On the list of my most traumatizing days as a parent, today has to be number one. And on the list of traumatized family members, Ken wins top spot, with me second and Nora – even though she was the one to whom the trauma occurred – ranks a distant third. And I guess that’s a good thing.
Despite having a relatively cranky morning and a different routine due to daycare closure for staff development, it seemed like a boring and normal Monday. That all changed when I got a text from Ken during a very serious meeting at school.
I could hear those capital letters screaming at me over the phone, so I ran into the hallway and called him.
“What is going on?” I asked, listening to Nora screaming in the background.
“Well, she just started choking, and then she was gasping for air. And then she coughed up some mucous and now she is screaming.”
“Is she breathing?”
“Yes. She’s not turning blue. I think she’s breathing.”
He sounded concerned. Ken’s a calm and patient person in almost every situation. If he was shaken by this I knew something had to be wrong.
I flashed back to last night when I had decided to skip a whole day of pulmicort treatments because it was already really late – way past her bedtime for the second night in a row. I immediately thought of asthma, feeling the immediate guilt for skipping that one precious dose. My lack of rational thinking in a moment of panic caused me to immediately conclude that this must be Nora’s first asthma attack.
“Give her albuterol and call the doctor,” I said. Storming back into the meeting I asked for someone to take me right home. Everyone jumped up, either eager to help me get to my needy child or to leave the meeting. I called Ken again and he said she was calming a bit, but I could still hear her, clearly unhappy, crying in the background. This time it was muffled by the albuterol misting out of the nebulizer.
My very calm colleague (who insisted he drive since other not-so-calm-colleagues may have landed me in a ditch in our desperation to reach Nora), talked me through the situation on the long 5 minute drive. We decided that if she was crying that loudly she must be getting enough air. We decided that the choking Ken described wasn’t really consistent with asthma symptoms. We decided that I couldn’t blame myself for the missed pulmicort dose.
About a minute from the house, my phone rang.
“How is she?” I immediately asked.
“Fine now that she coughed out the washer she apparently swallowed.”
No asthma, though maybe the albuterol (which makes Nora cough pretty violently) helped her cough out the nickel size washer that she had somehow swallowed.
I walked in (accompanied by my colleague who probably wanted to make sure everything was fine and that Nora really had recovered as quickly as it seemed and that Ken wasn’t going to spontaneously combust from the stress of the previous 15 minutes), and was relieved to see Nora on her changing table, telling me first off that she had a poop and secondly that she had a hurt throat. Ken wiped his brow of the accumulated sweat and handed her off to me so he could go and fold into the couch and try to recover.
Any parent who has had the same or similar trauma happen to them knows the what-if, could-have, should-have, why-me feelings that lurched in my stomach for the next couple of hours while Nora ran around finding roly polies and building with blocks and eating two cereal bars and a banana. She forgot her trauma quickly while Ken and I relived it numerous times. I had a pretty severe choking paranoia before, watching every bite Nora takes pretty closely, avoiding any food even on the outskirts of the choking hazard list. Now that paranoia apparently needs to focus more on foreign objects, not on the food on her plate.
We tried to explain to Nora that she can’t ever put things in her mouth, that her mouth is for food only. She can repeat that rule. She can tell us she will only eat food. But I’m not sure if she really understands what happened today. I’m not sure if she knows how lucky she is that it went in her food pipe, not her wind pipe, that she was able to cough it out, that she didn’t choose something just slightly larger.
As Ken and I were putting her to bed, we reminded her one last time. “Remember you can only eat food, Nora. Remember to never put anything but food in your mouth.”
“I scared you?” she asked.
“Yes. You really scared us.”
Maybe she understands, but probably she doesn’t. But she knew that she could call me back into her room three times tonight instead of the usual one; that she could get extra kisses and water and cuddles; that she could say “night-night Mama” and make me melt just a little more than I have in a while.