Too much excitement just might kill me!
Gastro is gross, lets face it. Stuff comes out both ends, and not in a good way. Cleaning half digested spaghetti out of the carpet is no fun. But I will always love gastro, and maybe after this you will too!
This is the story of Monkey’s cancer, and how gastro may have saved his life.
(I have belatedly realised just how long this story is going to be. I will be posting in parts so that people will hopefully still read it despite the epic saga it has become. Also since I post from my phone, so I don’t get RSI from typing it all out at once!)
A few days before his first birthday, Monkey got gastro. It was only the second time in his life that he’d been sick. He started making a strange “heh heh” noise when he breathed, and around 10pm he spewed up dinner (coq au vin) all over me, himself and the bedroom floor. Thankfully he missed the bed! I had to go get Hubs who had just gone to bed to come and help me clean everything up.
I was pretty sure it was just gastro, but we figured its better to be safe than sorry, so when he was still spewing the next day we took Monkey to the doctor.
Doctor confirmed gastro and warned us that little kids dehydrate quickly. He said if Monkey still wasn’t keeping anything down by about 4pm we should take him to the emergency room at our local childrens’ hospital for fluids – to avoid having to take him in the middle of the night.
That seemed like good advice, so when he was still spewing, we took ourselves off to the hospital. Monkey’s fontanelle was a bit sunken, his lips were dry and he was lethargic, so we could tell he was starting to dehydrate. The ER put us in a little room and had us do what they call a ‘fluid challenge’ – they gave us a syringe and had us give Monkey 10mls of water by mouth every 10 minutes for an hour. He tolerated it reasonably well, only spewed once, and they said as long as more stayed down than came back up he would be OK. By the time we left he was a bit perkier, and on the way back to the car I made a deal with Monkey, saying “Let’s never have to come back to the hospital again please”!
In any case the following night Monkey just would not settle – every time he woke up it took longer to get him back to sleep and he would only stay asleep for 10 minutes at a time. I gave him Panadol, I tried Bonjella, I stripped him naked to look for a bite or a cut or a hair tourniquet. Eventually his voice was hoarse from screaming so much, and at 3am I woke up Hubs saying “Something is wrong”.
We called a child health helpline, and they wisely told us to go back to the hospital. I ran around madly throwing a few things into the nappy bag, and we jumped in the car in the dead of night.
The timings of what happened when are a bit fuzzy for me, so I’m going to go for near enough is good enough.
We got to the hospital about 4am. Hubs took Monkey and ran inside while I sorted out the parking ticket.
As we sat in the waiting room, the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics was playing on the television. It was 2 days before Monkey’s first birthday.
They were pretty quick about things and took us back to a bed in the emergency department. Monkey was clearly in distress – they asked what medication I had given him and then brought us some more painkillers. Monkey weighed 9.25kg (I don’t know why I feel that’s important). He was hooked up to a machine to measure pulse and oxygen saturation – just an electrode taped to his toe.
As we waited to be seen, we chuckled at the father chasing his pantsless toddling daughter around the ER trying to get a urine sample, and we thought how much worse off we could be as a little girl with a tracheotomy was brought in from the flying ambulance.
One of the residents examined Monkey – ears, mouth, fingers, toes, tummy etc – the full works. She wasn’t sure about one of his ears, so we waited for a more experienced doctor, and the ER staff kept an eye on us.
It was clear to everyone that our poor little Monkey was very distressed.
The senior doctor thought his ear looked fine. No infection. They couldn’t find anything obviously wrong, so they decided to do an X-ray and an ultrasound. They were looking for a condition that occurs in small children called intussusception – where part of the bowel folds back inside itself, causing pain. They contacted the on call radiographer and the sonographer and we waited while they made the trip in to the hospital. One of the nurses told us that intussusception can often just resolve itself and there’s nothing much to be done about it – or that we could even just be looking at a case of gas or constipation which can sometimes be very painful for a small child. I laughed about how silly I would feel if we’d come to the ER for gas pains.
They wouldn’t do the ultrasound without Monkey having an IV in place, because if they found an intussusception they wanted to be able to knock him out and give him an air enema to fix it. So we were taken into a procedure room in the ER and we held Monkey down while they put in an IV – no easy thing on a little kid. The first one didn’t work, they punctured the vein by accident, so they tried his other hand, and thankfully that one worked. Monkey screamed. It was horrible. They strapped a board to his arm and bandaged it all up so he couldn’t dislodge the cannula. I have a fear of needles anyway, so I found it very distressing to say the least. But I did it – it was important to me that he knew I was there for him. I couldn’t have imagined handing him over to the doctors and walking away while they did it.
The radiographer got in first and we took him in for chest and abdominal X-rays. Again, we were forced to hold him in position while he screamed. Sitting front and side with his arms above his head, and then lying stretched out flat.
Then when the sonographer arrived they took us upstairs to the medical imaging department – it was dark and deserted so early in the morning. They let me nurse Monkey while they ultrasounded his abdomen, and he just lay there. He was so exhausted it was heartbreaking. Part way through the consultant radiographer arrived. He was quite young and very buff and I wondered how he had time to be a doctor and work out so much. He took over and did the rest of the ultrasound, telling us when he was finished that he hadn’t seen anything relevant. What a relief!
Back in the ER, there had been a short change, and a new doctor came to tell us that there was some kind of shadow on the cheat X-ray, maybe pneumonia. They were waiting for the consultant radiographer to come down and take a look, and depending on the outcome of that we would either be sent home or admitted onto a ward.
It was about this time that I decided it was late enough to call my parents, who were out of town. I guess it must have been around 7am. I told them not to worry, but we had come to the ER again in the wee hours of the morning, and that we were still waiting to hear but they were saying shadow on the X-ray, maybe pneumonia. I told them there was no need for them to come back, and I would let them know once we knew more.
Monkey finally nursed to sleep in the emergency room bed, having not slept more than 10 minutes at a time since his nap the previous afternoon. He looked so tiny and vulnerable lying on there with his IV arm all strapped up and a wire hooking him up to the heart monitor.
At one point Hubs went to the hospital cafeteria to get us breakfast. He brought back coffee and an orange and poppyseed muffin which we shared.
I saw the buff consultant radiographer walk in and talk to our doctor. I wondered if he was talking about my Monkey.
He was. When he left, the ER doctor came to talk to us. He asked if we could go to a different room away from the open plan beds of the emergency department, but Monkey was sleeping and I didn’t want to disturb him or leave him. So the ER doctor drew the curtain around us. My heart sank.
They’d found a large tumour in his chest. Our precious Monkey had cancer. We were going to be admitted for further testing.
I remember thinking how tired and sad he ER doctor looked, and how this must be one of the worst parts of his job. He left us and closed the curtain behind him.
And we cried.