Thursday, January 28, 2021

New Year, Same Bullshit (Part Two)


Only a few weeks after my baby’s choking episode led to an ER visit, and the night after my baby had an adenoidectomy to prevent that from ever happening again, there I was on my knees, giving back blows to my baby until she threw up a pool of mucus. My husband had called 911, but the few minutes until the ambulance’s siren neared our house felt like forever.

Soon a pair of 20-something EMTs stormed through the door; one had a bright blue mohawk and the other was a nervous Nelly. Both acted as if they’d never seen a baby before. Nervous Nelly couldn’t get the pulse oximeter on the baby’s finger or get a look in her mouth with a flashlight. If these two were the rescue crew, I wanted to tell them to go the fuck home because they would be no help.

Nervous Nelly said another ambulance was on its way. Meanwhile, two pairs of cops arrived. One pair just came into the house, no introduction or indication of what the hell they were going to do in this situation. Their intimidating energy was huge and sucked all the air out of the room.

The dog was barking, the baby was crying, and we were all just standing around waiting for the second ambulance. Finally, it arrived, with two middle-aged EMTs. One was an Alpha asshole but the other one was kind and calm. They asked if we wanted a ride to the hospital (not because they cared but because they wanted permission to bill us). At that point, the baby seemed better. She gazed quietly at all these strangers in the house.

I looked to my husband. “Should we drive?” I asked.

“I don’t want her to choke on the way,” he said. “Or to get in an accident.”

He and the EMTs convinced me to go with the baby in the ambulance – my first (and hopefully last) ambulance ride ever. The vehicle seemed to be all metal on the inside and the lights were blindingly bright. The EMTs strapped the baby onto a stretcher, which was terrifying for her and me. She started wailing again, then choking. I told the EMTs she couldn’t breathe, but they wouldn’t take her out of the harness. Then she threw up mucus again, soaking her onesie. No one was reacting, but I was pretty sure this was not normal.

We set off. The Alpha EMT drove and the nice one sat in the back with me and the baby. The baby calmed down once we were in motion, though now I was upset. The EMT told me I could take my mask off. There was snot streaming down my face. He radioed some information – all in code, it seemed – to the hospital. He talked to the baby sweetly and stroked her finger. I couldn’t believe how unshakeable he was – or how he did this day in, day out, and stayed so incredibly chill.

Because we arrived at the hospital in an ambulance, it seemed like we got special treatment. There was no waiting for triage this time. We were shuttled immediately into a room in a part of the ER I hadn’t seen before. A nurse came in right away, with toys for the baby. A doctor soon followed. No one knew what exactly was going on, but the “episode” seemed to be over. The doctor’s best guess was that the baby had some post-surgery inflammation that made it hard for her to breathe and led to the vomiting, but that she was no longer in imminent danger. Since the baby seemed stable, the doctor said we could just continue using Afran over the weekend (but no longer than that, because it can cause rebound inflammation) and that we should call the ENT on Monday.

We were waiting on the discharge paperwork when a different, older nurse came in and said the baby was due for some Tylenol. I almost said, “We’ll do it at home. Just let us leave.” But I said OK, because I was being Minnesota Nice. The nurse held the baby’s head and I tried to squirt the Tylenol in her mouth, but the baby started crying and choking again. We managed to get the medicine down by taking little breaks. The nurse quietly said, “I’m going to go share what just happened in here with the doctor…”

And then the parade began. One doctor after another came in, all seemingly doing the same exam and offering zero solutions – other than staying the night for observation. At this point, it was around 2 a.m. so we were already halfway through the night by my estimation.

“What do you want to do?” the doc asked.

“I want to go home but I’m afraid to,” I said.

“Then you should stay,” he said. “Otherwise, you might just end up coming back.”

The dealbreaker for me was that they said if we stayed, an ENT would see us in the morning. At least that would be faster than waiting for Monday morning and trying to schedule an appointment.

The baby cycled from calm to crisis mode, because the health care professionals kept doing things to her. I was reminded of the “cascade of interventions” often referred to in unmedicated childbirth circles, in which one medical procedure begets another. First it was a chest X-ray to make sure she hadn’t swallowed anything (of course she hadn’t). Then a COVID test (negative). Then they wanted to do an IV but two nurses were unable to find a vein. The second time they attempted, they didn’t even use anesthetic, which was awful to watch because I knew the very first moment they caused her pain by the way her face contorted. Then they gave up because I was bawling and the baby was inconsolable. They turned down the lights and left us alone and she finally took a bottle and fell asleep.

