Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Whooping Cough, Family Doctor Visits


It started with a tiny little cough. We didn’t think much of it. Allergies, maybe. Perhaps a cold. Sure three of our neighbors, two of which spent time with our son, had Whooping Cough, but our entire family was vaccinated. I held my head high, looking down my nose at this “preventable” epidemic. We were too responsible to fall victim.

He wasn’t even acting sick, so we sent him to Grandma’s overnight Saturday despite the cough. She took him to the church nursery where she worked the next morning, and then the two swam and played the rest of the day. When we picked him up, she mentioned the cough. Yes, we had noticed that, we said. Maybe we should call the doctor since it’s been a couple of days.

On Tuesday, the doctor noted no fever and eating fine, brushed it off as a cold and sent him home. My husband is the paranoid type and asked about Whooping Cough. She said it was possible even for the vaccinated, but not likely. She prescribed Benadryl to help him sleep at night.

Over the subsequent days his cough worsened. He had sporadic coughing fits that sounded like choking, and would turn red gasping for breath. At night, he was upset by these spells and would fuss softly. On Friday, a week after the cough began, I emailed the doctor to say the Benadryl wasn’t working, could she recommend another treatment. By now I’m wondering too and add, “What would be the course of action if he does have Whooping Cough?”

Right away she wanted to know if he had a fever and was he eating. No and yes. But there is a “whooping” sound after the cough. I used her word to describe the gasping. I missed her email to bring him in Saturday and didn’t get him in until Monday. She diagnosed him with clinical suspicion of Whooping Cough, started him on a course of antibiotics, and performed the test for the disease. The test was awful – a swab on the end of a large wire was inserted so far up his nose I think they may have been accessing his throat through it. He cried so hard and I felt terrible for him.

Once he stopped rubbing his nose, he fell asleep in the car and continued sleeping at home for 5 hours. We gave him the first of the antibiotics in the evening and waited. When the test results came back positive, it really threw me. I expected to never know, as the result could still be negative with the presence of whooping cough. But there it was in black and white. My son had Whooping Cough. I called my mom to say she better warn the nursery. Thankfully, she said there had been no small babies. Thankfully too we had not recently visited with either of our two close friends with babies under 6 months.

The doctor’s explanation is that vaccines are not 100%. At 17 months he should be fully immune but was not. But because of the vaccine, his case was very mild. No fever, no life-threatening symptoms. He finished the antibiotics so is allowed around other kids now. But he still has an awful cough and may for weeks to months. It is less frequent but still sounds appalling. I stick by my decision to vaccinate. Whooping Cough can be very serious; it could have been much worse. Thanks to vaccinations, rather than a very sick baby I have a smiling, healthy boy with a mild cough.


How quickly plans change when they collide with reality. This time last year I learned I cannot send my son to the doctor with my husband without tagging along myself. Even though he is a stay-at-home-dad and I am scheduled to be at work during doctor’s office hours, I find as a mother I feel the need to hear the doctor’s words first hand. I tried once to send my husband alone with our 5-month-old last year.

I had attending the 4-month check up as we had been anxiously awaiting a status update since the 2-month check-up. When they found a decline in weight gain rate, we had taken steps to resolve it. I figured out I was overproducing breast milk and worked with the lactation consultant to cut back production. I was convinced this had been the whole problem and my son would start gaining fine now. Plus we had started solid foods. I just knew the appointment at 5 months would be nothing but a formality to confirm he was back on track.

While my husband waiting for the doctor, he called me at work to report the weight the nurse had registered. It was starkly short of my expectation and I panicked. I suddenly needed to hear the doctor’s feedback. I made my husband leave the phone on speaker, but sadly I could not hear her. Not wanting to make the doctor mad, I hung up and my husband and I met for lunch afterward to stew over the continuing problems.

Of course we couldn’t help but worry something was wrong with our baby. Why wasn’t he gaining weight as he should? Was he going to be OK? We also had concerns that he was behind in development. At 5 months, he could not roll over yet. He was holding his head up well, but could not sit on his own. Granted the charts didn’t require this yet, but we saw so many other babies his age doing these things.

I made my husband recite everything the doctor said. When I wasn’t satisfied with the second-hand report, I sent a message to the doctor requesting a call. She reiterated the entire visit to me, and I promised to attend the visit next time. I explained that I’m a control freak and she completely understood!

When it comes to size and development, we have learned since not to compare babies. Our son does everything in his own time. I’ve also learned doctor’s visits when your child has problems are a family affair. Photobucket
Picture: 5 months old