Here, we would all be looked after and everything would be fine.

Sacha had to have all manners of unpleasant tests done, from bloods to X ray, and the outcome was that he had pneumonia.

“But not a really bad one”, the doctor said, “thankfully.”


How and why and where from would he get pneumonia, is a different question and one with which I have tormented myself since. But the doctor said, it’s just one of those things, they catch it from the environment, it isn’t anything that we (the parents) had done.

But you always feel like it’s something you’ve done, or something you missed. That I should have taken him to the doctor sooner (although we were told that his snuffles the week before were simply not the same illness as this – that when he started to seem seriously ill is when he got seriously ill - and we reacted immediately to that).

There was a moment in the hospital when Sacha and I were left alone, after he’d had another nap and now I was coaxing him to eat some refreshing, cold apricot yoghurt. It was early evening and the noises of other patients around us were subdued. Another parent was playing a lullaby (on a mobile, perhaps) to their own sick child, a couple of bays away. The hospital, and in this we are extremely lucky, was very new and clean and everything seemed shiny and well looked after. The staff were wonderful, the doctors not embarrassed to make funny faces to make the children laugh and feel less scared. The lights were dimmed, the bed was strangely comfortable, the white sheets, although clearly belonging to a hospital, were perfectly ironed and incredibly clean. For a moment, I felt such calm that it was almost as if I had taken a strong sedative. I felt that we were safe, I felt that we were in a good place, not a place of sickness and worry but a place of caring knowledge and help, I was grateful for this moment of peace and tranquility after the dizzying madness of the day, and most of all, I was grateful that my child would be well, soon.

And I wished with all my heart that the same would be true for all the other little occupants of the beds around us.

As the proverb says, first health, then wealth. We know this every day of our lives, but sometimes, a light shines on it and we can see it very, very clearly, and we are reminded never to take it for granted.

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