Four things I learned in a week with whooping cough

It’s been seven days since we fronted up at our GP with our two daughters – aged 2.5 years, and 5 months – to politely suggest an alternative diagnosis for their persistent, chronic and increasingly scary bouts of coughing. And here I am sleep-deprived, intensely caffeinated, and a little bit mad.

Despite both being fully vaccinated, Dr Google and Nurse YouTube suggested the girls may have whooping cough. Our GP was skeptical, as the girls both appeared well during consults and he had never had a chance to hear them actually cough. No, that pleasure is reserved for us parents at night time (a phenomenon I learned a lot about during our nighttime stay in emergency with our baby). However, to his credit, the GP took our concerns seriously and performed the test.

Two days later I received a (somewhat sheepish) phone call advising we needed to bring the girls in straight away. Oh and also expect a call from the Health Department and essentially quarantine ourselves, because yep – it was pertussis (whooping cough).

We’ve since started both girls on antibiotics, quarantined ourselves at home, had another (vaccinated) adult family member test positive for pertussis, endured a hospital visit when our youngest developed a temperature (indicating a secondary virus) and brief apnoeas following cough fits at night, and been up to both girls multiple times a night now for weeks.

But like just about anything in life, there’s some lessons to be learned.

So here it is, the four things I’ve learned this week from being in lockdown with whooping cough:

1. There’s no cure for whooping cough

When our GP finally diagnosed whooping cough, he almost cheerfully wrote out the scripts for antibiotics for both girls and informed us that after five days, they’d no longer be considered infectious and it was onwards and upwards from here.

Perhaps I wasn’t listening properly or I was just looking for a positive, but I figured the antibiotics would help the girls get better. It was on Saturday night as I explained to the paedeatrician in emergency that our baby had been on antibiotics now for three days and was getting worse, not better, that she gently explained “well the antibiotics only help with reducing the amount of time they are infectious. They don’t actually reduce the symptoms or help them recover”.

Oh. So what to do for my toddler who wakes hysterical unable to breathe in the middle of the night, or my baby who needs to be quickly propped upright when she wakes with a violent coughing fit every hour or so?

Answer: nothing. Hold them, comfort them, monitor them that they do quickly catch their breath. If not, call an ambulance. In hospital they’ll be treated with oxygen, ventolin or adrenaline depending on how bad things are. That’s it. That’s all you can do.

Had we known this, we would probably still have opted to take the antibiotics. We have family with a new premmie baby, and also believe it’s important we do what we can to stop the spread of whooping cough in the community. However it was sobering to know that there’s nothing else we can do to actually help the girls recover. We just have to wait it out.

The logical question, then is how long will they take to recover?

2. It’s called the ‘100 day cough’

If one more person tells me that whooping cough is also known as the 100 day cough (one more charitable person opted for ’90 day cough’)… I may loose my mind.

Because I think ‘cough’ doesn’t do it justice. It’s a traumatic experience where my husband and I have to jump up at the first sound of distress, worrying that either child is going to injure themselves, or choke, or simply be incredibly distraught at the experience of having an intense coughing fit multiple times a night. Last night it took nearly half an hour to console our toddler after she woke from a deep sleep with a particularly bad coughing fit, and bub is waking up at least every hour or so. Coughing is particularly bad at night, as the muscles in the chest and lungs relax and irritated airways are compressed and blocked.

I’m told they will gradually improve as the weeks go by, though a simple cold may set them back and reactivate their symptoms. Just when I thought my five month old might be ready to start sleeping longer at night…. alas, not quite yet!

12797955_1674411419499119_989783874_n
Finally sleeping after a long, long night of coughing fits

Let me tell you, this whooping cough business is not a pleasant experience.

3. There is such a thing as ‘vaccine-resistant whooping cough’

The various doctors I saw at the hospital over the weekend all looked decidedly unhappy to hear that both girls, and the other adult in our family who has contracted whooping cough, were all up to date with their vaccinations and boosters. One doctor observed “we saw a lot of vaccine-resistant whooping cough last year – I hope it’s not the same this year”.

This is a very scary situation to be in. As far as I can tell, there’s no reason that here in Australia we should be dealing with significant outbreaks of a vaccine-preventable illness like pertussis. And it’s a serious infection we should not underestimate – about 1 in 200 infants under 6 months who contract pertussis will die.

