'In just five days, he was gone...'

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"The nurses at the time told us it would likely be a one to two-day stay before he headed home. I didn’t realise at the time that these were, in fact, his last few days on earth."

Today marks the beginning of that horrible five-day spiral for me. I still remember Friday the 13th of March 2015 vividly.

Not 12 hours prior, a locum doctor had been out to see my son and to reassure us that he was fine and suffering simply from a cough. This had put my mind at ease as I’d just flown back to Perth that night from a work trip.

I recall waking in an absolute panic that morning at 6am because our son hadn’t woken for his nightly feed. My wife and I looked at each other and ran to his bassinet. He was still asleep and sounded congested.

We picked him up and managed to stir him and my wife attempted to get him to feed – he simply wasn’t interested. We knew it wasn’t normal for a 27-day-old child to refuse to feed after sleeping for a solid seven hours and so we headed for the hospital

At first, it didn't seem serious

The doctors and nurses were in agreement that at his age this was not normal behaviour and decided they wanted to monitor him for 24 hours.

We headed from the emergency department up to the ward and looked forward to our son making a recovery and returning home. The nurses at the time told us it would likely be a one to two-day stay before he headed home. I didn’t realise at the time that these were in fact his last few days on earth.

I play those five days out in my mind regularly

I recall the drive in and the parking area.

I recall the kind doctor who saw us in emergency.

I remember the posters in the lift, the coffee room at the front of the ward and the layout of the hospital.

I remember the children’s play walls outside his room.

I flashback constantly over the course of the next five days

Today we were cuddling and he had his feeding tube in. Swaddled in the soft blanket I still reminisce his beautiful new baby smell.

Tomorrow his cough gets a little bit worse. We speak with doctors who suggest he may be staying a little longer. I head for a walk to clear my head, take my daughter out to an activity area inside the hospital and share updates with my family – still blissfully unaware.

Day three we start hearing talks of Pertussis from a clued in and brilliant doctor. Pertussis - Whooping Cough.

That f*cking cough.

Part way through day three we are heading to NICU, we are asked to wait in the lounge at one stage and joke to each other about how morbid it is to have a funeral planning brochure.

We read a brochure about the McCaffery family and think how horrific an outcome they experienced with their daughter Dana. I’d never heard of them before but I was grateful our son wouldn’t experience the same.

Day four I watched my son go downhill over the course of an afternoon to the point that a voice inside me was nagging me saying ‘he’s in trouble’.

That last hour before he was placed into an induced coma haunts my nightmares and still shakes me to my core when I think too hard about it.

Day five

Day five he was dead. Day five I collapsed. Day five my entire world changed and things became so much bleaker. Day five my family reached out to the McCaffery family and started our subsequent journey into trying to eradicate this vile, awful, hideous and insidious disease.

This is my five days of torture. I relive these 5 days in my mind every. Single. Year.

I know I won’t sleep much over the course of the next week – even four years on from his death I still struggle to come to terms with it all.

This is the true impact of a vaccine-preventable disease.

This is whooping cough.

*This article has been republished with permission from 'Dad Minus One'

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Written by

Greg Hughes