Around 4 a.m. they transferred us to a room. The adrenaline I’d been running on had worn out. I was beyond exhausted. But the nurse had to go through the same 10,000 questions as everyone else and then her oximeter wasn’t working and she had to troubleshoot that before we could settle into the plastic-covered pull-out sofa. The baby and I slept maybe 90 minutes before she woke up, seemingly in pain and hungry. My husband, who had been sent home with a list of things to retrieve (the irony that we had been so well prepared for the surgery stay and now we had nothing, not even a bottle, was not lost on me) realized he’d forgotten the bottle liners and the nurse had to hunt some down (of the wrong size) while the baby fussed.

Finally, a bottle came together and the baby ate and we ordered breakfast. We felt normal for a little while. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. (Recurring theme.)

Around lunchtime, a team of six doctors crowded into the room. We repeated the events of the last 24 hours yet again. I tried to ask the same question, in different ways, several times, because the doctors didn't seem to get it. 

“We were in the ER several weeks ago because the baby was choking on mucus,” I said. “They told us to get her adenoids out. We did that, but she’s still choking on her mucus. Is it possible the adenoids weren’t the problem and something else was missed?” 

The group of doctors didn’t have any answers, much less a treatment plan, other than three doses of steroids administered over a 24-hour period, Afran for a few days, and Flonase for a month. But they wanted to see what the ENT had to say first before finalizing anything. The only problem was no one knew when the ENT was coming. (Must be nice to be making a gazillion dollars a year and have to answer to no one, even when you’re on call.)

Unfortunately, the ENT that came was not the same doctor that did the surgery. It was the emotionless, unhelpful ENT I spoke to on the phone the previous night. His bedside manner wasn’t any better in person, making me wonder why he ever chose to work with children. He towered over my husband, the baby, and me. His eyes were a weird tiger orange and he had pinpricks for pupils. I don’t know what drugs he was on, but they must’ve been good. He did not examine the baby or even touch her.

“How is it going?” he asked.

“Fine, now,” I said. “But she always does well during the day. It’s nighttime that’s the problem.”

“Do you want to go home?”

“Yes, but I want to understand where the mucus is coming from, especially since we removed her adenoids. Why is she still having the same problem?”

“Adenoidectomy doesn’t treat mucus,” he said. “In fact, I’ve never seen a child this young get an adenoidectomy. But I’m not surprised she’s congested. Try saline spray.”

“Saline spray? Are you fucking kidding me?” I thought. I’d been doing saline spray since October. For the record, I’d also tried vapor rub, three kinds of nasal aspirators, and an angled pillow.

The ENT was infuriating to talk to. It was as if he was saying, “This is normal,” and “Except it isn’t,” simultaneously. He told us to follow up with our ENT on Monday, which totally boggled my mind because they work for the same practice.

After he left the room, I watched him through the window in the door. He put on his jacket right there at the nurses’ station and went back to his Saturday. (Asshole.)

The group of doctors circled back. No one knew what was going on and they didn’t know how to help, other than throw the same medications at the problem that we’d already tried and that had failed us before. (Except for the three-dose steroids. Those were new.) They shamed me for co-sleeping, suggesting that I stack cans of tuna underneath a Pack ‘N’ Play mattress (I shit you not) and make her sleep there instead. They also said that if the sleeping situation didn’t improve, she likely had acid reflux (despite the fact that she had not one symptom) and we should see a pediatrician about it. (“Isn’t that what all you people are?” I wondered.)

After several more hours of waiting for discharge paperwork, we were handed a bundle of prescriptions and sent home.

A week passed. The another. While we didn’t have another “episode” requiring an ER visit, the baby now had a new snore and was not sleeping through the night. In fact, we’d reverted to a newborn-esque schedule, with her waking up two to three times a night because of the congestion and then needing aspiration and a bottle to fall back asleep.

We returned to the ENT. He said the next step would be a sleep study to rule out sleep apnea. (Another night in the hospital. Oh, hooray.) I agreed, but when I called to schedule the sleep study, I was told we would have to wait until six weeks post-surgery or we might get an inaccurate read.

And so, we soldiered on. Sometimes I coped just fine with fragmented sleep. I got up, ran, and went about my day, juggling parenting and working from home like an expert octo-mom. Other days, I found myself reverting to self-destructive coping mechanisms, like baking a batch of cookies, then picking and eating the chocolate chips out of them (an old anorexic pastime). Or I zoned out by buying baby stuff online that I would inevitably return when remorse hit. I tried to pray but just ended up crying. I came to dinner puffy-eyed and defeated more than once.

To say the month has been rough would be an understatement.

Just when I hit what felt like rock bottom, I got an email from my West Coast IVF treatment coordinator: I had a new transfer date

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