Listening to Lungs (Part Two)

Today I took Molly to the GP to talk about something completely unrelated to her lungs, but while we were there I asked about the hacking cough that Molly has now had for over 3 weeks, which is extremely slowly improving. He said he had noticed it already and that it sounded viral. ‘I’m like a mechanic who can tell from the sound of the engine what’s going on with the car.’ He listened to Molly’s chest and confirmed there were no crackles, no need for antibiotics. As the doctor then did something on his computer, I told Molly that this was the room where I brought her as a baby. I’d put her in a special baby bowl on top of scales (though not that often because she was my third baby, who breastfed extraordinarily efficiently).

I knew he’d say her cough was okay. I would have taken her to the doctor sooner if I’d been worried, but I hadn’t been. She wasn’t otherwise unwell, and nothing about the cough had pricked my antennae. It reminded me of seven years ago when I took Ben to sit in the same doctors surgery to wait an undetermined length of time to see a doctor, because I didn’t like the sound of his cough. There weren’t any appointments, and when I arrived the receptionists were saying there were too many people waiting to see doctors. Ben wasn’t that ill, but wasn’t well, and I knew the sound of that cough was wrong.

The GP listened to Ben’s chest and diagnosed a chest infection, and once Ben had antibiotics he rallied. It was a relief, because I was in the early stages of pregnancy with Molly, we had just moved house, and I was being pulled in a million directions – trying to unpack boxes before passing out with the exhaustion of growing a small foetus. One of my many worries had been Ben’s cough and I felt so vindicated that I had been right.

I’m six more years into parenting now. Still making most of it up as I go along, but feeling like maybe I at least have coughs down?

Listening to the lungs

When you are a parent, there are times when you really can’t be sure you’re doing it right. Much like when you thought all grown-ups knew what they were doing and then got to your twenties and realised the world is full of clueless adults, it turns out a lot of parents are winging it with varying levels of success.

Sometimes I have days like this Saturday, when my three year old found out that the ramps installed to enable his disabled brother to get out to the garden also mean he can drive his outdoor toy car straight up and into the kitchen. Then he repeatedly barged my legs, and on the back of a major toileting incident and various other small but irksome exchanges, I found myself pushing the car (with him in it) back out to the garden, with a noticeable lack of good humour. I then ignored him for a few minutes, so when my husband returned from the shops he was a little alarmed to find Max was standing at the back door screaming, wearing nothing but a pair of pants. At this point I wondered if I had any idea what I was doing.

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I have many moments along this theme – wondering or worrying whether Ben’s doing enough or too much therapy, whether the boys watch too much TV, feeling bad that we haven’t taken them swimming for weeks, or that we’ve made them move house for the second time in two years, and they’ll have to move at least twice more in the next two years, etc, etc.

But then some days I think to myself… Jess, you have this job totally nailed!

Ben had a heavy cold last week, caught from me. He was snotty and a bit feverish but not awfully ill. He started to have a bit of a cough, and on Wednesday night I wasn’t very happy with it. But his temperature wasn’t that high, and he wasn’t that miserable. We put him to bed as usual, and about 10 minutes later he was sick. Which wasn’t ideal, and is relatively rare these days, but it’s not extraordinary. Then he slept well that night, which was very unusual, and by this point my metaphorical ears were pricked.

Ben hasn’t had a chest infection for over two years, but previously he’s had a lot. And I remember the sound of them.

First thing on Thursday morning he still had a bit of a cough, so I phoned the GP. We can normally get an appointment on the same day but they were short of doctors so the best they could offer was going to the surgery and waiting an unspecified length of time to see someone. Nothing sounds less fun than taking a slightly ill boy with a low boredom threshold to sit in a room full of sick people for hours so I dithered a bit. But then Ben coughed and I decided we’d go.

As we arrived, I could hear the administrative staff behind the desk talking about how few doctors there were, and that there were too many people waiting without appointments. Then the doctor came and queried whether all of these waiting people really needed to be seen today.

I was feeling a bit sheepish – on the face of it, yes Ben is disabled and complicated, but his symptoms weren’t that stark: a cough that his mother thinks sounds wrong, a little bit of a fever, some snot, and a really good night’s sleep.

We waited less than an hour before being called in to the doctor’s room. I set out my concerns, and she took his temperature (a bit high) and listened to his chest: crackles on the right! Needs a course of antibiotics!

I mean obviously I’d prefer he wasn’t ill. But the feeling of satisfaction at being proved right was a parenting high point. I know this boy. I know his lungs. And some days I am ALL OVER this mothering (*smug face).

(Max might not agree.)