And I’m not gonna lie – there was a part of me that was pretty mad. As I paced around outside the procedure room where my five month old was screaming the house down while being cannulated so they could take blood for testing, I had a ‘why us’ moment. We’ve done the right thing, we’ve vaccinated our kids. We’ve got them on strong antibiotics to stop them spreading the infection and we notified as many people and places that we’d visited in recent weeks as we possibly could. Members of our extended family had even opted for precautionary antibiotics to stop the spread further. We’re totally happy to do our bit, yet here I am pacing around listening to my baby screaming.

Data for our local area shows vaccination rates as low as 85.7%. And with an infection like pertussis, apparently vaccination rates need to be very high in order to achieve herd immunity, because it can be a much more mild infection in adults and so often goes unrecognised.

I’ve never given serious consideration to not vaccinating my kids. But if I ever needed convincing, the last week – battling two cases of whooping cough which were not as bad as they could have been in unvaccinated kids and/or young babies – was all the convincing I needed. I honestly don’t want to consider what our experience may have been like if the infection had entered our household a few months ago, while our baby was just a few weeks old.

4. Bottom line: VACCINATE YOUR CHILDREN

This one deserves full capitals. Because this is serious. Vaccines haven’t been developed for diseases like pertussis just for kicks – they are deadly diseases that need to be managed at an individual and community level.  I firmly believe we owe it to those who cannot be vaccinated or who are at higher risk – like our young nephew who was a premmie baby and is yet to have any vaccinations, or the stranger in the street with a compromised immune system – to do everything we can to prevent the spread of these diseases.

While in emergency over the weekend, we were cared for by a great team of doctors and nurses. One nurse shared with me her thoughts on vaccination:

“I have four kids, two with autism. Vaccination doesn’t cause autism. Vaccinate your kids.”

Simple as that.

 

Advertisements

The Reshuffle of 2016

There’s been a reallocation of duties in the Geale household this week, as we set out into a new season of our lives. We have a new Minister taking on Early Childhood and Higher Education, while there’s also been changes in the Small Business portfolio. Yep, that’s right – I’m working full-time!

When I find myself explaining our new arrangement, it does sound like we’ve got ourselves a little confused – I’m now working full-time in Michael’s business, while he will no longer be working, but instead be studying a Ministry degree and looking after the girls! It’s a complete role-reversal, given that I haven’t worked full-time for many years (instead studying, volunteering, and looking after the kids) while Michael started in his own business while still at school.

Luckily there’s no preciousness in our place around who does the earning, caring, cooking, cleaning, learning or other things. We’ve always tried to look at our lives as a team (or as a former consulting colleague observed, we “take a portfolio view” of our activities!), which has given us the chance to explore opportunities that may not otherwise have been possible. It’s enabled me to do my Masters and to dedicate sizeable chunks of time to some community and volunteer projects over the years, and to make use of the flexibility in our lives during physically challenging times (think: chronic morning sickness – times two – that had me housebound). It’s allowed Michael to grow two successful businesses, adapt his schedule to spend quality time with the girls, and now to embark on some study of his own. And it allows us to play to our strengths at different times in our lives – cleaning, for example, is not one of my strengths. Let’s hope our new Minister for Early Childhood is a whizz with the washing machine!

IMG_20160301_162208.JPG
Bunnings AKA “Funnings”

I’m really excited about this new season, though, as it marks a shift in the collective focus of our lives towards something with a real personal meaning for us. It’s going to mean some big changes – but as I’ve written about previously, we seem to gravitate towards life change! I’m looking forward to seeing Michael spend days with both girls, doing all those things I don’t tend to do with the kids (like regular trips to Bunnings, or creative use of the single stroller to accommodate two tired children).

DSC_2076.jpg
I don’t think this is a recommended configuration. Tie-downs definitely not included.

Meanwhile I get to challenge myself with some significant work projects (this is something I am genuinely excited about, believe it or not!).

There will be bumps on the road, I’m sure, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Onwards and upwards, 2016!

Coffee – a story of change

While I was at uni, I worked a few shifts each week at an Italian-style cafe on Boundary Street in West End. There I gained an appreciation both of the wonderfully eccentric neighbourhood that is West End, and of our staple beverage – caffe.

Since then, coffee and I have had a rather turbulent relationship. As a full-time, overcommitted law student, caffeine was viewed as a functional necessity. At the cafe, it was a given that shots were sampled throughout a shift and I soon refined my taste from latte-a-la-Starbucks to a short macchiato, and the occasional espresso. I had no choice, really, with the coworkers I had – two of whom who would eventually go on to start their own popular West End establishment, where one famously told a customer who requested caramel syrup that he could “f*** off to Gloria Jeans, mate!”. (True story).

