Several weeks ago we left the land of living for a long season. Disclaimer: In no way is this post advice or what I’d recommend. It’s simply what we’re going through. This is not an anti- or pro- vaccine post, fyi.
A couple of months ago Scott and I were sitting in church and noted a lot of coughing throughout the sanctuary that sounded the same as one of our kidlets’ – that ended up lasting a long time. Our pediatrician dubbed it allergies, since there were no other symptoms attached. We went to work with herbal remedies. The old trusties just weren’t working. Odd. We talked with another family whose little one had the same perpetual cough who also had no luck clearing it with herbs. But it’s allergy season, after all. No big. Right? Still, we took precautions and excluded him from a lot of activity.
Fast forward to late July. We’d been readying ourselves for our annual family reunion camping trip to Idaho. The Suburban had made it’s way in for a once-over to the shop. We fine-tuned every single last detail of it, including shampooing and treating the interior. Heck, Adyn even cleaned out the windshield wiper sprayers so they’d fan perfectly. Ooo! And we had a beefy grill guard installed just to fit in with the locals – and perhaps protect the rig a wee bit in the event of meeting a deer along the way.
We had finished everything we needed to do, and planned to spend all day Saturday playing with Daddy, who was staying behind. We’d be leaving Sunday morning in the wee hours, caravaning with our friends who would be joining us.
Our wee little family decided to run to town for some play, when the “Check Engine” light came on in our driveway. Talk about a blessing from God on His impeccable, protective timing! We poked around under the hood and noted both water and radiator reservoirs were empty. Just days after the mechanic had topped everything off. Our oil pressure gauge was all over the place as well. Uh oh. That’s not a good sign. The reassurance that the engine had been replaced some 20k miles ago, we knew this would all work out. But we also knew it meant our travel plans were going to have to change significantly because it’s the weekend, and there was no telling how soon we’d get a diagnosis on the Suburban, or even when it could be repaired.
A dozen calls later, we found the one Big Box car rental place that would give us a one-day, one-way trip to Idaho Falls. Our caravaning friends, Tim & Amy, were super flexible and offered to pull our trailer with all of our camping gear so we could pack light in the rental. All was back on track.
We left early. The drive was beautiful. We listened to audio books and played car games. We had an event-free drive over. Other than the cough that I now had started. It was out of nowhere. I chalked it up to pregnancy. You know, weird things happen when you’re pregnant. My nose has been a perpetual faucet, for one. So a persistent, wet, rather mild cough didn’t seem to out of the ordinary. A cough that left my eyes teary and my head thumping a little by the end of the day. Huh. Weird. No sore throat. No fever. Nothing else. By now, two of the others had started up as well. But again, really nothing to think twice about. Just a little coughing. Whoop-de-do.
We got to Idaho Falls and picked up some last-minute groceries and fishing licenses. We dropped off the rental car and met up with Papa & Chris & Elianna, who so sweetly (and timely, again!) met us and took us in for the rest of the trip. We made it to camp by 11pm, and bunked in their trailer that night and from then on – other than when cousins camped out together or tented it outdoors.
This cough, though. It just kept getting worse. The two middle kidlets started hacking pretty good during the day, especially when eating or exerting themselves. The wee’est had all but stopped except at night. When he did, he’d wake up gasping for breath more than cough. Then the other two started doing this. During the days, we forgot anyone was potentially sick and had a great vacation. Because, again, doc said not to worry unless associated with fever or other symptoms, I struggled to decide it if it was worth getting all Mama-hen-like. I thought maybe it was the altitude (we’d traveled uphill 7000+/- feet from home). Then nighttime became a nightmare. I was wide-eyed and worried I’d have one less babe by morning. Ugh, nights. When rationality is out the window. I prayed a lot.
Then it happened.
