It was the end of a long day. I had stayed up a bit later than I really meant to, and was just about to go to bed, when one of the boys suddenly woke up screaming and unable to breathe. He was understandably in a complete panic, with his throat sucking right in during his efforts to catch a breath (a tracheal tug, for those who want the real term). It was a sudden attack of croup. Long story short, we called an ambulance.
The crew were great with him. On the half hour ride into town, he was given an adrenaline nebuliser. This just worked a treat. By the time we arrived at the hospital, his symptoms were completely gone. He was wide awake, of course, from the adrenaline, but had no trouble breathing.
He was very curious, paying great attention to whereabouts in the building we were, who the different people were, and what were their jobs. It was a pretty quiet night in the emergency department, so everyone was relaxed and had plenty of time to chat and explain things.
The protocols stated that he needed four hours of monitoring after his nebuliser, so he was put onto a cardiac monitor, and we settled in for our time to finish. He thought this was pretty good, because he could watch his heart beating on the screen, and see his breathing and oxygen sats being charted. He worked out pretty quickly that if you the take the probe off your finger, the line on the screen goes flat, and an alarm sounds. The idea is to keep the line ‘wiggly’.
The nurse who was looking after us was great. They had long chats. She gave him some jelly babies. They discovered we are neighbours. In the course of the conversation, he managed to acquire a pen and some paper from her. He wrote their names down. In workbook fashion he wrote in dotted lines, so that she would be able to trace along the top.
I was trying to get him to sleep, or at least, close his eyes and rest. As he explained to me and the nurse, ‘I can’t go to sleep because I don’t have a crystal to put under my pillow to stop bad dreams.’ Incredibly, his nurse went off, and returned a short time later with a crystal. What an outstanding effort. He didn’t go to sleep, but the crystal still went into his pocket with the promise that he would return it on discharge.
It was well past midnight. I pulled the curtains closed around us, made it as dark and quiet as possible (not very), and suggested he should get some sleep. Then I curled myself into an improbable position on the corner of his bed, and passed out.
When I woke up an hour or so later, he had filled up eight pages with pictures and writing. Because maps have been a bit of a focus in our house lately, he had drawn two of them which showed the drive through town to our house. They were remarkably accurate, and came complete with a compass rose. He made me spell out the steet names to finish them. Two houses were marked and numbered, showing our house, and our nurses.
Eventually, our time was up. We were discharged. He returned the crystal. Someone came and picked us up. It was three o’clock in the morning, and we all went home to stumble into a day of doing as little as possible.
He had been wide awake the entire time, carefully observing everything with a calm alertness and curiosity.
Most memorably, I have an image of him sitting up in bed. There are wires coming out from under his shirt, and another attached to his finger. His skin looks like candle wax, but his eyes are inflamed and glowing red. He is calmly assessing the scene. Looking around, taking it all in, and nodding slightly to himself as he finds it satisfactory. He turns to me and speaks in a voice small and piping high from the croup and the nebuliser.
‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘I could work here. I’d be able to help out.’