Today, I have experienced a parenting rite of passage. For the first time in six and a half years of motherhood (which must be some sort of record), I took one of my children to A&E.
The Boy has suffered from hayfever for several years now, so when I got a phone call from school this morning saying that he’d been rubbing his eye all morning and it was swollen almost shut, I assumed he was just having a bad allergies day, and trundled down to school with a bottle of Piriton in my pocket, planning to dose him up and leave him there.
I wasn’t expecting him to come out of the classroom with his eye purple and swollen to the size of a golf ball. On closer inspection – look away now if you’re squeamish – his actual eyeball was swollen, and appeared to have some sort of fluid under the membrane. It was horrible. It was also blatantly clear that I wasn’t going to be able to dose and go.
Back home, I phoned and booked a doctor’s appointment, but the more I looked at The Boy’s eye, the more worried I felt. I dimly recalled having heard about a condition called orbital cellulitis (an infection of the tissues around the eye), and a quick Google tipped me over the edge from concern to barely suppressed panic. Because orbital cellulitis can – bizarrely – be life-threatening, leading to meningitis and septicaemia. ‘This is a serious condition and requires immediate medical treatment,’ I read.
I turned to Facebook. Should I wait the four hours until The Boy’s doctor’s appointment, or take him to A&E? It seemed ridiculous to rush to hospital for the sake of a swollen eye, but what if it *was* something sinister? What if my ‘let’s wait and see’ attitude was putting his life at risk?
I know. It sounds melodramatic, doesn’t it? But five or six people in quick succession told me to go straight to Casualty – so that’s what we did.
Sitting in the paediatric A&E waiting room with my swollen-eyed boy, I was already running through worst-case scenarios. What would happen if he had to stay in? I wouldn’t want to leave him there by himself, but The Baby is still breastfeeding and needs me too… How would The Boy react to having IV antibiotics? Would he be able to sleep on a noisy children’s ward? What if the infection was already raging through his little body? He was complaining of a headache, after all…
I needn’t have worried. The Boy doesn’t have orbital cellulitis. What he does have is a paranoid mummy. Because the diagnosis – after a thorough examination – was an allergic reaction. To what, they couldn’t say – and nor could I. He hasn’t eaten anything new, or been in contact with any irritants, as far as I know, so maybe it really is just a (very) bad hayfever day.
And so we were sent on our way with instructions to keep The Boy dosed up on antihistamine and Calpol. Sadly, there’s no medication for my acute case of embarrassment. I know it’s better to be safe than sorry, but I’m mortified that I have become the sort of parent who rushes her child to hospital over a nasty case of hayfever.
Several doses of antihistamine later, The Boy’s eye is looking much better. Still swollen, still red and weepy, but nowhere near as grotesque as it was earlier. And while I still feel very silly for my complete overreaction, some things are just too important to risk. Yes, The Boy drives me to distraction with his incessant chatter, awkward questions, know-it-all attitude and chronic untidiness, but the thought of him being seriously ill scared the life out of me. So the A&E doctor will probably go home this evening and tell her husband all about the silly woman who brought her son in with hayfever, but at least I can sleep easy tonight, without any ‘what ifs’ hanging over my head.