When you’re a mom you worry each time your child is sick or hurt. You call your pediatrician over every fever when you are a new mom. If you have more children you mellow out a bit more with each one. By the time I had three kids I always worked from a place of “my child is fine unless they show me otherwise.” You hear people say “follow your gut” but you wonder if you’re gut will know when something is truly wrong. I’ve now had a very big scare with each of my kids that all turned out to be fairly serious. I thought that by sharing here it might help fellow parents recognize when something feels off with their child and to recognize that is their gut telling them something is wrong.
The first incident was with Quincy at birth, so luckily we had support there and I didn’t have to rely on my gut — but I still knew immediately things weren’t normal. The second was last year when Calvin woke up not feeling well one morning. We almost put him back to bed to let him sleep off whatever bug he probably had, but something just didn’t seem right and his color was not good (borderline grey) so we put him on the couch so we could keep an eye on him. When I checked on him and he appeared to be sleeping my gut told me to try to wake him and he was unresponsive. We drove him straight to the ER at Children’s Hospital (luckily only 15 minutes away) and my that time he was critical. His sugar had dropped to below 40, and he was hypothermic. The staff first thought he was septic (which is SO scary to hear). They admitted him to the ICU where he spent a couple of days.
It turns out that he has something called ketotic hypoglycemia — which is basically a condition where some children just cannot tolerate fasting and their blood sugar dips too low and ketosis occurs. The day before we had grilled out in our backyard and our kids were playing and swimming in our inflatable pool. When Cal first started acting weird my first thought was dry drowning. That is probably why I was so vigilant in the first place and had they not been swimming the day before I might have brushed off my gut feelings. But because I have heard so much about dry drowning and not to ignore the signs I was being extra cautious. But because of that swimming and play Calvin had barely eaten the hamburger and fruit we served in the backyard for dinner. So he likely “fasted” from lunchtime until he woke up that next morning really ill. Some kids would be just fine, but Calvin was not. After that hospital stay and a second one where we did a monitored fast to see how he would respond in a controlled environment, we’ve discovered there are no other underlying causes — no diabetes, no endocrine issues, etc. — and we just give him a bedtime snack before bed each night to make sure his blood sugar stays stable at night. At first we had to check his sugar every morning when he woke up but after the monitored fast and getting no lows during that time we only check if he is sick or seems off. He’s healthy and happy and doing great now.
Our final scare happened just last week with my oldest son Charlie. He woke up like normal on a school morning and told me his stomach hurt. I suggested he try to go to the bathroom (because usually, they always just need to go to the bathroom). He did but it still hurt. A few minutes later he was back in the bathroom, but this time he was vomiting. After a few minutes of that, I put him back to bed. He looked pale but didn’t have a fever. He wanted to rest. I went back downstairs to feed my other kids breakfast and about 30-40 minutes later went to check on him and he needed to throw up again. When he was done I took his temperature again and it was 99. I just assumed he had a stomach virus because one was going around at school. He slept for a couple hours and when he woke up we tried sips of water. His fever had slowly climbed to 100. A couple hours later we did pedialyte popsicles. By this point he hadn’t thrown up anymore, but his fever was 101.1 and he was very uncomfortable in his belly. I gave ibuprofen to see if his fever would respond and if it would help with the pain. He watched Indiana Jones in bed and was doing ok.
By 2 pm he needed to pee, which I took as a good sign he was staying hydrated. But he couldn’t get out of bed or walk — it hurt too much. I carried him to the bathroom and carried him back to bed. His fever was still at 100 even after ibuprofen and I was starting to get a bit concerned that his stomach hurt so bad but he was tolerating liquids fine. I asked him to show me exactly where it hurt and he pointed to his belly button and moving to the right side. I made a little mental note but still thought we were just dealing with stomach cramping associated with a virus. He wanted to go downstairs for a change of scenery and seemed to be feeling much better except for when he moved. I carried him down to the couch and got him comfortable and set up with another movie. By 5 pm he wanted to eat, so I thought we were coming out of it. I made him chicken noodle soup and helped him to the table. He was still in a lot of pain with movement, but I wasn’t sure if he was just being dramatic (not outside of the realm of possibilities at all) or if there was more going on. My observations told me his pain was genuine. He ate slowly to make sure food wouldn’t make him feel worse or like throwing up. But my 6 pm when he was done and needed to move again and his pain still seemed intense I started to really think something more was wrong. I texted my best friend who also has three kids and is a nurse. She also thought it sounded like more than a virus but also could easily be nothing. My husband is across the country for work, I have two other kids at home, and the thought of going to the ER sounded really overwhelming for my circumstances. I thought I better call our (now on-call due to being after hours) pediatrician, and he confirmed what I was starting to suspect — it sounded like appendicitis. He called Children’s ER to let them know we would be coming in. Then I had one of those “what the eff do I do!?” moments where I broke down while I ran upstairs to pee and throw on a bra before we left. I called a neighbor friend and mom and she came over within minutes. I told Charlie we had to go to the hospital, and he proceeded to panic and cry and fake feeling totally better. He even walked around like normal but the look on his face told me he was in pain. By this point my other kids were in bed asleep, so I just hoped they wouldn’t wake up and I’d be home before morning, threw a change of clothes and a book for Charlie in my bag, and off we went. It was pouring rain and I was crying and feeling very scared and alone and having a moment as I drove Charlie to the hospital, as he cried and had a moment and kept asking if he was going to be ok.
