The NHS that saved Christmas

Not having lived under a rock for the past billion months, we always knew that Christmas 2020 would be departure from the norm (being the hosting, feeding and general merriment/mayhem of the masses over several days). We decided to embrace it for what it was: a chance to have a quieter Christmas, a break from the usual chaos, an opportunity to see how it compared. We delivered our various gifts at safe distances, saw most of the relatives if only briefly from doorsteps and, by the time our area had been headbutted into Tier 4, we had stocked up and settled in to have the ultimate Quiet One At Home. Never did it occur that any of us might not actually be home for it.

B2 started the week with the snots. NBD, we thought. She soon perked up after a day or two, just as the inevitable mucus began to sprout from the nostrils of Bs 1 and 3… No one had a persistent cough, no one had a temperature, and no one’s taste or smell had been affected as far as we could tell, so we mopped noses, Calpoled and Carried On. December 23rd found B1 rendered quite limp and lacklustre on the sofa, pale and bleating of a sore throat. B3, meanwhile, already the cuddliest of the three, became progressively cuddlier as the day went on, his breathing becoming if not laboured but a little huskier than usual as the torrents of snot continued to flow.

It was around 5am the next morning, Christmas Eve, when alarm bells started to stir, if not immediately clang to life. B1 was up, groaning and generally being rather over-dramatic about needing to pee whilst not feeling well and AAARGH there was a SPIDER less than TWO METRES away from her and it MOVED! Roused by these nonsensical, nocturnal caperings, B3 croaked his displeasure from his bedroom as I shepherded B1 back to bed with a dose of Calpol 6+ and firm instructions to go back to sleep as quietly as possible. I brought B3 into bed with me and H, at which point I noticed his breathing had become quite loud and panty, which I thought was down to the effort of bellowing whilst full of cold. A few hours later, once we were all up for the day, the panting had turned into strange grunting noises. Cue – via a bit of dithering, two ultimately redundant calls placed to 111 and the local surgery and, finally, some plainly-worded advice from my various medical relatives all over the space of about 20 minutes – a parenting first, the panic-wrought drive to A&E.

Despite my never having set foot in an A&E with my kids before (or ever, as far as I can recall) there have been some near misses along the way. When B3 was one day shy of four months old, he scared the bejesus out of us when he presented with a non-blanching rash all over his legs which looked horribly reminiscent of every picture of meningitis I’ve ever seen. But, although the timing then was pretty appalling – we had just climbed out of all mobile phone signal/WiFi/4G range down a cliff to a beach in the depths of Cornwall during a family holiday and he’d also done a massive, nappy-defying shit – I think the timing of this occasion ranked worse. A trip to hospital within a Tier 4 epicentre of a rampantly peaking global pandemic on Christmas Eve? Yes. Definitely worse.

August 2019 vs December 2020…

The experience itself, however, was infinitely better, which is weird because he was actually ill this time. I think probably because I knew within 5 minutes of arriving what was wrong and that he was more than likely going to be much better in a matter of hours… Last time it was all stomach-twisting worry about what the hell was causing the strange rash, despite all indicators being that he was absolutely fine (which he was, incidentally, the diagnosis concluding that the marks had been burst blood vessels caused by the carrier I’d used getting down to the beach). The route to that conclusion, though, was traumatic to say the least –desperate driving down country lanes, holding my poor, wriggly boy still so the doctor could try and puncture through his peak four-month-old chub for a vein, wretched attempts to get a urine sample manually (we were on the paeds ward for about 10 hours and he didn’t pee until the ninth) the hints of suspicion when the questions turned to what sort of ‘trauma’ may have caused the marks… All this over the backdrop of increasing hunger, the insistent wedging of a slightly-too-small one piece swimming costume under my very cheap shorts and t-shirt and said garments’ lack of breathability coupled with the warm day leading to a horrible awareness of one’s own increasing malodourous-ity.

This time, however, everything was far more straightforward. We queued for less than a minute and were admitted through to the paediatric A&E before I even had time to text Hub to let him know we’d arrived. The friendly and reassuring nurse took B3’s obs and gave an initial diagnosis of viral wheeze and treatment with a Salbutamol inhaler within a few minutes of us arriving. She also reassured me that I had done the right thing by bringing him in, which made me feel about a million times better because the last thing I wanted to do was burden the NHS unnecessarily during the Covid shitshow when all he needed was a cuddle and some Calpol.

Four hours later, with a far less wheezy B3 and a whole lot of medical gubbins stuffed into my nappy bag, we were heading home. There had been one hairy moment where all B’s symptoms improved except his breathing rate which had stayed high and there had been talk of sending us up to the paediatrics ward for further observation via a Covid swabbing because 2020… But in the end the paeds doctor came down to us and it was concluded that we could carry on his treatment – inhaler, antibiotics in case of pneumonia and a throat spray due to something about mucus indicators – at home. The most stressful part of the whole endeavour was when I realised I’d set off without my wallet and couldn’t make the bloody contactless Samsung Pay app work on the parking machine.

Meanwhile, at home, B1 had taken a turn for the worse. Not to be outdone by her baby brother, she, too, had developed a wheeze and laboured breathing. Worst of all – and always, since the age of 3, a sure sign of illness in B1 – she had taken a nap. Hub had called our GP, updated him on B3’s situation and procured a probable same diagnosis and a prescription for a reliever inhaler of the same ilk. By the time B3 and I got home, she was already receiving her first treatment.

There followed a long night of anxious breathing-monitoring and increasingly adept inhaler-administration and none of us got a terribly great amount of sleep, but Christmas morning dawned all the same and we awoke (B3 starfished in our bed having vocalised the Absolute Unacceptability of being Expected to Sleep in One’s Own Cot after being Rudely Awoken by the Evil Administrations of a Breathing Aid Smooshed over One’s Face) to the excited bellows of our seven-year-old telling the unconscious three-year-old that Santa Had Been. It was not, by a long stretch, the most ideal of Christmases, but it was certainly one we will all remember. The one when we all stayed home and were incredibly happy and grateful – particularly to the fabulous NHS staff of Frimley Park Paediatric A&E unit – to do so.

About jmb

Author, mum, sometimes journalist. I live in Berkshire with my husband (Hub), three kids (B1, 2 and 3) and two fairly indifferent cats. My debut novel, The Girl with the Green Eyes, to be published by Bad Press Ink on November 5, 2021. Find out more here: www.jmbriscoe.co.uk. View all posts by jmb

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