I called home and Scott – oh so casually – mentions that a dear family we know has whooping cough. Yeah, pertussis. You know, The One sickness I just can’t rationalize not vaccinating for, but one of the two vaccines that are associated with the most adverse reactions so as making it impossible to do as well… The disease (and vaccine) that infants notoriously die from (dramatized) – leaving a no win decision? Yeah, that one. Once again, like when Scott was in the hospital, I was grateful not to have Google at my disposal. Instead, I made several phone calls (all of our doc’s, nurse friends, and a few families that I know have gone through it), and then talked to G’ma Chris about what this means for our wee family. For one, we needed to head home. Yet have no car. And all of the guys are out on a wheeler trip until “dinnertime,” so we couldn’t make a solid plan until their return. Our options looked like this: 1) Papa & Chris take us to Idaho Falls and we rent a car to head back, or 2) Papa & Chris leave Idaho a couple of days early with us and take us home. They were coming to Washington afterwards for a visit anyway. And where I didn’t want to stunt their trip, it seemed the option Chris was most comfortable with. She didn’t seem to want to leave us to fend on our own, tho’ I assured her we were okay.
We all realized the need to leave the mountain (elevation & contagiousness) as soon as possible. So we started packing up our stuff. I wasn’t sure if Tim & Amy would want to head home with us. They had their own vehicle, and we didn’t need our trailer – so they could stay if they wanted and bring our stuff back with them in a few days.
Well, it was after 9 o’ clock when all of the wheelers got back to camp, all pumped because the lake they found was chalk full of HUGE trout. They had a smashing day. Then I had to bear the bad news, and ask Papa if he’d be down for delivering us a few hours away to a rental car company, or head out toward home tonight. He opted for the latter, no problem.
Just going to go pause here. This is the second time Papa has been to Idaho during our family reunion for some 30 years. His kids and grandkids are here. It’s one of his favorite places to be, and holds some of his dearest memories. It was a real joy and excitement that he was able to come this year. So imagine the disappointment of leaving. But nope. He didn’t mention it – there wasn’t even a hesitation. He just reassured us that he wanted to be with family, and had no problem with this decision.
We had packed most everything up, but had a few more things to wrap up. We loaded the wheelers. Tim & Amy decided to adventure home with us instead of stay at camp. By 11pm, we were on the road. The long, dusty, rocky road. Just when we hit the pavement (about an hour from camp at the speed we were going), Colby threw up. No fever. Not associated with coughing. Had been sleeping. Over the next 12 hours, he threw up every 45-60 minutes. He couldn’t keep anything down. I thought he may be dehydrated until Kendra started up, too. Then, not long later, reports of a few others at camp were doing the same thing. I was glad it was just an unassociated 12-hour (ish) bug that we could get through and move on from.
We found a nice pull off near Salmon, Idaho, already significantly lower in elevation than our camping spot, and much nearer to an [albeit tiny] hospital, in the event that we needed anything urgent. We set up camp and rested. In the morning we got gas, and loaded up on vitamin C & electrolytes (later at an apothecary, more herbs and probiotics, etc). We stopped by an old tradition of ours, Bertram’s Brewery, and filled some jugs of their delicious homemade soda to bring home for Scott. Then we hit the road.
Other than still having a couple of sickies (the vomit bug), the drive was uneventful and fun. We love road trips and traveling. And with Papa & Chris & Elianna – and Tim & Amy – we got to point out and share all of our favorite spots, or stories from things that happened along the way. Remember, we’ve been making this drive for decades, so have accumulated some real keepers.
We settled into a nice campground in the mountains near Coeur d’Alene, and by dinnertime – and after a cool swim in their pool – everyone was very on the mend from the vomit bug. The cough was definitely still alive and well. Mine had gotten pretty impressive by now, too. In fact, by the next day, my back and abs were pretty out of sorts (cool! I still have ab muscles!), and I’d have to hold on to the upper handle in the car during a fit to deal with the pain. That evening, at a gas station in the Tri Cities, I coughed and felt/heard a POP! It turned out that I dislocated and bruised a rib or two.
