Freddy had an asthma attack two weeks ago. He had had a bit of a cold in the morning, but not enough to keep him off school. By mid afternoon school were worried and called Mum to come and get him, and when they arrived at the surgery the poor lad was really gasping for air.
For those to whom this means something he was managing a couple of words between breaths, chugging along at around 50 breaths a minute, using all his accessory muscles, and visibly tiring. For those to whom none of that is especially significant, suffice it to say he was pretty damned breathless.
We whacked him straight on a nebulizer (an air compressor through which we can, and did, aerosolize asthma meds—easier to use and more penetrating than an inhaler for a patient in crisis) which soon sorted out his breathlessness, and packed him off home some forty minutes later with an armful of inhalers, a spacer device (a chamber thingy to put the inhalers into) and some steroid pills, plus all the nebulizer tubing and mask he had just been using for him to play spacemen with when he got home (and to help the Out of Hours docs should they need to get him back on a nebulizer at any point that night).
Mum also went away with clear instructions to look out for a flare of wheeze or breathlessness around four hours later as the nebulizer would be wearing off about then, and if the inhalers didn’t quickly turn him around she knew to call for help straight away. Happily that advice was not needed and, as I discovered today, he was pretty much all better after 48 hours of more intensive medication. All through the consultation though, Freddy looked exactly as you might expect, a pretty scared, rather tiny six year old boy, in need of his Mum.
Not so today.
Today he comes for his review and to plan his treatment from here on. He pulls up his chair, alogside but some distance from his Mum. Today he is immaculately turned out in his school uniform, and not disheveled as when we last met. He has not a hair out of place, and is the living example of calm, composed self assurance.
We agree to try and monitor his asthma with a peak flow meter, and he masters the technique in a couple of puffs with aplomb. Then we need to measure him to see how his result matches with the predicted value for his age and height— “Though I’m not very tall for a six year old you know.” And neither he is, though still tall enough not to present any concerns about arrested development. We also agree he should have a spacer for home and a separate spacer and inhaler combination to keep at school and a peak flow meter for home monitoring.
“You should personalize them with your favourite stickers.” I sagely advise.
“Ooh yes,” says Mum “you could do that in your craft lesson this afternoon.”
“Well,” Freddy draws the word out for emphasis “I suppose I might, but I will have some work to do this afternoon too you know.”
I’m left reflecting that this is a young man who will go far, and also struck by the difference two short weeks and a proper asthma management plan can make.