A story of a peanut-eating toddler and four hospitals on five Caribbean islands. Part 4.

This is part 4 of the Peanut Saga – the final part. This is the story of what happened when our 1.5-year-old toddler inhaled a peanut into her airways in the Caribbean. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here. In this final recap you can read how Lily’s recovery went after the peanut got extracted and what medical costs we incurred from this whole ordeal that spanned over 11 days.

December 15, 2019

After a few days of hospital life in Martinique, Lily was recovering so well that we had been given permission to leave the medical facility for 24 hours. So on Dec. 15 we finally got to see a bit of this French Caribbean island that is known to be the sister island of Guadeloupe (where we normally live and from where I also write a blog). Luckily for me, my Finnish friend Meri is a tour guide in Martinique and runs her own company, Anoli Tours, so Lily and I got to tag along on one of her minivan tours. We mainly toured the southern half of the island together with a young Canadian couple. We visited places like the viewpoint of Le Diamant and its accompanying long beach, and the slavery memorial of Cap 110. We also went to a few beaches where the Canadians hoped to see turtles, but had no luck.

I was relieved to see that Lily did really well all day and was full of energy again. It was hard to believe that this was the same kid who had been so lethargic just 48 hours earlier! She was splashing around in the water so much that the identifying sticker in her hospital anklet even fell off. I took this as a good sign that soon hospital life would be completely behind us!

At night we had to return back to our hospital room, though, since our 24 hours of freedom were over. Aww. But Lily was also excited to meet her little buddy at the hospital again, the boy with the arm cast, and to push her favorite hospital doll in the stroller again.

A fellow Finn and a certified Martinique tour guide Meri of Anoli Tours showed us around her home island of almost 10 years.

December 16, 2019

We received the same measly hospital breakfast of hot chocolate powder and a piece of bread as before. Technically it was all for Lily – I should have organized my own brekky – but luckily she was friendly enough to share.

Randomly for lunch Lily was only offered a clear liquid soup. I asked what was up with that – this little bowl of salty water would certainly not be enough to sustain her for the whole day. The hospital food delivery person said it was because Lily had “just been in an operation” so she wasn’t allowed to eat solids yet. Hmm, what?! I commented that in fact her operation was three days ago and she had been eating tons of solids after that already, including chicken the hospital gave her on the night of the operation. The woman looked confused and said she would double check what was going on. Soon after that she brought over a new tray with some proper foods, including some macaroni and beef in a sauce. That was better.

Sometime during the day Lily was wheeled in for an X-ray again to see check on the recovery of her right lung. All looked great, and also the air bubble on her chest had gone down quite substantially. It was starting to look like we could return back home soon!

I was told to go to the hospital’s social security department to discuss the details of our return back to Guadeloupe. Lily was able to stay with the nurses at the ward while I did that. I was pretty confused throughout the whole French language chat that included some bureaucratic terms. But from what I understood, the hospital would pay for my ticket back to Guadeloupe! Wow, I was not expecting that. I was also told that they would refund me the 128 euros that I had already paid for the inward ticket to Martinique and the 225 euros that J-F had paid for his roundtrip ticket. Okay then! (In the end it took about 10 months to get our flight refunds, but oh well – it was a nice surprise to get the money back in the first place.)

The clerk asked me when I would like to fly back to Gwada, saying that Wednesday, Dec. 18, would be the earliest option but she recommended Dec. 19 (for whatever reason). I told her we preferred Dec. 18 as we were missing home quite a lot already. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay until Dec. 19?”, she asked. Uhm, yeah, pretty sure. It had been a long enough of a stay on the neighboring island! She said okay and that she would call us back when the tickets were issued.

The hospital dinner. The clear liquid on the upper right-hand corner was initially all Lily got. Hmm…

Since I had my Finnish friend living in Martinique, the hospital agreed to discharge us for our final two nights on the island. We could stay with Meri and would just need to come back tomorrow morning to take care of the rest of the hospital paperwork. That sounded good to me! Meri and her daughter came to pick us up and stayed with Lily in the pediatric ward while I went to get our official hospital exit permits. We then said our goodbyes and thankyous to the nurses of Lily’s ward. It was a little sad but we were also happy to be free again. Unfortunately Lily’s little hospital buddy wasn’t around when he left. Hopefully he wasn’t too upset to notice that Lily had been released, and that he recovered fast!

