My 6-month-old was hospitalized with RSV. And it was scary. It was stressful. It was, frankly, a lot to deal with. But I also learned a lot. So let’s talk about it.
What is RSV?
RSV really isn’t something that is on the top of most people’s minds, especially if you’re not a parent. It’s not a new sickness. But RSV can be really serious. So what is it? It stands for respiratory syncytial virus. According to the CDC, it is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. In fact, most kids will have RSV by the time they are two. And for most of them, it will pass easily and quickly.
RSV can become serious for some, especially those whose immune systems are not at their best – whether because of age (very young or older) or another health condition. In case of my son, he was barely 6 months old when he was diagnosed.
There are some ways to prevent RSV, including good hand hygiene, masking if feeling unwell, staying home if sick, and more. Now, there are medicines to help prevent RSV. I’m not a doctor, so if you have specific questions, talk to your pediatrician or doctor.
You can learn more about RSV from the CDC here.
A Sick Baby
On a Saturday, he was grumpy. He had just had his 6-month well visit and scheduled shots, so we thought he was still getting over that. But that night, he started to get a cough. On Sunday, the cough was much worse. It wasn’t super productive, so he just kept coughing. My instincts told me to bring him to urgent care.
So we went. They checked him out, ran some swabs, and told me he had RSV. His oxygen levels looked good and he didn’t have a fever, so it was a monitor situation. They told me what to look out for that would warrant both a trip to the pediatrician or a trip to the ER.
We thought Wednesday morning he was on the mend. But a few hours later, his breathing became labored and he was “retracting” while breathing. “Retracting” is when breathing is heavier and inward in a way where you could see his ribs. My mom instincts kicked in and I told my husband I was taking him to the ER. We live five minutes from Children’s National Hospital, so we went there.
He was then admitted and was in the hospital for two days. He was on a canula, or the type of oxygen support that sits at the entrance of your nose, and he was monitored. Because of the monitoring, he was in the PICU. Which was very scary! Since RSV is a virus and there aren’t any antivirals for it, it’s supportive care when they are at the peak of the virus, around days 4-5. After about a day, they began to wean him off the oxygen and see how he did. He did great, and 48 hours after we got to the ER, we went home.
What I Learned
Obviously, I wish this didn’t happen. No one wants their child to end up in the hospital for any reason. But kids, unfortunately, do get sick, and sometimes, a hospital trip is warranted. This experience taught me a few things.
First– trust your gut! The mama instincts really are strong. This was the first time one of the kids was super sick (we did catch COVID in early 2022, but no one in the household got very sick), and I knew that the hospital was the right move. It didn’t matter that a few hours earlier he seemed much better. I looked at his breathing and didn’t hesitate.
Second – I didn’t hesitate because I have the privilege to not hesitate. Let me explain… We received amazing care and compassion from all healthcare providers, and I know that doesn’t happen for everyone. We didn’t have to think twice about the cost before heading to the hospital or when we got admitted. My parents were already in town (they do not live in town, but were headed to the DC to watch the kids for the weekend while my husband and I were supposed to be on a work trip…that we obviously cancelled). We were so lucky that our jobs understood and we could take the time we needed to be with both our child in the hospital and the one at home. We had friends who gave us the best support. Not everyone has this, and I felt so lucky, and yes, privileged.
Third– Advocating for your child in a high stress situation isn’t fun. I had to shut off my emotions while everything was going on in order to keep a clear head. Honestly, I’m still processing the whole ordeal, and writing this piece is a big part of that for me. I knew that I had to be there for my little dude, so I did what I had to in order to be the best advocate and parent for him. I kept calm so when I held him, he’d know he was safe with me in a room of strangers and scary things.
And four – Give yourself some grace during and after these situations. We ate a lot of takeout over the past few weeks. We’ve watched a lot of TV. We’ve done those things because we needed to in order to keep the sanity, quell tantrums from the toddler as much we could, and because there were bigger things to stay on top of and care about. My husband and I were passing ships in the hospital, communicating mostly via text, and it was tough to not be together that much while we divided and conquered. I probably wasn’t the most fun to talk too for a bit, but I hope friends and family understood given the situation. And I’ve let myself take my time to process. I decided to let myself do it as I saw fit, instead of try to rush it and move on with life.
So yeah, overall, this whole RSV situation was awful. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But if it does happen to you, I hope my story helps calm a bit of the scary that lies ahead.