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Calvin visits the ER

Started: 2012-11-16 13:08:32

Submitted: 2012-11-16 19:58:25

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator takes his preschooler to the ER in the middle of the night

When Kiesa and I finally resolved our holiday plans in September, we decided to visit Kiesa's family in the greater Portland area in the week before Thanksgiving. Earlier this month it emerged that a project I was working on would require some on-site support at the office in San Diego this week, and I even made plans to that end, to fly to San Diego earlier this week and fly to Portland on Friday evening to meet Kiesa and Calvin. This fell through at the last minute, so I reverted to my old plan and prepared to fly to Portland on Friday. (That's another long, and probably mostly boring, story in its own right.)

My presence at home proved fortuitous this morning, when Calvin woke up around 03:45 in the throes of a serious coughing fit that sounded a great deal like a seal barking. Kiesa rushed to his aid (which is not alltogether unusual), but his cough managed to wake me up too (which is somewhat more unusual). Kiesa calmed him down a bit, but he was still coughing and gasping for breath, so she wondered if he had croup. (I know Mr. Croup mostly as a henchman in Neverwhere.) She asked the Internet for details, considered going straight to the ER, and I suggested calling his pediatrician's office to talk to the on-call nurse. The nurse suggested the standard first-line treatment: sitting him in a steamy room for 20 minutes followed by 5 minutes outside in the cold. Calvin sounded a little better, but he was still making a weird rasping noise when he inhaled, so when the nurse called back she suggested going to the ER for a more intensive medical intervention.

By this point I'd double-checked which emergency room was really closer to us and concluded that Boulder Community Hospital's newer Foothills campus was closer (thirteen minutes, according to Google Maps) than Longmont United Hospital (nineteen minutes). (Later I checked BCH's original location on Alpine, which is sixteen minutes from home.) We bundled Calvin into the car and headed out to the hospital. Traffic was light at five in the morning, and the sky was still dark, two hours before dawn.

I hadn't actually visited this particular emergency department before, so I wasn't quite sure where to go when I pulled up to the hospital around five in the morning. A woman in the otherwise-empty reception area waved us around the corner to an unoccupied check-in station. After a few minutes, a nurse (a stocky bearded guy in his late thirties) came out to triage us. We told him the story so far, and he checked Calvin's pulse (124) and oxygen (98%). He took Calvin's name, expressed some incredulity that we had not actually ever entered Calvin in the BCH system (he was born in Longmont), and admitted him. We took Calvin through the large locked door into the ER proper and sat in a patient room to wait for the doctor. (The ER seemed fairly empty early in the morning; I saw a couple of triage rooms with the curtains pulled but no other sign of patient life.) The wall of the room had a large children's toy that consisted of a series of ledges that balls could roll down, with various knobs to control where the balls went, all enclosed behind a large sheet of polycarbonate. Calvin thought the toy was great fun, and enlisted me to turn the crank to elevate the balls to go through the system.

Calvin plays in the ER
Calvin plays in the ER

The doctor arrived and checked Calvin and concluded that he had croup. (It's a viral infection caused by the cold viruses, but infects the upper airways in small children, causing the inflammation and cough. At least one of Calvin's classmates in preschool had croup recently; Kiesa caught a cold recently, and I've been (successfully, for now) fighting a cold.) She prescribed an oral steroid and another steroid to be delivered via a nebulizer. (This is when I should have been taking notes so I could remember exactly what she said.) Kiesa asked about our planned flight to Portland that afternoon, and the doctor said that would be fine -- Calvin was no more infectious than someone with a regular cold, but we should probably avoid babies. (The humidified air in the Pacific Northwest might not hurt either.) The nurse returned to administer the treatments. Calvin wasn't quite sure what to make of the nebulizer at first; he didn't want to use the mask and preferred to breath out of the tube.

Calvin breathes through the nebulizer
Calvin breathes through the nebulizer
Calvin in the ER
Calvin in the ER

After that, Calvin was breathing easier, and was discharged with minimal ceremony, at about 06:15. We took Calvin back out to the car just as the pre-dawn light began to illuminate the foothills. I could see the Flatirons around the corner of the hospital and wondered if it had been designed with this view in mind. We considered our options for breakfast and decided we had enough time to eat at Turley's. We got a booth facing south and watched the sun rise over the Target store to the south. We returned home with enough time to head for the airport as originally scheduled -- just with a somewhat earlier start than originally planned.

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