Before having children, I had never even heard of RSV. Luckily, thanks to social media, I became very aware of the dangers of it and memorized the symptoms. I am an over-worrier and having two babies born in peak RSV season meant that I had to make sure to know what to look out for.
To make a long story short, our newborn daughter caught RSV when she was only nine days old. When we brought her home from the hospital after she was born, her 11.5-month-old brother had “just a cold” (according to the Urgent Care doctor that we took him to) and that “cold” passed on to her.
On our son’s first birthday, our daughter ended up in the ER because she had a high fever. She stopped breathing while the doctors were running tests, 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.
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.
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 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 two 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.
According to the CDC, you should be aware of the following symptoms:
- Runny nose
- 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)
- 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 daughters’, medical intervention is necessary.
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:
- 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.
- Trust their doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists. Ask questions but trust that your child is in good hands.
- 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.
- 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.
- Try not to freak out if monitors go off. Just because they are going off doesn’t necessary 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.
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.
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.