But it was also my time at the cafe that eventually turned the tide of my opinion towards coffee. Perhaps it was the time I witnessed a scientifically-inclined (mad professor-style) coworker completely OD on caffeine in an attempt to dial in the perfect shot during a shift, such that he ended up a pale, sweaty, incoherent mess, who locked himself in the back of my car as it was the only place to lie down for a rest. Or maybe it was when I realised I could come home at 2am from a Friday night shift, having had way more than my recommended daily intake of caffeine, and quickly and easily drift off to sleep like it was nobody’s business.

So I flipped. I switched from coffee to hot chocolates. At one stage my drink of choice was a soy hot chocolate (the shame).

Then about a year of no coffee later, for some reason I decided to give the brew a chance (probably because the embarrassment of ordering a soy hot chocolate in work meetings became too much to handle). Two shots and I was a jittery mess, but I eventually regained my coffee-legs and we became friends again.

Fast-forward a few years and I’m pregnant with my second child. Coffee has become a comforting, welcome part of my life – the home espresso machine taking up an unseemly amount of bench space in our small duplex kitchen. Then, sometime around week 9 of the pregnancy journey, I called it. I told Michael it was over – yep, the machine had to go. And if he wanted a coffee, he needed to drink it outside, and brush and gargle extensively afterwards, because I couldn’t even stand the smell of it.

(One of the most challenging moments around that time was when I was MC of a community conference. I had not announced my pregnancy, and was fulfilling my commitment to the event despite fairly significant morning sickness. I vividly recall the reeling sensation as I stood, smiling and welcoming at the front of the room, as attendees poured in clutching their morning coffees and I mentally charted the quickest route to the ladies!).

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 11.10.37 AM
Seriously ever second person was drinking a coffee. And it was raining so hard we couldn’t open the windows. THERE WAS NO AIR! The horror.

The poor coffee machine was relegated to the garage, where it sat alongside the grinder and next to the laundry liquid, on top of the washing machine. It was a sad setup, especially as there was no internal access from the house to the garage, so the morning coffee ritual now meant – fumble around for keys, find milk jug, go outside, unlock garage, come back for forgotten milk, go back to garage, come back for forgotten cup, back to garage, swat at spider crawling around washtub next to grind, attempt to make coffee, sit outside in the rain drinking it…. and so on.

And then, somewhere around the third trimester – having spent the majority of my pregnancy getting nowhere near enough sleep for some mysterious (thank you pregnancy hormones) reason – it was game on. Coffee, you glorious beverage. Where have you been the last few months? Why did we ever part? Why did I ever consider you the most repulsive of all scents, you beautiful, delightfully-fragrant brew?

12135383_726673324131372_1345328583_n
The Coffee Nook

And thus began a new season for coffee and I. Our relationship is stronger than ever, as I rise each morning after a few hours of broken sleep with our little newbie, and the familiar hum of the machine heating up greets my ears. The smell is cathartic. The machine has been restored to pride of place in the kitchen (occupying the spot usually reserved for a microwave, but since we don’t have one of those, we’ve created The Coffee Nook).

12105129_1303371613013154_819001080_n.jpg
Now I’m all like Baby + Cold Brew = Can do stuff!

My turbulent relationship with coffee reminds me of a concept that took me many years to understand – it’s perfectly ok to change your opinions as time goes on. I used to see it as a strength to be able to articulate a position and stick to it, no matter what (this was the high school debater in me – whose apparently successful rebuttal to a fairly cogent point regarding how Australia might deal with nuclear waste was simply to “send it to Argentina to be buried”). Back then, I would have pushed past the morning sickness and complete repulsion to coffee, if only to save face and to not be seen to be changing my mind.

But I now realise it is far more important to adapt ourselves – our beliefs, opinions and attitudes – as circumstances change. Those circumstances might be external, such as new facts coming to light, or they may be an internal change within ourselves. I was never prepared to give myself room to change an opinion, and I’ve realised that as a society we are not too supportive of it, either. A politician who changes their stance on an issue is often subject to enormous criticism simply because they changed their mind – without regard to their previous stance, their new stance, and what has caused the change. Yet in many realms – from politics to personal relationships – outcomes are often much better for all if people are given space and permission to change their minds.

As I write, I’m sipping a long black – my beverage of choice in this current season. Though at this time it seems unlikely, I cannot rule out a soy hot chocolate in my future!

All of the stuff!

Show of hands – who enjoys moving house? Anyone? No? Didn’t think so.

