Almost everybody nowadays has had some kind of First Aid training, usually through work, and in my case it’s because I’m a foster carer and also a volunteer at a food bank. When we attend these courses we listen attentively, but never really think it will happen to us or somebody we know. As a foster carer I have to be first-aid trained and I’m also paediatric First Aid trained. Our training is updated every two years to ensure we have the most up-to-date information and it’s come in very useful on several occasions over the past 10 years, but never actually with the children in my care. I’ve had to use my First Aid training on the roadside at the scene of a car accident, in a restaurant when somebody had collapsed and, most recently, when an elderly lady had a suspected heart attack at the theatre whilst I was out with my sister in law. On each occasion I have been the first person on the scene and I made the injured person comfortable and safe until the paramedics got there.
This week I had not one but two serious medical emergencies, and each was with a foster child in my care. I have been doing regular respite for Anthony; a child with complex needs. As part of his condition he is fed by a peg (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy) tube system, which means he takes nothing orally and all of his nutrients come through the peg, which is inserted directly into his stomach. I am trained in how to deal with routine situations with his tube: to clean it, change and sterilise the lines and deal with issues with his pump, however on bank holiday Monday he had a serious medical emergency involving his tube which resulted in him requiring emergency care and us calling 999.
Because his situation is less than usual our nearby large hospital was unable to deal with his medical situation which, although now stable, needed to be resolved and we were transferred by ambulance to a specialised hospital in London capable of dealing with his complex gastric emergency. Initially it was all very scary, however Anthony was giggling and happy, babbling away until of course the first of the injections started. I was there to comfort him and stay with him throughout the procedures and the hospital very kindly set me up a bed by his cot so I could stay right by his side all night. I slept fitfully for an hour or two with my hand inserted in between the bars in his cot and every 10 minutes Anthony would lean over and touch my hand, needing the reassurance. Once we were transferred to the hospital in London things took a more routine and straightforward turn; it was less of an emergency as they were used to dealing with complex problems with the peg feeding system.
It was a long tiring two days and luckily my support network kicked in beautifully. My sister-in-law took over the care of baby S and hubby was able to look after J and M and deal with a last minute panic attack about 6th form Vs college, and see J off to his new school. Both Hubby and my sister-in-law were fantastic, and Hubby made sure all the mundane and routine parts of our lives carried on smoothly, meaning none of the children or Baby S were alarmed about the drama.
Baby S stayed with my wonderful sister-in-law until Wednesday. When I picked her up I had a restorative cup of coffee and retold the drama of the last couple of days. Anthony was back to his normal bubbly smiling self, unaware of how close he came to being seriously ill. However my dramas did not stop there. On Wednesday afternoon, settled back into my normal routine, I was feeding baby S: we’ve been experimenting with more finger foods and different textures on the advice of her healthcare visitor. I had selected a juicy piece of mango for her to suck and mouth on, and the next thing I knew she was choking. Not the loud noisy choking of somebody that has a piece of food that has gone down the wrong way, but the silent gagging of someone whose airway is blocked. Within seconds she was over my arm and I was performing baby abdominal thrusts (previously known as the Heimlich manoeuvre). After the second abdominal thrust the piece of mango shot out and landed on the floor only to be snuffled up by our opportunist dog, Luke. It was all over in 25 seconds with baby S looking somewhat surprised, but in no way alarmed or distressed. She reached out for another piece of mango but all I could do was hug her tight and make sure she was okay. I monitored her closely for half an hour to ensure there are no further incidents and she sat happily on my knee bouncing and chatting.
It feels like I’ve had my quota of emergencies this week and as I retold M the story over dinner she said you only need me and J to have a medical drama and then it’s a full house!
I don’t want to think about the potential consequences of what might have happened to either Anthony or Baby S. Yes I am First Aid trained and I felt calm and in control when dealing with Anthony’s medical situation, but I can honestly say that when dealing with Baby S and her choking drama, it was over so quickly I barely had time to react. But it made me think of how grateful I was for the paediatric First Aid training I had earlier this year. During the training session provided free of charge to me by my agency, Nexus Fostering, it was reinforced again and again what was needed to be done and the trainer said it has to become second nature and I’m pleased to confirm, it was.
The rest of the week has passed by without any more incidents and Anthony was reunited with his regular foster carers on Monday morning who were delighted to see him again. He has been with them since he was a year-old and he loves them, as they do him. However, when caring for a child with such complex medical needs who also needs lots of one-to-one attention, it can be very draining and it’s important that they have regular respite. I’m delighted to say more respite care has been arranged for early in the New Year. It’s always a pleasure having Anthony with us, and M and J have become very fond of him, particularly J who is happy to sit and entertain him.
One thing I have learnt from this week is that emergencies come out of nowhere, and it’s not only important to stay calm but it’s also essential to have a fantastic support team around you. Thank you to the people that made this week easier!