An Unexpected Trip to the ER

I don’t think anyone is ever expecting a trip to the emergency room but this one really came out of left field and so I think the story is worth sharing.  What started as a typical hustle and bustle weekend day in December 2010 turned out to be one of the scariest days of my life.

I remember the day well.  It was Saturday, December 18, 2010 and things were good.  I was home with my new baby girl who was not quite a month old and my almost two year old daughter who was filled with all the excitement (and sugar) that the holiday season brings to young children.  My husband was off on a mission to buy a new washing machine since ours had recently broken and not having a working washer is not an option with two small children.  It was a busy day.  I was preparing a green bean casserole and finishing some gift wrapping while trying to keep the girls entertained.  We were planning to attend a Christmas party that evening and looking forward to catching up with family that we don’t get to see very often.  And then quite rapidly and very unexpectedly, our plans changed.

I noticed while nursing my baby that she felt warm and when I took her temperature, I learned that she had a fever of about 101.4.  I wanted to give her some Tylenol but I quickly realized that I did not know the proper dose for her weight and age.  I made a call to my pediatrician to find out how much Tylenol to give and waited by the phone for the on-call doctor to call me back since it was the weekend.  At this point, I was thinking she had a fever but she was eating and acting pretty much normal and this was no big deal.

When the doctor called, I apologized for bothering her on a Saturday and informed her that my baby had a fever and asked how much Tylenol she could have.  My pediatrician asked what my daughter’s temperature was and inquired about other symptoms and then she told me that I needed to pack up some things and head to the Children’s Hospital right away.  She told me not to panic (yeah right).  I was shocked and frightened and had a gazillion questions.

The doctor explained to me to me that for babies this young, a fever could be very dangerous and therefore, my baby would need to be worked up at the hospital.  I learned that it is considered a medical emergency if an infant 6 weeks old or younger has a fever of 101 or higher because it is difficult to tell if the baby is suffering from a minor infection or is seriously ill.  The doctor did not want me to give my daughter any medication until she was evaluated at the hospital.

I frantically grabbed some things and loaded the kids into the car.  I called my husband who was busy negotiating a good price on a Kenmore at Sears and asked him to meet us at the hospital.  He was equally as confused as I had been to hear that we needed to be at the hospital.  “I’ll explain later.”  I said.  “Can you call your mom and tell her we are not going to make the party?”  I hated to make family members worry during a holiday celebration but what else could we do?

My husband met us in front of the hospital and we headed inside.

We did not have to wait even though the waiting room was full.  This made me more nervous.  They brought us straight into the triage area where they asked some questions, checked vitals, and eventually gave my baby some Tylenol.  This is when the extreme panic and trepidation must have set in because everything is a blur.  I remember bits and pieces of what the doctors told me.  “It could be a serious infection…..meningitis….permanent damage…..further evaluation…..may have to do a spinal tap…..need to be sure….will give her antibiotics….she’ll have to spend the night.”

Apparently, it was protocol to do spinal taps for babies with fevers who are under 4 weeks old but because my daughter would be 4 weeks old in 2 days, they would consider not doing the spinal tap depending on the results of her initial evaluation.  They did a urinalysis, took some blood and a took a chest x-ray.  The doctors ultimately decided to do the spinal tap and I stood by her side in horror trying to console my poor baby girl.  I fed her sugar water with a syringe as the doctors tried their best to keep her completely still while inserting a needle into her tiny and still developing spine.  It was awful.  To make matters worse, a resident tried to do the spinal tap (unsuccessfully) before the supervising doctor stepped in to correct and teach his student.  It was heartbreaking to see my helpless little girl screaming in fear and pain.  I know that doctors need to learn by doing but in that moment, I was so angry that they were using my young child as a teaching aide and pin cushion.

They started my daughter on antibiotics as a precaution and told me she would need to stay at the hospital to be monitored until the results of her spinal tap came back and the doctors were certain that she did not have a serious infection.  My husband had already gone home with my older daughter.   I had to stay with my baby since I was breastfeeding but I would not have left her there alone anyway.  She did not seem uncomfortable but a children’s hospital can be a very depressing place, even more so during the holidays when the outside world seems so bright and festive.  The corridor wall murals may be cheery but it is so sad to see little kids feeling sick and it is very unsettling to see a baby lying in a hospital bed with an IV attached to her arm, especially when she is your own.

On December 20, 2010, we learned that my daughter probably just had a minor virus and they let us go home.  Hooray! This was the best Christmas present that I could have asked for.  I was ecstatic and relieved, yet still a bit traumatized.

Here’s my baby now:

I used to think that it was a little extreme to keep a young infant homebound for the first 6 weeks of life but this experience has certainly changed my opinion on that.

Has anyone else gone through this?

2 thoughts on “An Unexpected Trip to the ER

  1. I have been slow with catching up on posts … I know this was a while ago but how awful … I have also had bad experiences with residents, nothing to this scale though. I am sympathetic to the new doctor who needs to learn, but yeah, when it comes to my kid I can’t say I would be patient and understanding. So sorry you had to go through this.

  2. Oh my goodness – how scary that must’ve been for you! Thank you for sharing your story because I didn’t know that about young babies. I think all those traumatic events that happen to moms are what make us strong and courageous….and maybe even prepare us for the teen years? Lol!

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