Scary parenting moments: When should you see the doctor?

Photo by Ru├čen

My son had RSV when he was 4 months old and the doctors warned us that he was at increased risk of asthma and other respiratory problems. Fortunately, he didn’t develop asthma, but he did develop a mom who’s terrified of breathing problems.

Since then, I’ve had trouble figuring out when we should go to the doctor.

See, the day he was diagnosed with RSV, our day care provider told us she thought he was pretty sick and should go to the doctor. Of course it was Friday at 5:00 and we had dinner plans. And the two previous times she’d thought he should see a doctor, he’d been fine. But we took him. And on the way over, I commented to Frank that this was it. Third strike and she was out. If he wasn’t sick, I wasn’t listening to her advice again. I now take her advice very seriously. When we got to urgent care they immediately attached a device to him to test his blood oxygen levels. One look at the readings, some xrays to eliminate pneumonia and they told us to go immediately across the street to the hospital. There would be a room waiting for us. (Instead we had to go and sit in an office and show proof of insurance, but that’s a different story.)

Since that day, I’ve called the doctor’s office numerous times and held the phone up to my son so they could hear what he sounded like. Several times they have sent us in to the doctor or urgent care. One memorable morning his breathing was so loud it actually woke Frank and I up – and we were in a different room. When I called the doctor at home and held the phone up to my son’s mouth, he told me to go the emergency room immediately. We decided that I should go alone so we didn’t have to wake up our older son. While going 75 mph down the interstate, the terrible breathing noise stopped. My heart stopped too as I put on my hazard lights, pulled over to the edge of the freeway and leaned over the backseat to see if he was still breathing. He was. The terrible noise had started again by the time we got to the hospital and the hospital staff was so sure he had swallowed something, they took xrays. Nope, just a throat infection that was closing his throat up.

But I also took him to the doctor for a number of common colds that didn’t really merit a doctor’s visit – except to calm my nerves. So I no longer trust my judgement.

This morning he sounded terrible. And Frank told me he should go to the doctor. (And usually Frank thinks I’m too quick to go to the doctor.) And when I called the doctor’s office and described what he sounded like, they didn’t think I should wait until 2:45 to see his regular doctor. They told me to come right in. So I was scared. And imagined all the worse.

Luckily, he only has croup and the medicine they gave him to reduce swelling in his throat kicked in within a few hours.

But I continue to be regularly terrified because I simply don’t trust myself to know if it’s serious or not. I mean I would have brought him home with RSV and he might have died that night.

At the doctor’s office today, I anxiously waited the reading of the oximeter (it was a nice 98) and decided I should have bought one of those a long time ago. Turns out you can get one for less than $100 on Amazon. (For the record, I spent 4 days in the hospital staring at an oximeter reading, willing it to stay above 80.) So maybe with an oximeter of my own I’ll know when it’s really serious … but probably not. I’ll probably keep calling the doctor’s office.

(For the record, you are supposed to take kids into the doctor – urgently – if they have stridor breathing sounds, wheezing, stomach breathing, blue lips or gums, … or any number of other terrifying symptoms.)