12070910_1023268871164171_7207760_nThere’s not much to enjoy about moving house. I say this as one who has moved house five times in about as many years. The process of rapidly, but securely and gently, boxing up the entire contents of a home, is not fun. It can be tedious (individually wrapping an entire table-setting), stressful (how to package up and transport grandma’s heirloom tea set?) and dangerous (even with the help of professional removalists, moving house is the perfect time to sprain an ankle/pull a neck muscle/be crushed by a kingsize latex mattress that requires three people to move it thanks to its weight and amoebic tendencies). So yeah. Not fun.

All that whinging aside, I’ve learned something very valuable in the process of all this moving. The less you have, the easier moving becomes. Less stuff = less difficult move. Less stuff = more happy!

It’s not just because more stuff means more boxes (more packing, more lifting, more unpacking). There’s also the stress of moving valuable stuff, as well as the difficulty of trying to squeeze all your existing stuff into a new, differently-shaped living space.

With each move, I’ve rid myself of more and more ‘stuff’. Yet I’m still amazed at all the possessions we’ve managed to accumulate and have to cart around with us each time we relocate. What on earth is it all for?? I’ve become relatively good at jettisoning  those possessions that haven’t seen daylight since a prior house move (may I suggest that as a ‘golden rule of moving’?), and yet still I’m surrounded by boxes and boxes of ‘stuff’ that I need to find a home for. It’s a bit stifling, really, and seems ridiculous that I’m contemplating shaping how I live around the possessions I own.

It’s definitely a #firstworldproblem (in the genuine, rather than ironic, sense), but one we’re trying to chip away at as a family. We’re finding it’s helpful to borrow, rather than buy (and if we own something, then try to lend to others). Focusing on items that have multiple uses or are adaptable is also a good approach, and being really ruthless about distinguishing wants and needs (and the entire spectrum in between).

So while moving house is hardly my favourite past-time, the positive is an opportunity to de-clutter and de-stuff!

Wish me luck as I continue on that journey this week…. (see below for current state of my loungeroom….)! I’m awaiting my mother’s help tomorrow to kick the unpacking-and-organising into gear 🙂

DSC_1253

Decisions, change and the #goldcoastlifestyle

I’m not a big fan of change. Before change, there usually comes decisions, and I’m not the most decisive person around. After the decision, there’s all that unknown-ness. The new-ness. The “have I might the right decision”-ness. Gah, change. I much prefer to stick with what I know.

The funny thing is, plenty of people who know me and read that last paragraph would think I have absolutely no grasp of myself and my own thoughts, given how much change I have knowingly unleashed on myself in recent years – often at rather inauspicious times. I’ve made seemingly sudden changes in my academic direction (unexpectedly dropping degrees halfway), have switched from a corporate career to an unpaid non-profit role, to our own business, and now adding a few kids in the mix. We’ve moved cities at short notice, and I’ve moved house twice while pregnant, and once with a newborn.

Actually, better make that twice. As this weekend we’re moving again, and little B is 7 weeks old. FUN TIMES AHEAD, people!

I don’t quite know why or how a person like me continues to make so many decisions with such significant consequences. Trust me, a lot of thinking goes into each of those decisions – there are many “pros and cons” lists written up, many scenarios compared and quite a bit of prayer and reflection. None of these decisions are as rash as they may seem from the outside.

The best part, though, is that I do not regret a single major decision I have made in my life.

Having moved to the Gold Coast two years ago for ‘business reasons’, I never thought I would really, deeply enjoy living here. But you know, it’s a special part of the world and I love it! I’m so grateful we had the opportunity to move here as I have met some very special people and experienced a lifestyle that would not have come so easily living where I did in Brisbane.

With that in mind – somewhat of a quest for the #goldcoastlifestyle, perhaps – we’re moving again, at fairly short notice. In fact we’re moving this weekend – a fact that hasn’t quite sunk in as I sit surrounded by a house with not a shred of packing done. Ah well, nothing like cutting it fine!

We’ve decided that we may as well really, truly experience the Gold Coast while we can, so we’re moving to the beach! Palm Beach, actually, at the southern end of the Gold Coast (though it should only take us marginally longer to visit family and friends in Brisbane, given proximity to the highway is much better down there than where we are now). We have managed to find a lovely place to rent that is super close to the beach. See the picture below – this is going to be our bedroom. See that blue stuff? SURF! From our bedroom window. THE BEACH. Much excited.

image5

Even better, over the last few days I have (seemingly randomly) connected with various people in that part of the GC with values and interests that are really aligned with mine. How amazing when things fall into place, right?

Despite all the apparent ‘successes’, I’m still no fan of change. It’s still stressful and difficult and all those other negative words. So let’s hope this move goes smoothly and, once again, we have no regrets and only gratitude for all the opportunities our lives bring!

Just breathe through it…. right?

