My seven-year old has spent the last couple weeks fighting a weird breathing problem. Initially, it was diagnosed as croup, but after two hospitalizations the hospital doctors were less certain, and by “less certain” I mean they were saying things so ridiculous that they’d lost all credibility.
While all this was going on, I was doing what every concerned parent would do: googling. Between the internet and my friends, I received all sorts of suggestions for how to deal with croup: hot steam, cold air, keep him calm, humidify the room, keep the room dry… pretty much everything but acupuncture. Which is good, because I’m not a big fan of needles.
The morning after he got back from the second hospital visit, he was back to making the croup sound. His mother was at work, and his brother was getting dressed, so we had a moment where it was just the two of us.
“Listen,” I said. “We’re getting to a bad place now. Some of the doctors are saying this is all in your head. It’s not, but that’s what they’re saying. You know what that means?”
He shook his head.
“It means they’re going to be asking you about your feelings and what’s going on, and if you’re scared or sad or angry. . .”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because they don’t know what else to do. You’re going to be stuck with counselors and therapists and people talking and talking and talking…” I waved my hands in exasperation. “Do you want that?”
His eyes widened and he shook his head. “No!”
“Okay, then we got to get you to fix this. Can you feel it in your throat when you make that sound?”
He breathed experimentally and then nodded.
“Good. That feeling is making your throat worse. Think you can find a way of breathing that doesn’t make that sound?”
He looked at me doubtfully.
“Try different ways of breathing – through your nose maybe, or just a chest-breath. Lean forward or back. See if anything works.”
He made the sound a few more times.
“In the meantime,” I said. “There’s one last thing we haven’t tried: cold air.”
“Everyone says breathing really cold air will help. So we’re going to stick your head in the freezer.”
I walked him to the freezer in the garage, opened the door, and had him stick his head in. “Deep breaths.”
He sucked in a few deep breaths, and I have to admit that after the third one, the sound did seem different somehow, less raspy.
“Daddy,” he said, “how long do I have to keep my head in here?”
“Till you stop making that noise, of course.”
“What!?!” He started giggling helplessly.
“Could be all week,” I said.
“Da-addy!” He pulled his head out of the freezer and stopped laughing long enough to glare at me. “I don’t like you.” Then he stomped inside.
Before you start ridiculing my medical methods, let me tell you this: the breathing noise stopped about ten minutes later, and he hasn’t made it since. He even made it through a whole soccer practice without any problems.
Was it the cold air, or the fear of counseling, or my advice to breathe differently?
I have no idea.