It’s always scarier at night
This is what I try to remind myself when my anxiety is spiralling out of control in the middle of the night because one of the kids is really sick.
Throwing up is awful, but not worrying — I know it’ll usually pass within a few hours. Sniffles don’t bother me, and neither do mild coughs. Nice, normal little coughs and the odd sneeze? Totally fine.
It’s when the coughing gets bad that I feel myself start to tense up. The tightness starts in my chest and gets worse each time I hear them start to hack across the hall. Then they’re silent. Can they breathe? Wait, another cough. Worse this time. How much longer, I start to panic, until they’re coughing so hard, they can’t breathe?
Both of our kids have a history of scary respiratory junk — the wheezy coughs, the croupy coughs. They have each been taken to the ER to get the oxygen masks and the heavy-duty steroids and the puffers with chambers. I never know when to take them in, and when to wait and pray it just passes.
They cough until their little faces are turning purple and their eyes are widening and they seem to be gasping for air. Are they crying between coughs because they’re sick and sleepy or because they’re scared and can’t breathe? Are they limp and dazed because they’ve just woken up or because they’re not getting enough oxygen? Am I panicking because it’s a real medical emergency or because it’s always scarier at night?
“Why is it always scarier at night?” I can ask myself objectively during the day.
Well, it’s quiet at night, so every little sound — the coughs, the whimpers, the rattling breaths you might not really notice during the day — seems a million times louder.
It’s dark at night, and flicking on bright lights — hunting for medicine, setting up humidifiers, peering down a throat — feels unnatural, like something is definitely out of the ordinary.
It’s lonely at night, especially if your spouse works overnight shifts. The walk-ins are closed. Calling 811 is no help, as they always just advise you to rush to the ER anyway. The rest of the world is asleep, including your other child down the hall, and it’s just you and your child, all alone.
Sometimes I end up in the bathroom with them. I run the shower as hot as it will go and sit with them on the edge of the tub, and hope the steam helps because I can never figure out if it’s a croupy cough or not.
Sometimes I carry them to the front door and get them to breathe in the cold night air — again, only helpful if it’s croup. They cry and cough, wrapped up in a warm blanket in my arms and I wish the stars would hurry up and fade into daylight because I won’t be as panicked then.
Sometimes I just stand in their doorway, rigid with fear, and listen to every cough and wheeze, trying to decide if it’s as bad as the last time, trying to reassure myself that they can still breathe.
In the morning, I can call the doctor. In the morning, I can get a friend’s opinion. In the morning, I can take them to a walk-in. In the morning, I can make a rational decision to take them in for steroids.
But it’s always scarier at night.
Every parent can probably relate to having to comfort their sick child at night.