The day I found out I had whooping cough I felt sick. I wasn’t just sick from the horrible disease that was stopping me breathing, I was sick with guilt as I looked down at my 2-week-old son and his two young brothers. What had I done, had I unknowingly infected my whole family?
For about two months leading up to the arrival of our third child, my husband had been struggling with a persistent cough. It just wouldn’t go away. But it wasn’t bad enough to warrant an inconvenient trip to the doctor. My husband did have asthma after all. As my due date grew near I became more and more exhausted. My Braxton Hicks contractions became early labour pains and I had to have foetal monitoring every second day.
Six weeks before my due date my two beautiful boys, aged 3 and 4, had to go stay with their grandparents in another state, as I could no longer look after them. As I waited out the last few weeks of my pregnancy, all I could think about was how much I missed my little men.
At 38 weeks and 2 days my third precious son was born. He was perfect. Two days later my other boys returned and life was complete. I felt great, other than this nagging cough that had been annoying me for about three weeks. I mentioned the cough to a paediatric doctor and he said, “He didn’t look at adults”. I mentioned it to my GP and he noted, “I did have a history of mild asthma”.
Over the next 7 days my cough became more persistent. It was getting harder to breathe. The coughing spasms went from lasting 10 seconds to 20 seconds to finally, at 2 in the morning, a coughing spasm of about 60 seconds caused me to almost pass out. Sixty seconds without any air coming in is a long time.
I picked up my newborn baby, left my husband at home to look after my older boys, and drove myself to the hospital emergency department. They diagnosed a persistent cough, took some blood tests, mostly as routine, and sent me home with a large dose of codeine, which apparently stops coughs.
Life went on, I took my newborn baby to kindy show and tell and to mothers groups gatherings. A week after my hospital visit I received a phone call. Although my first round of blood tests were fine, the culture that had also been done wasn’t. I was told I had whooping cough and that I needed to start antibiotics now and stay away from small babies and children. Stay away from babies and small children? Hello! I’m surrounded by them!!!
I had been vaccinated against whooping cough as a child. Apparently it doesn’t last. Apparently you need a booster every 10 years. Apparently I was contagious prior to the main symptoms presenting. Apparently I was contagious during the three weeks before my baby arrived, when my children were away, and I wasn’t doing kindy drop-offs and pick-ups. Apparently, I was not contagious when my son was born. Apparently we’re in the middle of a whooping cough epidemic.
I was contagious when I went for the extra monitoring, in a hospital, full of newborns and expectant mothers. The consequences of that I will never know. This was, however, five years ago and awareness of the dangers of whooping cough has grown significantly.
If you haven’t had a whooping cough booster in the past ten years, do it now. I mean now! Because you never know if, or when, you will be in contact with it, and for 1 in every 200 babies who contract it, it’s fatal.