What I've Learned Parenting A Constantly Sick Kid

My daughter won the attendance award that nobody wants: most sick days. Here’s what it taught me.

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It started when she was in preschool. One night, she woke up sounding like an accordion as she struggled for each high-pitched breath of air. We rushed her to the hospital, where they gave her steroids.

We left the hospital at dawn and I felt heavy with guilt. When she was first getting sick, I was told that even if she sounded bad, I didn’t need to worry as long as she was playful. Later that night, she woke up and asked me to play I Spy. I noticed her rapid breathing, but she was playful, so I told her to go back to sleep. I fell asleep next to her, only to find her in extreme distress soon after.

I should have trusted my gut. People talk about “new mom nerves,” and it made me doubt myself. Now I know that intuition is my best sidekick.

For the next four years, my daughter never had a normal cold. Even a minor virus could send her to the emergency department with breathing problems, and we became frequent fliers at the pediatrician’s office. You bet I learned a lot about parenting through a kid’s constant illness.

All those trips to urgent care and the hospital started to make me paranoid. The slightest drippy nose sent dread through my body, and I’d sleep next to my daughter every night until the cold symptoms cleared. In the midst of that anxious time, I found energy and support in my husband. I reminded myself that he was fifty percent of the team, and I needed to lean on him. On days when I was overwhelmed by medical decisions, he became fifty-one percent of our team, and so that I could let go and trust him to make the choices.

I gained a new appreciation for the small acts that make a community, too. Family and friends made tons of little gestures that kept us rolling. A friend dropped coffee and cake pops on our doorstep, a classmate dropped off a get-well card, families stopped by with gifts before a hospital visit. Honestly, even a quick “check in” text helped. With each gesture came a reminder: although my daughter was having a hard time fighting off respiratory illnesses, we were not the only ones dealing with sick kids. Everyone could relate.

Along with being able to relate, everyone tended to have advice. Have we tested for allergies? Does she have asthma? Maybe she has a small windpipe? Is it reflux? I went through this conversation with a million people, and I was always grateful. Everyone wanted to help. Everyone cared.

There’s one piece of advice that I wish I had fixated on. My husband's aunt is a pediatrician, and noticed my daughter coughing at a family wedding. I told her about the issues my daughter was having, and she suggested cough-variant asthma as a possible diagnosis.

After that, I took her to be checked for asthma, and the test was negative. At the time, I didn’t realize that cough-variant asthma doesn’t always show up on a test. It took another two years to get that sorted out, and during that time, we tried allergy testing, reflux medicine, and even a hospital procedure to check her airways using a scope.

So, we continued on our journey of missing school, events, and parties, which can cause some serious FOMO. We tried not to worry about the little things, and for the big things, we kept six feet apart before it was cool. We also looked for ways to “make up” for a missed occasion, like the time we missed a friend's birthday party and I planned a playdate with cupcakes and presents a week later.

I agonized over the “borderline” days when it’s a toss-up between going to school or staying home. Sometimes she went to school feeling awful, and sometimes she stayed home feeling fine.

It was hard not to beat myself up over the wrong decision. I tried to remind myself, “I made the best decision I could with the information I had at the time.”

Finally, we got a breakthrough last year, when a pulmonologist began treating her for recurrent croup and cough-variant asthma. He prescribed daily medication, which finally brought her relief. She’s still prone to bad colds, but there’s more we can do for her.

This year, will we set a sick day record or earn a perfect attendance award? Either way, I’ve learned to deal with disrupted routines and cancelled plans. Never again will I complain about an illness that can be treated at home. If we are not in the hospital, I’m thankful and I try not to worry about the rest. And my biggest takeaway is that school, parties, trips, and plans always pale in comparison to your child’s health — you’ve just got to let the small stuff slide off your back.

Allison Kenien is a writer with more than a decade of experience in education, marketing, and sales. She lives in Syracuse, New York, with her husband and two children. When she’s not working, you can find her running, snowboarding, golfing, hiking, or chasing after her kids.

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