RSV Season Is Here: Trust Your Mama Instincts

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I think it is safe to say that within the past 8 months, most of us have become pretty aware of the necessary precautions that we have to take when we have something as simple as cold-like symptoms.

Hopefully the increase in hand-washing, social distancing and staying home while sick will help lessen the spread of not only COVID-19 this winter, but other sicknesses such as the flu and RSV.

But if you’re feeling under the weather, and you end up testing negative for COVID-19, it is still important to stay home and distance yourself from other people, especially kids. Even though you may have “just a cold,” that cold may not be as simple of an ailment to children.

Our Story

To make a long story short, when we brought our daughter home from the hospital the day after she was born, her brother had a “bad cold,” which consisted of a wicked cough, sneezing, and a runny nose. I knew about RSV and was worried that he had it, but I wasn’t sure what to do because he wasn’t even a year old yet and he couldn’t take care of himself.

We ended up taking him to Urgent Care and the doctor told us that he had an upper respiratory infection and put him on antibiotics for an ear infection. I felt a sense of relief because I was so worried about it being RSV. Not only did I not want him being sick, but I was so worried that our newborn daughter would catch it, too.

A week later, on our son’s first birthday, I took our daughter to the ER when she woke up from her nap with a high fever. While the doctors were running tests to try to figure out what was causing it, she stopped breathing which led to an emergency intubation. Watching a team of 14 people rushing around to sedate and intubate her was terrifying. I felt as if I was in an out-of-body experience and hope to never experience the feelings I felt in those moments ever again.

Once she was on the ventilator, her test results came back. She had RSV at only 9-days-old.

Luckily, we were at the right place at the right time. If RSV is not caught in time in situations like this, it can be life-threatening.

Newborn hospitalized with RSV
Hospital day one: Our daughter was sedated on a ventilator at only nine days old.

What is RSV?

RSV is a respiratory virus that is common and comes across as a cold in adults and older children. It can be serious for infants and older adults, especially those under six months of age or adults with chronic medical conditions. It can cause complications such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis (which causes swelling and mucus buildup in the bronchioles, the small airways in the lungs). Most children get RSV by the time they are 2 years old, but they usually just have cold-like symptoms so it is just brushed off as a cold.

This is why it is so important to stay away from babies when you have a cold. What comes across as a cold to you can be serious to a baby. It is also important to always wash your hands and keep your face away from babies. You can have RSV before showing any symptoms, and it is highly contagious.

RSV Symptoms

According to the CDC, you should be aware of the following symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite

The following symptoms can be related to trouble breathing and a healthcare provider should be contacted immediately:

  • Retracted breathing (pulling in under and in-between the ribs)
  • Wheezing
  • Cyanosis (blue around the mouth, lips, or fingernails)
  • Labored breathing
  • Abnormally fast breathing
  • Nasal flaring

If you think your child could have RSV, see their healthcare professional immediately. Most kids will fight off the virus on their own, but in extreme cases like our daughter’s, medical intervention is necessary.

It is also important to know that if a newborn three months of age or younger has a fever of 104°F or higher, his or her doctor should be contacted right away. It is usually a reason for an ER visit and it was what initially made us take our daughter to the hospital.

Day six: This was her last day on the ventilator.

What to Do if Your Child is Hospitalized with RSV

If your child comes down with RSV and ends up in the hospital, try not to panic. It can be really scary, but if they are in the hospital, they are exactly where they need to be. The first few days are the hardest, and there will be ups and downs. The virus is like a rollercoaster with peaks and valleys, so don’t get down if they have a bad day.

Here are some tips to help alleviate some of the stress you may have and to help make the days go by faster:

  1.  Eat well and get plenty of rest. As much as your child needs you, you need to take care of yourself, too. They will need a healthy parent to take care of them when they come back home.
  2. Trust their doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists. Ask questions but trust that your child is in good hands.
  3. Keep a journal. Sometimes when you are at the hospital for a long time, the days can run together, and it is hard to notice a lot of improvement. Write down what happens each day, so you can flip back and read about how much your kid’s health is improving.
  4. Have a specific point of contact to help keep family and friends updated, so you don’t have to constantly tell people over and over again any updates. Group texts are also beneficial if you don’t have a specific POC.
  5. Try not to freak out if monitors go off. Just because they are going off it doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. Sometimes a cord may be loose or the monitor settings may need to be adjusted. If your child is in the PICU/ICU, they are being monitored closely, and the medical staff knows what different alarms may mean and what needs to be done if there is an emergency.
Day seven: Her first day off of the ventilator, and the first time we got to hold her. She was on a high-flow nasal cannula for oxygen.

Our daughter ended up coming home after a 13-day hospital stay with 12 of those days spent in the PICU and a week on the ventilator. Most cases of RSV that require a hospital stay resolve within one week, but some do take longer.

Always trust your mama instincts. If you think your child may be experiencing some of the symptoms above, bring them in to their doctor or to the ER. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

I am currently pregnant with baby #3 and am once again due in January. My husband and I will be taking as many precautions as we can this time around to try to prevent any illnesses especially during the winter months. We will be limiting our trips out a month before our son is due, just to keep any germs from making their way through the house. We will also be limiting visitors to close family only once our son is here, and will require that anyone who holds him wears a mask. COVID-19 has given us a good excuse to be extra cautious without seeming over-the-top, but even if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic we would still have our set of rules in place.

Day Eight: She was still on oxygen, but each day it was turned down little by little, until eventually she was on only room air.

A few months after our RSV experience we had to take our son to the ER for a cat bite, and we ended up having the same ER doctor that our daughter had when she stopped breathing. She remembered us and our daughter and told us that she truly believed that God was with us that day. I will always be thankful that my mama instincts were on point because I truly believe that if we hadn’t gone to the ER when we did, our daughter wouldn’t be here today.

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