The Day I Dialled 999

It was a Friday evening not too long ago.

Ethan had been unsettled the night before and had been a bit tearful during the day, but I wasn’t overly concerned.

At his age, teething tends to play a big part in any grumpy behaviour.

We’d just got home after spending the day out and about and he was happily sitting in his high chair waiting for his dinner.

However, within 20 minutes, he went from animated screeching and giggling at his sister to uncontrollable spasms, his breathing was becoming laboured and his eyes were watering profusely.

It was when he developed a purple mottled rash on his face that didn’t blanche under glass, however, that panic really set in.

While it goes against the grain to dial 999, my mummy instinct took over and I rang for an ambulance.

We waited for the paramedics to arrive and his condition deteriorated further.

He tried to walk but instead he stumbled across the living floor, his eyes looked like he was unable to focus.

He collapsed into my arms and lay there, limp, eyes closed, whimpering.

I can’t describe the relief I felt when the first paramedic walked through my front door.

Within minutes he’d established Ethan had a temperature of almost 40 degrees – he explained that children of his age don’t have the ability to regulate their temperature in the same way as adults.

We stripped Ethan down and he was given Calpol.

He was still in my arms at this stage, I was told to take my arms away to help him cool down but he gripped on tightly to me and wouldn’t let go.

After 20 minutes his temperature wasn’t coming down – it had actually risen over 40 degrees, so it was decided that he needed to go to hospital.

As it turns out, he was diagnosed with a viral infection that had caused his temperature to spike and after a few hours in A&E, he was given the all clear to go home with his very relieved mummy.

Part of me, however, was a bit embarrassed about ringing 999 – after all, I’ve spent years writing articles on the inappropriate expectations being placed on our heroic emergency services.

However, according to Dr Laura Ringland, a GP at Kingsbridge Private Hospital in south Belfast, I did the right thing.

“These are less common accompanying signs and symptoms of fever but warrant immediate medical attention as they can represent a seriously ill child, including meningitis or sepsis,” she said.

“This must have been incredibly scary for you and you did the right thing in calling 999 and getting your son to the emergency department.”

Of course, a fever is a common occurrence in children.

So, what do parents need to look out for to make sure it doesn’t turn into a medical emergency?

Dr Ringland, herself a mum of two children aged one and four, said: “Fever is the body’s natural response to fighting infection and can occur with all common childhood illnesses. “The child may feel hotter than usual, for example on their forehead, back or tummy, they may feel sweaty or clammy to the touch and may have flushed or red cheeks.

“If you suspect that your child may have a high temperature, check it with a digital thermometer which can be bought online or from pharmacies or supermarkets.

“A normal temperature in babies and children is about 36.4C, while a fever is a high temperature of 38C or more.”

In most cases, Dr Ringland said, it is possible to look after a child at home when they have a fever.

It is important to encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids, give medication such as paracetamol and ibuprofen to reduce fever, give them food and watch out for signs of dehydration.

These include dry nappies and sunken eyes and warrant medical attention.

Dr Ringland recommends checking the temperature and well-being frequently, including overnight, as children can deteriorate quickly.

She said you should seek urgent medical attention if the child:

* is under three-months-old with signs of a fever or a temperature of 38C or higher

* is three to six-months-old with signs of a fever or a temperature of 39C or higher

* has other signs of illness including a rash, as well as a high temperature

* has a high temperature that’s lasted for more than 5 days

* has a high temperature that doesn’t come down with paracetamol or ibuprofen

* is showing signs of dehydration

Dr Ringland continued: “Fever is incredibly common and most children will have a fever at some point.

“Most fevers are due to common viruses or colds and can be managed at home but is it is important as a parent or guardian that we are vigilant for the signs and symptoms of more serious illness and seek prompt medical attention if we are concerned.

“At Kingsbridge Private Hospital Private GP department, I see children with fevers weekly and in the majority of cases am pleased to be able to offer parents reassurance.

“As a mum, I appreciate that it’s difficult to assess your own children, so if in any doubt, please don’t hesitate to seek a medical opinion.

“Early intervention is key in treating sick children.”

Always adhere to dosage recommendations when giving your children medication and do not exceed maximum dosage in 24 hours.

Do not give aspirin to under 16s.

Do not give paracetamol to a child under two months and do not give ibuprofen to a child under three months or under 5kg.

Do not give ibuprofen to children with asthma.


* has a stiff neck (reluctance to turn head)

* has a non-blanching rash (doesn’t fade when you press a glass against it)

* is bothered by light/dislike of bright lights

* has a fit (febrile seizure) for the first time

* has unusually cold hands and feet

* has pale, blotchy, blue or grey skin

* has a weak, high-pitched cry that’s different to their normal cry

* is drowsy (falling asleep outside of norm or is hard to wake)

* fast breathing or indrawing (tummy being sucked in under ribs)

* has a soft spot on their head that curves outwards (bulging fontanelle)

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