x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

That sickening feeling that all parents will feel

It is 4am and Astrid feels like an oven-fresh potato. She is very, very hot. Burning up, in fact.

It is 4am and Astrid feels like an oven-fresh potato. She is very, very hot. Burning up, in fact. Her body is fighting an invader and as a result her temperature has gone sky high. She has already been diagnosed at the hospital earlier in the day. She has a nasty bug, but it is nothing to worry about apparently. We came back armed with a bag full of medicines to help her fight this illness. Antibiotics, painkillers, cough syrup, rehydration salts, nasal lavage... the table in the kitchen was turned into a mobile pharmacy. The problem was not prescription but administration.

Getting Astrid to take even a millilitre of medicine is a trial. It involves pinning her down, holding her head as she struggles, squirting a few drops in her mouth and holding her nose until she swallows it or more likely spits it out. The doctor recommended this approach, by the way, when we asked for advice on how to get Astrid to take this cocktail of drugs. We tried a spoon first of course. So now, in the early hours of the morning, we sit and watch and worry. There is something about the small hours that amplifies emotions and makes you easy prey for all sorts of fears that normally would not bother you. Sleeplessness has something to do with it, but it is more than that. It is not just about your state, but the state of the world around you. It is as if the lack of noise, the absence of hustle and bustle and the deficit of feeling from other sleeping people leave a vacuum in which your own spread out and intensify.

A thunderstorm, a rare occurrence in Abu Dhabi, passes overhead. Flashes of lightning illuminate a chink between the curtain and the window. This effect, usually ineffective in Hammer horror films, adds to the sense of ominousness and menace. Suddenly Astrid starts to vomit. I have rarely felt such utter powerlessness as I do now. I am unable to do anything but watch as she retches two or three times. The impulse is to act, to do something to help, but the question is what to do. I try to think, cursing myself for not taking more notice during a first-aid course I did over a decade ago. I remember the instructor holding a plastic baby doll, but I cannot conjure one iota of information relating to that image.

After cleaning up the mess, I go to my computer and look up online what temperature is dangerous for babies. I remember over 100 degrees Fahrenheit being bad, but I have no clue about Celsius. It is ironic that a temperature scale which is on the whole much easier fails in this particularly dreadful situation. I discover that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), for babies older than six months a temperature over 39.4 degrees Celsius is critical.

Astrid is borderline. I fetch the paracetamol from the kitchen and somehow manage to get her to swallow a few drops. We decide that if her temperature is the same or higher after half an hour, we will take her to hospital. Fortunately, the fever subsides and she cools down. As the sun starts to come up, we finally drift off to sleep. In the morning, Astrid wakes up and scampers around the bedroom. She seems much better. The previous night's dread is banished. The illusion returns: everything is under control again.

According to the Child Accident Prevention Trust, a charity in the UK, 239 children died in 2008 after being accidentally injured or poisoned. Over two million children are taken to hospital every year because of mishaps. Accidents will happen, as the hackneyed phrase goes, but knowing what to do in such situations can make the difference between life and death. Despite doing a first-aid course at school, my knowledge and skills are very rusty, especially with regard to babies. Would I know what to do, for instance, if Astrid started choking during dinner? What if she was badly wounded somehow or got something toxic such as bleach or cleaning fluid in her mouth? I am not certain I would know the best course of action.

There are various first-aid courses available in Abu Dhabi. The Emergency First Response Care for Children course (godive@emirates.net.ae) provides training on emergency care for children. The two-session course costs Dh350. It seems like a wise investment.