As the calendar has transitioned into 2022, with it has come a seemingly fast-spreading variant of COVID-19: Omicron. There have been tens of thousands of cases in the United States in the last 10 days or so. It kinda makes one feel as if this global pandemic will never end. Though I haven’t heard or read much about little kids getting Omicron or showing symptoms associated with it, my concern for my son’s well-being and health is particularly high. And why wouldn’t I be when a contagious virus that affects the respiratory tract is at play…especially around this time of year. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the RSV scare with Ashton.
How I first came across this moment? This all started in late December 2018. We were in the 1st of what ended up being a 5-week government shutdown. While I had a chance to spend some downtime at home as non-emergency operations of the Department of the Interior were suspended, Ashton still went to daycare. Look, we were paying $2250 a month for him to attend the Fingerprints CDC…that’s $2250 a month on a GS-12, Step 3 salary in the Washington, DC area. Of course, he was gonna go to daycare during a shutdown. When I picked him up from the daycare around 4:30pm on December 27, I noticed that he still had a full bottle of breastmilk left. Typically, he’d drink 4 bottles during the day with that last one being between 3:45pm and 4pm. I also noticed that he was kinda warm when I picked him up. So I bundled him up and we made our way home. When he did get home, we gave him some Infants’ Motrin and Tylenol and that seemed to relieve him a little bit. He developed a little bit of a cough so we decided to keep him out of school the next day (December 28) and the following Monday (December 31). On New Year’s Day, he woke up as cheerful as I’d ever seen him in his 9 months of life and he seemed quite lively when we met up with friends for lunch. But he took a dramatic turn for the worse later that afternoon. We ended up making a trip to Children’s National Medical Center to get him checked out. The doctor there did what seemed to be a thorough screening of Ashton…and I mean thorough because Mercedes made it known from jump that she worked at the hospital and she basically bullied them into giving Ashton a more concentrated lookover. The doctor concluded that he probably came down with a cold that was passed along by one of my classmates at daycare. They gave us a prescription for a breathing treatment called albuterol that we were supposed to use with a nebulizer…something we were well-versed in being that he had been sick a couple of months earlier. Unlike that instance in September 2018, he didn’t respond well to the breathing treatments. On the evening of January 3 he seemed to be laboring in his breathing. So we took him to the pediatric emergency room at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center. They did some tests on him and that’s when the term respiratory syncytial virus entered my life and vocabulary for the first time. They tried a few options to immediately treat the RSV but Ashton wasn’t responding to them so the decision was to transfer him by ambulance to Children’s National in Downtown Washington. That was in the wee hours of the morning on January 4. He remained there in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit until January 16.
What it meant to me then? As I wrote in this Facebook post, it was the worst part of the parenting experience. Seeing the staff at Shady Grove hook him up to machines for the ambulance ride to Washington was a harrowing experience. Mercedes went with him in the ambulance and I followed in The Red Wolf. I had tears in my eyes the entire way. I had to pull over twice to try to collect myself—once on the shoulder of I-270 South and once on North Capitol St as I entered The District. It was easily the most challenging drive ever for me on account of my emotional state and it being the wee hours of the morning with me not having slept for about 20 hours at the time…far more challenging than that drive in the I-20 West thunderstorm in the Summer of 2009. I was further traumatized by the sight of Ashton in his PICU bed, wrapped tightly to keep him still and with machines all around him. They put him on a ventilator and feeding tube and everything. He progressed but it was incredibly slow. He was on the ventilator for 5 days. And when he came off that machine, I didn’t feel any personal relief until he responded with a laugh during this moment on Day 8. We spent an additional 3 ½ days in one of the recovery wards before we were able to take him home.
What it means to me now? Even 3 years later, I’m still somewhat scarred by the event. For some tense moments, I thought I was going to lose my son to an illness that most healthy adults shake off in 3 days. It changed my relationship with him…made me realize just how precious he was to me. It also compelled me to make sure he had the best available care, regardless of the cost. That’s the reason why I’m listening in on seminars and pitches from every provider in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program every November and December before I make my open season decisions. Ashton has been sick a time or two since but never to the extent where he had to be hospitalized. It is my hope that he’ll never experience that again. Once is definitely enough.