The plan was to fly home on Wednesday, and take off the rest of the week to get over Jet lag. I was happy that we planned for that, since last year we were really wiped out for a few days after coming home. I don’t know if it really is due to jet lag, or that we tend to take very physically demanding trips. Whatever the reason, we were exhausted, and sick.
On the second night we were home, Casey came into our bedroom. She had been coughing a lot during most of the trip. Normal coughing, like a kid with a cold. I was now coughing too, and felt like I had a cold. What happened next frightened us.
As Casey was standing next to our bed she started to cough. Then she just stopped breathing. She looked at us with panic. Jane yelled to me, “SHE ISN’T BREATHING!!”. I said, “I KNOW!!!”. We both jumped up to figure out what to do, when all of a sudden she took a breath, and made a lound sound, “WHOOOOP!!!”. Again, “WHOOOOP!!!”. Then she choked, then she vomited. After that she seemed okay.
Jane and I were absolutely freaked out by this. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it. But, now Casey seemed okay. She was breathing fine. We decided to make appointments for both Casey and myself the next morning at our HMO, Kaiser Permanente.
In the morning, Jane and I talked about what we observed the night before. Jane said, “I think she might have whooping cough”. That sounded like it might be possible, but I really knew nothing about whooping cough, except I’ve heard the name, and I know that the “P” in the childhood “DPT” shot stands for Pertussis, and that’s the medical name for Whooping cough.
I went into the kitchen to make some coffee, and next I heard, “WHOOOP!!!…. WHOOOP!!!”. I ran down the hallway to find Casey, but she wasn’t in the bedroom. I yelled out to Jane, “Where is she????”.
Jane said, “It’s not her! I’m on a website about pertussis, and they have a link where you can hear what someone with whooping cough sounds like”.
It sounded so much like what Casey had done the night before, it fooled me.
When the phones at Kaiser opened at 7:00am, I made the call. I explained to the agent that I believed that my daughter might have whooping cough, and I probably had it as well. She made very early appointments for Casey in Pediatrics and myself in Internal Medicine giving us just enough time to dress and drive over to the hospital.
I droped Jane and Casey off at the Pediatric building at the Kaiser facility in Panorama City, near our home. Then, I drove over to the building where adults are seen.
I read on Pertussis.com that the disease is making a comeback in the United States. That the DPT shot does wear off, sometimes when you are as young as ten years old. By the time someone is fifty, there is no protection from the illness at all. Pertussis is most serious in young children. I read one statistic that said that of 30,000 deaths in a rcent year, virtually all where babies under a year in age.
When I arrived at the waiting room, it was filled with people. I looked to my right, and I saw a man carrying around what appeared to be a newborn baby.
I walked up to the receptionist and said, “I need to be separated from that baby immediately.”. She asked me why, and I told her, “I believe I may have pertussis”.
She handed me a mask and asked me to wait a moment. I walked into the hallway to keep myself as far from the baby as I could be. My name was called immediately. I marched past all the people waiting with my mask on my face, and they all looked at me like I must have some dread disease. I was pretty sure they were right.
A female doctor who looked like she might have been from India, came into the room, and asked me what brought me to Kaiser that morning. I told her that I believed my daughter had pertussis, and I most likely had cought it from her. I told her that we had been travelling outside the US.
She examined me and told me that I just had a cold. She prescribed cough medicine and a nasal spray. I head read on the website that people with Pertussis must be given antibiotics. I asked if I would receive them. She said I would not, because my problem was viral. I told her that my daughter was being seen at that moment in Pediatrics. If they believed she had whooping cough, should I come back? The doctor said no, and that I had nothing to worry about.
Confused, I left the North 2 building, and drove across the Kaiser campus to the Pediatric building.
When I arrived, I asked the receptionist where I could find my daughter, she gave me the room number. I thought it best that I not wait around the children, so I asked to be admitted to the room where Casey was being examined.
The Pediatircian asked me what they said “upstairs”. I told him, “cough medicine and nasal spray”. He asked, “No antibiotics?”. I told him that I asked about them, and was told I didn’t need them. He rolled his eyes and said, “We really need to educate these adult doctors about childhood diseases adults can get”.
He told us that he was going to test Casey for pertussis, but it was virtually certain that she had it. I mentioned the hazards of travelling abroad. He looked at me and said, “it’s just as likely she got it here than over there”.
He wrote out prescriptions not only for the three of us, but also Erin and Luis. He told us if we were in contact with anybody else since coming home, to have them contact their doctor and get on antibiotics. He explained that the medication would not improve our symptoms, or shorten the illnes, but after about five days, it would kill the infectious part of the disease. In other words, it would render us unable to make others ill. However, we could look forward to symptoms for three months or more.
