I don't think I'll ever forget what happened last week in our E.R. Ever since then we have been on alert standby, afraid for what may happen.
A father brought in his little boy. The boy was clearly in some sort of respiratory distress: he was gasping for air, you could hear his ragged breathing from down the hall, and he was pale, sweating, shaking. It was clear that the little guy was in a state of shock.
The child was no older than the age of two. He was a very cute little guy. When we took his vital signs, we were alarmed to discover that his heart rate was abnormally fast (tachycardic), and he had a rather high fever.
His fever was high: something like 104.2 degrees. We had to get it down fast or the child could risk going into a seizure.
As Louisiana Sandusky, our head nurse, carefully wiped the boy's fevered skin with a damp cloth, I took the liberty in examining the child, to see what was going on. I noted that he had swollen glands in his neck; they were huge. When I peeked into his throat, I gasped: covering the back of his throat was a foul-smelling, dark-greyish membrane; this was probably what was causing the child's breathing problems.
One word flashed through my mind: diphtheria.
"Oh, my God!" I shouted, "This kid's in trouble! He's got diphtheria!"
Louisiana and the other nurses looked at me with shock written on their faces. They couldn't believe it.
"Yes, diphtheria. He's got all the classic symptoms: shock, difficult breathing, high fever, and the telltale membrane covering the back of his throat!" I said. "Quick! Isolate the ER; don't you know this stuff's contagious??"
At that, I and the other workers quickly took steps to isolate the ER. We threw on gowns, masks, gloves. I asked my co-workers if their diphtheria vaccinations were up to date. Thankfully, most were. Those who weren't had to go get theirs, they could not come back until they were vaccinated. If they developed any symptoms of diphtheria, they were to come to the hospital, pronto, where they could then be treated.
I tried to fathom how a kid in a nation where diphtheria was all but eradicated could come down with it. Either he wasn't up to date with his shots, or else he'd come from a developing nation where the disease was still commonplace.
I called the boy's father in for a consultation, to let him know what was going on with his boy. At the news, the father began to cry. He was visiting the US from Pakistan; he was due to go back home next week when his little boy became sick.
"We will do everything we can to help him", I told the stricken man. "Time is of the essence; it's our only hope to try to save his life."
Suddenly, the alarms started beeping, sending me rushing back to the table. The little boy was now seizing. His fever was rising. We knew we had to act fast to stave off any complications, including the threat of brain damage. His breathing was getting worse too; we knew that an emergency tracheotomy was probably in order to try to save his life.
~End of part one.~