As a parent of a baby born too soon there is a sound that can fill me with dread…that is the sound of my child coughing.
Winter coughs and colds are part of the course for babies and toddlers, particularly if like mine they attend nursery; but for children born prematurely winter coughs can be dangerous, quickly leading to feeding difficulties, breathing difficulties and hospital admissions.
The dreaded RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), whose symptoms are akin to the common cold, has landed both my boys in hospital already this winter. The staff at Kings College NHS Hospital were brilliant as always and a special note of thanks must go to them – stars every one of them! However we don’t want to be going back and very much hope we can put the latest admission down to RSV being a particularly nasty virus. You can’t wrap them up in cotton wool though, at least not for ever and with almost two-thirds of babies unknowingly having the virus by the age of one, RSV is difficult to avoid.
We were used to frequent respiratory difficulties with our eldest son born early at 30 weeks. Under the care of the respiratory team we have experienced monthly trips to A&E, hospital admissions as well as close management at home. We would recognise the early signs of respiratory distress and could often predict the course that a cough or cold would take. With a sinking feeling and heavy heart we would watch as his symptoms escalated; see his tummy and shoulders rise and fall as he worked harder with his respiratory effort and listened as the noise in his chest grew louder. Finally there would be a silent glance between me and my husband, we could no longer manage his symptoms at home and there would be an unsaid moment of ‘now’ is the time to go to hospital.
Now at the grand old age of three the hospital admissions and dashes to A&E are thankfully becoming less frequent. He is growing stronger and in addition we are probably managing his symptoms more effectively at home with a host of inhalers. It’s hard not to let that familiar feeling of dread creep in though when you hear the first signs of a cough; particularly the repetitive coughing that so often resulted in an oxygen requirement and hospital admission. When my youngest son started coughing just last month I recognised the sound instantly and just knew we’d be off to hospital. My husband reassured me, telling me he was a different child, born at 34 weeks and had he no history of respiratory difficulties, but there was that familiar sound and that familiar sinking feeling in my stomach. Having both boys in hospital (they like to share their bugs!) was exhausting. But even without hospital admissions the exhaustion can continue right through the winter for parents of children born prematurely. The constant worry of what an everyday cold could bring, the uncertainty of what may come next and the routine of managing symptoms through the day and night with inhalers can be simply shattering. Yes, there is a sound that can fill me with dread… and that is the sound of my child coughing.