I think most parents must have heard this question, at one time or another, asked innocently, as their children begin to explore and understand their own mortality.
But when asked, between gasped breaths, with fear in her eyes, I think there is nothing a parent wouldn’t give for a magic wand to make everything better.
“No, sweetie, you’re not going to die.” I say.
“I don’t want to die,” she says, as my heart breaks.
“You’re not going to die, sweetie. The ambulance will be here soon and the paramedics will give you some oxygen.”
I have won the honor of being the strong, rational one by default. My wife is on the verge of a breakdown as I am answering the 9-1-1 operator’s questions. Her mother’s instincts have had her sleeping in our daughter’s bed most of the night. She had a mild cold the day before, but by bedtime it had developed into a serious upper-respiratory issue. Soon after going to bed she had a barking cough and her breathing was ragged.
At 5am, I hear my wife’s voice through the baby monitor, calling me. She had awoken Ani to get her to cough again. But this time, she could barely breath, and her chest was caving in with every gasp. “Call 9-1-1,” my wife cries from the bathroom, where she has taken her, while I am trying to find a remedy to relieve her distressed breathing.
I stay with her as I pass on the operator’s instructions to put the dogs out, unlock the door and turn on the lights. He asks if she is clammy. No, she is warm, almost hot and she is pale, though her lips are pink. She can still talk.
“Daddy, am I going to die?”
The EMTs are there within 5 minutes. They give her oxygen. They put her on a stretcher and put her in the ambulance. They tell me she is in good hands and advise me to follow as safely as possible. My wife goes with her in the ambulance.
At 5am, there is frost on the windshield and I can’t locate my scraper. I do the best I can with the wipers and washer fluid. It takes a minute or two for the ambulance to leave. I later learn they are starting epinephrine and albuterol treatments.
At 5am, I learn, all the lights along the main thoroughfare are blinking yellow and I am able to make great time to the hospital. The ER desk attendant goes back to check that she has been admitted and then leads me to her.
She is sitting up with a breathing tube under her nose. She says it is hurting her nostrils. she is clutching a small stuffed koala the EMTs had given her in the ambulance She is no longer gasping. A nurse is preparing a treatment of “stinky oxygen” in a face mask, which she breathes in. She has monitors stuck all over her chest and stomach and a pulse monitor on her right index finger. Next an oral treatment of steroids and motrin.
Then she can rest. For a while. They keep checking on her…and us.
The doctor confirms that she had developed croup. They want to keep her for a couple of hours, to make sure she doesn’t relapse when the original epinephrine treatment wears off.
We sit and wait. She helps the nurses pull off some of the unnecessary monitor sticky pads. We send updates to our older daughter. She drinks water and needs to go to the restroom. She’s feeling better. She gets hungry. The nurse brings her peaches and graham crackers and apple juice. She actually starting to enjoy herself. She’s smiling and talking with us in her croaking voice.
The shift changes around 7am and the morning doctor on duty checks on us and her and says we can start the discharge papers. The steroids should get her through the next 48 hours and past the danger zone.
“No, sweetie, you’re not going to die.”