“Ah, so you feel for the fontanelles?”

While the midwife was busy chatting away with my obstetrician, I was getting to the business end of delivering baby #2, despite having arrived in the birth suite just twenty minutes earlier. The doctor had been urgently summoned as things were moving quickly. As he and the midwife started to prep for delivery, he suddenly looked up at me and said “Was that a contraction? Did you just breathe through it?”

I sighed and gathered my thoughts. “Um, yeah, it was”.

He shook his head in disbelief, then smiled. “So this baby is about to be born any minute and you can just calmly breathe through a contraction like that, but I can’t put a needle in you?”

“Yeah”, I mustered a wry smile. “One of life’s great mysteries…”.

needle

See the majority of appointments late in both my pregnancies had been focused on “drips” and needles…  and how I was going to avoid them. It’s not that I have any philosophical objections to cannulas or interventions in pregnancy. Twenty minutes earlier I’d been begging for pethidine (only to be turned down because baby was coming too fast. Damn impatient children).

Nope, just a plain old-fashioned phobia. A phobia so strong that the last time I’d needed a drip (to administer penicillin to halt the spread of an infection rapidly moving through my body), it was only the fact my panic attack led me to black out that I failed to rip the needle out myself. A phobia whose basis I’ve never really identified, and that doesn’t impact me day to day, but sure can pose some challenges for a pregnant lady.

Throughout my two pregnancies I’ve come perilously close to needing drips for induction of labour, to administer antibiotics, for fluids and for a c-section. But each time, often at the last minute, a solution has presented itself (my breech baby turned herself around; my husband held a straw to my mouth for hours on end and gave me no choice but to keep hydrated; labour started spontaneously after arriving at the hospital for a scheduled induction). I’ve definitely dodged a few bullets!

The doctor was well aware of my phobia – we’d spent many appointments going over the ways in which it might impact me and that fact that there may well be situations where a cannula was absolutely – life-savingly – necessary. And I knew that if that happened, things were almost certainly going to get ugly, and that no amount of calm breathing was going to cut it.

I completely understand, however, the doctor’s observation. He knows I’m not really the mantras-and-hypnosis type, and yet through both my labours I was able to avoid panic, almost instinctively and just by breathing calmly and focusing on the goal and transient nature of the contraction (despite how blooming painful they may have been!). Yet despite that facade of calm – “hey I can just breathe my way through super-intense contractions y’all, ain’t nothing can faze me” – I swear if someone comes at me with a cannula I’m still going to be sprinting in the other direction. If that’s not possible, I’ll be a pathetic lump of tears, curled up foetal position and/or aggressively warding off the poor person charged with cannulating me. Fun times.

See that’s the thing with anxiety (and mental health in general) – it can seem completely irrational. It often IS completely irrational. I know my fear of a cannula is irrational, I know it won’t actually harm me, I know that if a medical professional wants to put a cannula in there’s probably a very good, very important reason. My rational self knows this. But my anxious self couldn’t care less.

Our minds are weird and wonderful places, and sometimes they don’t make sense. I like to remind myself of this whenever I get frustrated or confused by someone else’s behaviour or attitude – who knows what lies beneath it? There’s a good chance it’s something completely irrational – and it’s not like I can judge them for that! If nothing else, my anxiety has made me more compassionate and empathetic… but still a massive wuss when it comes to needles!

I  know that one day it’s almost inevitable I’m going to have to face the cannula phobia, and I’m not sure who I feel more sorry for – Myself, or the poor soul who has to do the deed! I suspect there’ll be a lot of calming breathing required by all in the room that day….!

Did you know it’s Mental Health Week 2015? Check out https://1010.org.au/ for more information about the week and Mental Health in Australia!

Hiatus

Hello world.

It’s been a long time between posts here – no spectacular excuse, really, other than that very broad, general thing called LIFE. Pesky bugger, that one. Though I shouldn’t complain, not when life only (apparently) prevents blog posts because it is filled with all this good stuff.

At the risk of appearing #soblessed, the last year or so (it’s been a while between drinks on this site) has included #goldcoastlyfe #finishedmymasters #youthgroupleader #hilarioustoddler #terribletwos #pregnancy #sotired #everythinghurts #newborn #stilltired, and of course it’s all been proudly brought to you by #coffee.

However if something is important and worthwhile, we manage to find the time to squeeze it in. I do enjoy the opportunity to tease out some of the thoughts and half-baked concepts that bounce around in my head sometimes, so my intention is to pick up on this writing thing and continue to share some reflections on life with the world through this blog.

I’ll snatch time when I can….

DSC_1043