When we got to the ER Charlie was still protesting that he was fine and I literally had to say “we are here and we aren’t leaving until we see a DR so stop acting fine and start acting sick like you were all day so they see us faster.” They triaged us quickly and then we waited for almost three hours in a room to see a doctor. It sucked but because he was sitting he wasn’t in too much pain. By midnight we were getting an ultrasound, which confirmed appendicitis (and was very painful for him because they had to push on his tummy during the ultrasound quite a bit). A surgeon came to talk to me and told me we were being admitted, Charlie was being started on antibiotics in case there was an infection, and we would have surgery the following day. We were finally transported to a room and Charlie was asleep by 3 am. I got 2 1/2 hours of sleep before rounds and vitals at 6 am. Not that I could sleep anyways.
By 7 am they were taking us to the OR prep room for surgery. Charlie was very anxious and nervous. They gave him something to help him relax, which really helped both of us. I snapped the above photo right around then (you can see on the clock it was 7:30 am). I was able to stay with him until they wheeled him into the OR and escorted me to the family waiting area. And then I sat and waited. Alone. I knew he was going to be ok, but I was scared shitless anyways. I meditated and just thought really positive thoughts. I updated family. I checked in with my sweet neighbor who had spent the night and was there with my kids when they woke up instead of her own. My mom arrived at my house to takeover and I could relax knowing my other kids were fine and wouldn’t worry now that grandma was there. And I waited some more. My husband had wanted to fly in but by the time he could get a flight and with the time difference we would have already been home and I had help. Since an appendectomy is pretty routine, I told him to stay put and save us the $1000, which we undoubtably would be needing for this hospital and ER visit.
Once he was out of recovery and back in his room (probably by around 9:30 am) he was in a little pain at his incision sites but otherwise ok. He didn’t have an appetite but drank water, watched more movies (so many movies!) and got up to go to the bathroom with my help a couple times. We did some laps around the halls because when you have surgery they inflate the area so they can see better and that air travels up and causes pain in the shoulder area. Walking around helps to release the air/gas bubbles that are trapped and causing the pain. Once he had drank a cup of water, peed, and walked around he was ready to be discharged! Appendectomies are laparoscopic surgeries and minimally invasive. He didn’t have any complications and his appendix hadn’t ruptured so his recovery was pretty quick and easy, all things considered. We treated his pain with a constantly alternating tylenol and ibuprofen for 48 hours, and he was sore at his incision sites and dealt with the air bubble pain for a couple days but otherwise was doing well. He has now gone back to school and is doing fine. We are keeping an eye on his incision sites to make sure there are no signs of infection and he has to take it somewhat easy (no roughhousing) for two weeks as well as no swimming or baths for two weeks (but showers are fine). All in all, it was the best case scenario largely because I listened to my gut and we caught it early.
This experience taught both Charlie and I that we are tougher than we give ourselves credit for. And it reminded me that “mom gut” is way more than the little belly pooch that remains long after you have kids. It is that little voice that says “something seems off” or “my kiddo doesn’t seem ok.” Listen to that voice. Worst case, you are wrong and you are out the ER visit co-pay and are a bit inconvenienced and tired. Best case: you saved your kid’s life.
I also wanted to say a quick thank-you to the staff of Nationwide Children’s Hospital here in Columbus. Both of our visits there in the last year were met with phenomenal care and excellent staff. They really involve the families and take great care to put their patients at ease. They also do not turn any child away for inability to pay. Anytime we are able we donate our time, money, and blood in an effort to give back. Calvin asked for toys to donate in lieu of gifts for his birthday this year. I cannot speak highly enough about our experiences there. If you are able, please consider making a donation here.