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Whooping Cough


One year ago this week, our family was in the throes of triple-whooping cough. What's triple whooping cough, you ask? It's when your three youngest children have it simultaneously. I know. It sounds awful. It was.

When it first began, my then-seven-year-old, Chloe picked up a cough from somewhere. It wouldn't seem to go away, and kept getting worse. It began to almost choke her. So, I finally took her to the doctor on a Monday. She was diagnosed with "a cough" and given an antibiotic. Later that same week, when her cough didn't subside one bit, my mom suggested looking at the possibility of whooping cough. I called the doctor and suggested that, and informed him that the medications were not making a bit of difference. He said, "There have been no reported cases of whooping cough in this area."

I gradually noticed that my 2 1/2 year old, Nicholas, and my 5 month old, Nathan, began coughing as well. After another day of this and some research, we felt sure we were dealing with whooping cough. The cough was getting worse in all three kids, and was magnified at night.

It got so that the kids couldn't sleep through the night. What I'm about to describe next can only be truly understood by those who have had whooping cough in their home. Otherwise, you can't imagine how real it is. You can hear the actual cough here.

They would cough during the day at various intervals, and it could be brought on by laughing, crying, running, jumping, or any other physical activity. But the nights were the worst. The coughing spells were longer, more severe, and definitely more frightening. They would start coughing in a sound sleep and would cough, gag, and choke for about 60 seconds. The hardest part was that they couldn't breathe. We had to set them upright and pat their backs, hold their arms up, and whatever else would open up the airways and bring them comfort. And the worst of it was, when one woke up, the other two would as well.

We finally moved mattresses into the living room and the entire family slept in there so that Mom, Dad, and Claudia (big sis) could each attend a coughing younger child when the spells started. This would go on all night long. We were happy to get an hour of sleep at a time.

It was most dangerous for the baby. We had him sleeping in his infant car seat so that he could stay in a semi-upright position to keep his airways open.

So on Friday of that week, we made an appointment to see a pediatrician who was recommended to us. We got in that afternoon. The doctor did diagnose all three with whooping cough based on their symptoms alone. She said she didn't need to test them officially. She also told us what we already knew: there is really no cure. There are only comfort procedures.

So we were in for more of the same. Another thing we learned is that whooping cough lasts for months. Yes, I said months. I couldn't really believe that was true. (By December, I was a believer!)

The doctor told us that if we felt that the kids, especially the baby, were in any danger, to take them immediately to the ER. However, when your child can't breathe, even a trip to the ER seems out of the question. So we prayed, discussed, prayed some more, and kept waking up 'round the clock with all three kids. We were exhausted and scared.

The following morning, the pediatrician called me at home. I guess she gave it more thought and began to worry. She said we should take the baby to the ER at Cook Children's Hospital, because it can be very dangerous for babies who are newborn up to 6 months of age. So we did. We loaded everyone up and headed to the hospital.

They tested the baby that night, but the results wouldn't be back for 2-3 days. Nathan was admitted, started on antibiotics and hooked up to heart and breathing monitors (I don't have the technical terms; I'm just his mom). We agreed that I would stay with Nathan while my husband took the other three kiddos home. He would take off work so that he could be up with the other two coughers at night and then rest during the day.

Being in the hospital gave me a little more peace. I was instructed on what to look for during Nathan's coughing spells. His heart rate and breathing needed to stay in certain ranges. Since the cough was so severe, it would sometimes lower his heart rate and definitely lower his oxygen.

For eight days, Nathan and I stayed together in that little hospital room. I didn't dare leave him alone. When he began to cough, he needed someone to hold him upright and monitor the monitors (so to speak) and the nurses weren't always available to run in at a moment's notice.

The test results came back positive for whooping cough (or pertussis). The doctors also confirmed that the other children officially had it, even without testing them.

One of the many blessings during this time was the fact that he was still an infant. If he had been much older, he would not have been content to lay quietly in his hospital bed with monitors and hooked up to his little body. Even in the midst of an ordeal like this, I was able to see God's perfect timing.

Another blessing was Nathan's own nature. He was (and still is) just the sweetest, happiest baby. He spent so much time smiling in the hospital that even his nurses sometimes doubted his need to be there. I took pictures (which I can't access - Aaarrgh!) of him just smiling and giggling in his hospital bed. HE was not stressful; just the situation.

The nurses and doctors were very kind and helpful. In fact, they let me determine when Nathan could be released. I waited until I felt comfortable with his heart rate and oxygen levels in the midst of a coughing spell. I did get the obligatory speeches about vaccinations, but that's for another post. : )

The cough did continue, and we kept up our nightly vigil for another week or two after the hospital stay. Next, we moved both boys in with Mom and Dad, with Nicholas in the bed and Nathan in the infant seat (he would still need to be upright for a good while). Claudia was able to monitor Chloe in their room. Each time one of the kids would wake up coughing, we would pat them, pray, offer them water, and then fall back to sleep, exhausted.

It began to very, very slowly subside. By October the kids were able to sleep for several hours at a time. And finally, by December, I remember one day realizing that no one was coughing today! It really did last for months!

Here are some quick facts we learned about whooping cough:

  1. It is highly contagious, but most people spread it long before they realize they had it. We have no idea how Chloe caught it. We also spread it to a fellow homeschool family before we realized what we had.
  2. If everyone in the home, sick or not, gets a round of Amoxicilin, they can keep from spreading it around. If that person hasn't caught it yet, they won't. If someone has been exposed, and gets the antibiotic, they most likely won't get sick.
  3. When the Amoxicilin is finished, the patient is no longer contagious.
  4. It is called the hundred-day-cough for a reason.
  5. Once you're positively diagnosed, you get a call from the Centers for Disease Control, and they add you to their database.
  6. It is an inflammation of the airways. The airways swell up, causing the cough, and also making the patient feel as though they are choking and suffocating.
  7. It is especially dangerous for babies. Some do not survive. They usually need hospitalization.
  8. God is good!

Through this entire ordeal, we received many blessings from family, church friends, homeschool friends, and God Himself. Nathan came through with flying colors. Claudia (whose 12th birthday occurred during the hospital stay) received a party with cake and presents from the hospital staff. Friends brought us meals. Hubby was able to take off work (in a new job) for a week with no problem. Even without health insurance, Nathan got the best care available, and the hospital gave us a HUGE discount on the bill.

I wouldn't wish whooping cough on anyone, but since we lived through it (and I wasn't sure we would) I wanted to share what we learned in case it sneaks up on someone else.


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