All was downhill from there…
Sunday night something went wrong. I couldn’t move/breathe/cough/talk. A trip to Urgent Care Monday turned into a whirlwind of activity. I was in more pain than I’ve ever been in my life and was so scared. Doc said all of the symptoms match a pulmonary embolism, and where it may not be, wanted to be safe since that was so life-threatening. A CT scan later revealed no clots (thank God!). Excellent meds allowed me to sleep better than I had in weeks. An unrelated pertussis swab taken that day came back positive late Wednesday eve. Department of Health was alerted (the wrong county at first – then later, our county… which was closed for the day – go figure). Treatment immediately started for everyone. Papa & their crew visit was adjusted and extended, complete with treatment as well. We have kept ourselves under quarantine through it all for several weeks now. We have learned a lot. Here are some random things we gleaned through it all, in no particular order:
- you are contagious 3 weeks before symptoms, and up to 6 weeks after coughing begins, if not treated
- if treated with antibiotics, the CDC, Department of Health, and doc’s agree that you are not contagious after 5 day treatment – tho’ your cough will persist
- pertussis bacteria kills the lining of your airways. the damage is done and not reversible except with time. early detection and treatment is key.
- early symptoms are runny nose, low-grade (unnoticeable, often) fever
- the most dangerous part of pertussis is secondary infections, when the lining is damaged and can’t effectively ‘move’ mucous out of the lungs – causing pneumonia or other problems
- the “whoop” of the cough does not have to come after a cough. it can be the initial ‘gasp’ that starts a coughing spell. usually this is associated with your airways becoming constricted because of spasming
- there are ten of thousands diagnosed with pertussis each year (an increase to years ago), even more undiagnosed (in our family, only one was officially diagnosed, tho’ 5 had symptoms)
- the number of deaths in the U.S. associated with pertussis is minimal, all things considered – this helped lessen (not eliminate by any stretch) my fear knowing we had it, and couldn’t do a whole lot about it
- we should not live in fear
- vitamin c therapy has proven to many to decrease (not stop) coughing episodes; we’ll see
- wet steam is not helpful, even seemed to hinder; use a vaporizer vs. a humidifier
- this cough was very mental. if someone else coughed, it’d start a chain reaction. i could mentally will a cough away long enough to breathe. weirdest thing ever. total mind games. one of ours has had to literally train himself to stop gasping for breath at night
- eating will initiate coughing fits. don’t starve yourself. stay hydrated. deep breathing will also start up a coughing fit. don’t starve yourself of oxygen. try to just take breaths slow
- probiotics are a must during antibiotic treatment
- antibiotic treatment will likely have side effects. learn about them, and proactively feed your body to balance the fight.
- department of health was extremely helpful and non-invasive
- pertussis is called “cough of 100 days” in other countries. the cough will last.
- be prepared for horrible things: peeing your pants, hemorrhoids, fractured ribs and pulled muscles, burst blood vessels from violent coughing, scary coughs that are hard to get your breath from (red/purple faces), slobbering yourself silly, vomiting from coughing, swollen eye balls that are excessively leaky, sleepless miserable nights… you’re going to be exhausted
- natural immunity can last anywhere from 0-30 years. stats are sketchy
- booster vaccinations are recommended every 5-10 years for adults; and during the third trimester of every pregnancy (I would have been due for one at this weeks appt)
- there are lab tests (ask a naturopath) to see if you have antibodies to fight pertussis (etc) – some choose to receive boosters only when needed
- according to the manufacture, the pertussis vaccine (DTap, Tdap) does not eliminate your chance of getting the disease, but reduces the symptoms. don’t live in false security. if you have signs, get tested/treated/quarantined
- home is where my heart is at. being required to lay low with my loves was the best, even if it was also filled with yuck
- life lesson: flexibility is key. from the get-go of this trip (ha, of this life!) is not holding any of our plans so close to us that we can’t be joyfully flexible to adapt to whatever our situation is