December 17, 2019

After a night spent at Meri’s place, we started the day by driving back to the hospital to pick up the remaining paperwork from the front desk. Mainly it was just Lily’s diagnosis statement and a document that her and I were on “sick leave” for another few days, which wasn’t really necessary since we didn’t have any obligations to be anywhere anyway.

I also thought I would receive some bills to pay but nope. It turned out that all of the costs of Lily’s operation and her stay were covered either by the French social security system that is funded by taxes, or by our mutuelle – our supplementary voluntary private medical insurance. Without this additional insurance, this surely would have been a costly adventure (though nowhere near what it would have cost in the USA of course – I know of a child whose challenging almond removal operation in Maine came to a whopping $25,000! Granted, hers was a complex case that resulted in actual lung surgery, which we were lucky to avoid).

Apparently just the one-hour helicopter ride that Lily took from Gwada to Martinique normally costs around 10 000 euros ($12,000), of which around 70 percent is covered by the French social security system. The remaining three grand is on the patient’s own dime, unless they have a mutuelle like we did. Phew.

One night in a French hospital can cost anywhere from 1,300 to 3,000 euros – of which, again, some 70 percent would be reimbursed later on by the secu. So with an extended stay like ours in the pediatric ward, that all would add up. We were very happy to have our supplementary insurance, which costs around 120 euros per month for our family of three.

(For low income families, there are apparently special government programs that can help you pay these types of big medical costs. And some French residents just choose not to pay the medical bills they receive – if they manage to ignore and avoid the bill collectors for four years, the bills are considered expired.)

After this brief hospital detour we spent the rest of the day visiting the center of Fort-de-France and the beaches of Trois Ilet with Meri’s daughter (as Meri herself had another tour to guide). It was nice to finally see the famous capital of Martinique: FDF (population 82,500) is said to have a much more urban and French feel than Guadeloupe’s best known city, the run-down town of Pointe-a-Pitre.

Parts of Fort-de-France made me feel like I was in a much bigger city.

I do have to agree with this – FDF is a nice city for sure. The waterfront playground for kids was also a sweet touch: while it was basic, at least it had swings! (A fun fact: swings are practically impossible to find in Guadeloupe. This is a big source of disappointment for Lily.)

Taking the boat across to Trois Ilet was a fun activity, too. The marina we arrived to reminded me a lot of the Marina Bas-du-Fort in Guadeloupe, and the little beaches of Trois Ilet brought to mind the hotel beaches of Guadeloupe’s Pointe de la Verdure in Le Gosier. The two kids and I thoroughly enjoyed the day. It was such a nice way to end our impromptu medical trip to Martinique.

December 18, 2019

The 11-day peanut saga was officially ending – we were flying back to home to Guadeloupe at last. Meri dropped us off at the airport sometime after 10 a.m. so that we would be there well in time to catch our flight around 12.45 p.m.

There were beautiful Christmas decorations at the airport. I was excited to finally start focusing on the upcoming holidays instead of dealing with all this peanut drama!

I was also extremely thankful to be doing this trip back with a healthy toddler by my side. At this point you never would have guessed all the horrors that Lily had gone through recently. Her chest bubble had totally disappeared, too. She ran around the duty free shop in her usual wild way and popped an M&M flashlight on the counter when I was paying for some snacks. The clerk rang it up before I had a chance to say anything. Oh well, she certainly deserved a little gift for having been so brave!

The Air Antilles Express flight back went fine and Lily slept through the whole 45 minutes. Back in Guadeloupe she was super happy to be reunited with her dad. And vice versa!

We still had a few days left of the antibiotics after this but aside from that there wasn’t much reminding us of the misadventures of the past few weeks. All had ended better than we ever could have hoped for.

And now, more than a year later, we are still keeping Lily far away from any peanuts!

With the Peanut Saga behind her, she was ready for Christmas.

A story of a peanut-eating toddler and four hospitals on five Caribbean islands. Part 3.

This is part 3 of the Peanut Saga – the story of what happened when our 1.5-year-old toddler inhaled a peanut into her airways in the Caribbean. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. This part picks up from the point where little Lily had been airlifted to Martinique at midnight and we were following her with a regular flight the next morning. It also tells the story of what happened in the Fort-de-France hospital – her fourth in six days.

