Catherine Hughes is the mother of Riley Hughes, a little boy from Western Australia who died of whooping cough at just four weeks of age. Catherine and her husband Greg are campaigning for all pregnant women in Australia to be offered the Whooping cough booster vaccination as a matter of course. To further their message, Catherine has asked us to share this intensely powerful post about Riley’s last day.
A warning: This post is extremely distressing. But the message is an important one to share.
2pm, Monday March 16th 2015
We stood anxiously in the pediatrics intensive care unit (PICU), waiting for an update from Riley’s doctor. We had come down to the PICU earlier that morning, after learning Riley’s suspected whooping cough had now developed into pneumonia. While I knew that it was the best place for him, I couldn’t ignore the anxious faces of the other parents who walked past Riley’s room, or the drawer that said “baptism gowns”. It was a stark reminder that not every child who enters intensive care leaves.
I remember seeing the wall of “PICU graduates” – photos of happy faced kids who had survived and thrived after spending time in the PICU. I imagined the photo we’d send in of Riley, once he was all better. Once he’d learned to smile, once his cough had gone away, once he was all healed.
Feeling nervous, hands sweaty, we listened to Riley’s doctors talk. “Life support will give his little body a chance to rest and heal” we were told. They also described the plasma exchange he would possibly need later that afternoon, where his blood would be manually removed by a syringe and replaced with a donation of plasma – a procedure that would take hours. I looked at our beautiful boy, who was already connected to so many tubes and wires. This was starting to feel so serious, the doctors who originally were fairly positive now looked worried and concerned. We called up Greg’s Mum who lived in Adelaide and asked her to fly to Perth that evening as things weren’t looking all that good.
An hour or two later, one of Riley’s doctors pulled us aside for a chat. She kindly – if there is a kind way – told us that we needed to prepare ourselves for the fact that Riley could die. I felt shocked and sickened. I think this is one of the first times I cried in hospital; I had been so positive that Riley would get better.
Greg and I gripped each other’s hands and tried to comfort each other, but really there is no way to comfort in this situation. We spent the next hour or two pacing the corridors as we waited for them to administer a new cannula, before we were allowed in.