When her baby boy suddenly vomited, expelled blood and screamed in pain, Nicole Siew was desperate to find a solution…

Sick baby in hospital

“This was the scariest experience of my life.

It was 3.30am and my 9-month-old baby Nathan was tossing and turning. He started crying shortly after, asking for a cuddle. I picked up him and tried swaying to put him back to sleep.

This didn’t work, so I woke my husband up to ask for help while I went to prepare some milk, thinking that Nathan couldn’t settle because he was hungry.

True enough, my baby drank 180ml of milk in a few minutes.

My husband continued to cuddle and pat Nathan back to sleep, while I went back to bed for a short rest, and to be on standby to take over from my husband, should he need help.

Suddenly, Nathan started vomiting and screaming in a high-pitched tone. I rushed to take the baby from my husband while he cleaned up the mess.

When my baby finally settled down, I placed him back on his bed, but he kept pulling his legs up to his chest and the vomiting started again.

Shocked, my husband and I looked at each other because we knew that something was very wrong. Nathan had vomited up his entire feed. We calmed him down and tried to feed him some water after an hour, but he just couldn’t take any fluids. He simply vomited everything. It was driving us crazy.

The only thing we could do was to wait for the paediatric clinic to open in three hours.

“He pooped. To my horror, there was blood in his stools... This time, he was completely lethargic ― he couldn’t even open his eyes. The doctor advised immediate admission to a hospital.”

Vomiting and bloody stools

At 8.15am, I drove Nathan to the clinic, while my husband went to work. I described the symptoms to the doctor and he thought it could be the stomach flu, or a urinary tract infection.

He prescribed some isotonic fluids, since Nathan had not taken any fluids since he vomited. He also inserted a suppository anti-vomiting pill and attached a urine collection bag to collect a sample to test for UTI.

I brought Nathan home to wait for the results of the test ― it was hard since he hadn’t taken any fluids since 5am.

My instincts told me that it wasn’t the stomach flu, or a UTI. I had a feeling it had something to do with his intestines, but I still had no clue what.

Furthermore, Nathan continued vomiting, despite the suppository. He seemed to be in pain and continued screaming in a high-pitched tone. To calm him down, I turned on the TV and let him watch his favourite nursery rhymes while he sat in my lap, lethargic.

Then, he pooped.

To my horror, there was blood in his stools. I quickly took a picture of it, and rushed back to the paediatrician. Nathan was examined again, and this time, he was completely lethargic ― he couldn’t even open his eyes.

The doctor advised immediate admission to a hospital. Without hesitating, I drove straight to a hospital, with tears pouring down my face.

On the way there, Nathan pooped again ― the bright red of fresh blood.



The diagnosis

At the hospital, the doctor examined him and ordered a number of tests. I was totally panicking, seeing Nathan in such pain and being so lethargic.

After 10 minutes, the doctor asked us if we had ever heard of intussusception. I immediately responded ‘Yes!’ as I had read about it somewhere on social media.

Intussusception happens when one part of the bowel slides into the next, almost like pieces of a telescope. This blocks the flow of food and fluids and can cause swelling and bleeding.

The doctor asked if Nathan was screaming and pulling his legs up to his chest. When we said yes, he ordered an urgent ultrasound.

Unfortunately, we had to wait another two and a half hours for the results while Nathan pooped fresh red blood three more times.

All this while, I kept crying while I was holding Nathan.

The ultrasound revealed that he did indeed have intussusception, and required an immediate enema procedure to fix the blockages in the intestines.

However, there was a 1 per cent chance of the procedure failing, which would mean he would require an emergency operation.

The surgeon then shouted, ‘Code blue!’ and my heart sank… I was screaming and crying and no one was able to calm me down. When the surgeon came to talk to me, I begged her to bring Nathan back to me.”

Code blue

We signed the consent form and the procedure began. Just when I thought everything would be all right, I was asked to turn Nathan over ― his tummy seemed extremely full, like it was going to explode!

I kept calling Nathan’s name, but he didn’t respond and he wasn’t crying, even though his eyes were wide open. When the surgeon poked a long needle through his stomach, my heart skipped a beat.

The surgeon then shouted, ‘Code blue!’ [Ed: This indicates a medical emergency] and my heart sank. I desperately asked her what was happening. Busy trying to save Nathan, she simply answered, ‘You are the 1 per cent.’

At that moment, I looked at my husband who was watching the procedure through the glass door. He kept shaking his head. I nearly broke down. He came in and hugged me tightly.

When the ‘code blue’ procedure began, we were told to leave the room. I was screaming and crying and no one was able to calm me down. When the surgeon came to talk to me, I begged her to bring Nathan back to me. She promised me that she would try her best. I could see tears in her eyes and I knew she could understand my pain.


Family pix

At around 2am that morning, my boy was pushed out of the operating theatre and into the Intensive Care Unit for observation. I rushed in and gave him a hug. I was relieved that he was breathing and had a heartbeat.

The surgeon announced that the operation was successful, and that the damage to his intestines was minimal. But it was still heartbreaking for me to see tubes and lines all over his face and body.

I’m extremely thankful to the surgeon ― she saved Nathan. She is our life saver.

A mother’s instinct

The entire episode flashes vividly in my mind constantly. Every detail. I haven’t been sleeping well ― I’d wake up because of bad dreams and I can’t fall back to sleep again.

I think about what would have happened if I was late admitting my baby to the hospital. I think, if I didn’t have to wait so long at the hospital, would the enema procedure have been successful?

Nathan had been completely healthy and active prior to this incident. His doctor was unsure what caused the illness, but it might have come from a virus.

Looking back, I’ve realised how important it is to send your baby straight to the A&E when he is extremely unwell. And I’m glad I paid attention to the experiences I’d read about on social media.

I hope that all mummies will trust their instincts. You could save your baby’s life.”

Nicole Siew is mum to Nathan, 9 months.

Photos: Nicole Siew

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