Still, all of this luxurious perspective seemed somewhat irrelevant when I found myself speeding down the freeway on Sunday at 4 a.m., pleading my little Owen to keep talking to me so that I would know he still could...so that I would know he was still conscious.
Whatever assuredness I might have been feeling about being able to handle the situation had evaporated minutes earlier when the nurse, after listening to his labored, raspy breathing over the phone, calmly instructed me to "get him to the ER."
I thought I was holding it together until I tried to call my husband. When I opened my mouth to leave a message, I began sobbing, which elicited a small, "Mommy, are you okay?" from Owen. Not my best moment.
Even in my panic, I managed to consider the coincidence of having only just reconnected with my NICU memories at that reading last week...of having just contemplated how very lucky we were to have escaped relatively unscathed. And here we were going back to the hospital where my little boys had spent the first three months of their lives.
Somehow my kids managed to go through their entire infancies and toddlerhoods and preschool years without getting croup. I had heard of it, of course. Several of my friends' kids had gotten it. Yet, I still associated it with a bad cough. I didn't know that it made your vocal cords swell up. I didn't realize it actually constricted the airway in the tiny throats of children.
I'm not sure whether this knowledge would have helped us avoid the trip to the ER, so in retrospect I think it's probably better that I didn't know such a sudden and terrible illness existed. Who knows how many nights I would have spent worrying had I known that there are often no signs, that a child can just wake up in the middle of the night struggling to breathe?
We got to Children's Hospital and were brought back to a room right away. They knew it was croup almost immediately, and even though he'd never had it, I felt relieved because it sounded familiar. I was even more relieved to know that once he began breathing in the epinephrine mist, he would feel better.
And feel better he did. Two hours and a zillion episodes of Tom & Jerry later, we were heading home, thus maintaining our "zero re-admissions" status that preemies so rarely seem to get.
And even though I was shaken, I felt lucky again.