He explained that he would be required to report us to the Health Department if Casey’s test came back positive, and that it he was very sure it would. We should stay home for at least five days and take our medicine. Jane asked the Doctor if there was anything we could do to help her when she had an attack. He picked up a plastic barf bucket and said, “Hand her one of these”. I thought he was being flippant.
He told us about a recent study of people with coughs. To be in the study you just had to have a cough for at least six weeks. All of the people in the study were tested and 26% had Pertussis. Whooping cough is coming in the United States in a big way. I did a search on Google and Yahoo News using Pertussis as the keyword, and got dozens of articles about outbreaks all over the U.S.
The next weeks were really pretty terrible. Jane and I developed coughs, but nothing like what Casey was experiencing. Frequently, both day and night she would have attacks that would always include inability to breathe, followed by the whooping, then choking and usually vomiting. She would wake up from a sound sleep like this, and there was nothing we could really do to help her. The Doctor was right. Nothing helped, and we felt helpless.
I took the next week off work. We had been given ten days worth of medication, and by the time I returned, I had been gone almost a month between the vacation and the illness.
About two weeks after we first saw the Doctor, Jane received a call from the Health Department. Casey had tested positive for Pertussis. The next morning a Nurse came to the house and took a full history, including all of the people we had been around.
It was really pretty easy to name off people we knew. We planned to stay home and sleep anyway, so we had just seen both Jane and my Mothers, and Kelly, who picked us up at the airport. They had all already gone on the medication.
Of course, there was an entire plane full of people, some of which got off at LAX, but most went on to Tahiti. All of those people we met in France and Italy. The metros, the lines, who knows how many people were infected by us?
She was mainly concerned about what medication we had taken, and if we had taken all of it. We had. She then suggested that we contact the Doctor and get another four days worth. Jane called me at work and told me this. I told her that if she would call the Pediatrician, and get him to write the prescriptions, I would stop at Kaiser and pick them up.
When I arrived at the Kaiser Pharmacy, they had received the prescriptions, but had not filled them, and said that they were not going to fill them unless each person came down personally. I explained the lack of wisdom in my fetching a carload of people in various stages of Pertussis and having them wait in line with all these other Kaiser patients, not to mention the Pharmacy employees.
After quite a bit of arguemnt, the filled prescriptions for me, Jane, Erin and Casey but would not give me anythign for Luis, because he was not related. I called Erin and told her to let Luis know that he was on his own. It just happens that Luis works at Kaiser, so I hoped he would have an easier time with them than I did.
The whole thing about having Pertussis has been something I never thought I would experience. I had never even met a person who said they had whooping cough before this. To give you an idea, we started coughing in October, and I’m writing this in December and just since I’ve been on this chapter, Casey, Jane and myself have all had coughing attacks. It has gotten better, with less attacks all the time, but we will probably continue on like this until January.
Today we had a Parent/Teacher conference at Casey’s school. She returned a few weeks ago, but of course, her grades have slipped. She is in danger of being held back, but we think that over the winter break this month we can get her caught up.
Well… this was a story about our second trip to Europe. Before last year, I had never left North America, and didn’t plan to. Jane lived in Europe 27 years ago for a few years while a member of the notorious religious cult, “The Children of God”. She met me in 1979 and spent all those years trying to convince me to leave my confort zone. I know my Parents never went to Europe. I am certain my Grandparents never did either. There are records of my family in the American South going back into the 1600’s. I don’t know if I might be the first one since then. It’s just not something we do.
But I did. I’m glad I did. I’m happy to share my experience with strangers. I have so enjoyed reading the travel blogs of other people I don’t know, and they helped so much, that I felt tha I owed it to them to keep blogging.
I am very pleased that my last set of stories were so widely read. In fact, they were picked up by the travel website WorldTravelQuest.com. At the moment on that website we are still in Venice last year. It’s been a kick to go on that site and read the chapters as they appear. They have expressed an interest in publishing this series.
I have learned so much since our first trip. That series read like a National Lampoon Vacation. But, this time, I didn’t feel like Chevy Chase. I felt like I knew what I was doing. I took the year in between to learn more about travel, and how to behave around the French and Italians. It paid off.
The best thing about this is that world travel IS something that my children do. I broke a cycle that quite possibly has lasted 400 years in the Sheppard family. My kids will continue to travel the world, and won’t be afraid like I was.
I would urge anyone who thinks that a trip to Europe isn’t for them to just do it anyway. I had the best time, and I can’t imagine a person that wouldn’t find something they like over there.
I’ll go back one day, and when I do, I’ll blog. Until then, ciao, and au revoir!
Oh yeah… one more picture! This one was taken by Erin in Rome. It is of a weathered bust of some unknown citizen. I have given him a name. I think he looks like whooping cough feels. I call him:
Snotus, Mucus, Pertussis:
The Roman God of Phelgm