December 13, 2019

After barely sleeping, J-F and I woke up at 4 a.m. and headed to the Pointe-a-Pitre airport in Guadeloupe around 4.30 a.m. We got there before 5 a.m., making us the first people to line up in front of the check-in desk of Air Antilles Express. The check-in didn’t even start until shortly before 6 a.m., but we had been too anxious to stay at home any longer.

The 45-minute flight left on time and was uneventful, other than there being a bit of turbulence. Upon arrival in Martinique’s capital, Fort-de-France, we immediately looked for a taxi. We were directed to a minivan, which seemed excessive for just two people, but oh well. There was some heavy morning traffic going on and the multi-lane highways seemed quite wide compared to those of Guadeloupe. For a while I even felt like we had arrived to a real urban metropolis in Brazil or somewhere. But I am sure that is a feeling you only get when arriving from another small Caribbean island.

I had heard a lot of good stuff about the new and modern University Hospital of Martinique (CHU – Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Martinique). Thus I was quite surprised when we pulled up in front of an old-looking white-gray building with black mold lines on its exterior walls.

The inside of the hospital had seen better days too, with paint peeling here and there. It also rained shortly after our arrival and the hallways inside got wet from the water through leaking windows. I can’t say that I was that impressed with what I saw (I only found out afterward that the triangle-shaped fancy new hospital that everyone raves about was located behind this building. But this older building houses the pediatrics ward, also known as La Maison de la Femme de la Mère et de l’Enfant).

The pediatric ward functions in this building that was opened in 2008.

Anxious to find our daughter, we rushed around frantically and asked for her from a few different departments until we found our way to the right place. It was around 8.15 a.m. when we finally found Lily in a mint green iron crib in the emergency pediatric ward. The crib’s bars were very high, to make sure the kids cannot escape. It was a sad sight to see her stuck in her little “baby jail.”

When Lily spotted us, she immediately started crying. The poor thing must have been very confused with so many new faces and places. At least now she knew we had not abandoned her! I rushed over to her and picked her up from the crib and cried alongside her.

I could hear from her breathing that the peanut was still very much in there. I was relieved to have arrived before her bronchoscopy took place, but I also felt anxious that we still had no idea when it would happen.

It was also a bit alarming when a nurse came up to us and asked us if we had brought a doctor with us from Guadeloupe. Uhmm, what?! No! I didn’t know this was a “BYOD” kind of a gathering! I thought they had great doctors here in Martinique?! That is why we came here!

“Oh okay, I was just told that you would travel here with your own doctor. But I am not actually Lily’s nurse, so I’m not sure what is going on. Let me go check.” She also told us that Lily had been sleeping soundly the whole night at the ward (“What a dream child!”). I was relieved to hear this. I guess she had been totally exhausted, as she certainly wasn’t such an amazing sleeper at home. Hah.

The nurse’s questions about us bringing our doctor with us were bizarre though, and things didn’t really improve when the anesthesiologist came to greet us around 9 a.m. He was talking about Lily’s case being highly unusual, because the peanut had been in her airways for so long already.

Stuck in her little baby jail.

“We don’t usually have cases like this,” the man said. He added that we had no way of knowing how the lung would behave when the peanut was extracted – would it collapse? Would there be a huge infection? Either way, “it’s an emergency, the peanut has to come out soon for sure.” Okay, so when exactly would she go in for the operation?, I asked.

At this point the anesthesiologist admitted that he had no clue – he had no idea where the operating doctor was. “I mean, he is somewhere on the island for sure, but we are just not sure when he will arrive. But don’t worry, this is an emergency so surely the operation will happen today.”

Hmm, I wasn’t feeling too reassured. On top of it all the anesthesiologist noticed that there was a round patch of raised, puffy skin on the top part of Lily’s chest. It was like a little pouch that was full of air. Hmm, scary. He pressed on it and left the room, saying that someone would be with us shortly.

But then nothing much happened over the next few hours. There was no more news of the doctor. Lily was appearing weaker and weaker, as she still wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything. It pained me so much to not be allowed to breastfeed her, both mentally and also very much physically by this point. She had not even been hooked up to an IV drip since arriving in Martinique at 1 a.m.. I was getting more and more worried. Now she had been without a drop of any liquid for more than 10 hours.

I called for the nurses and said that they needed to at least put an IV drip on Lily. “She is a baby, she needs nutrition. She is just wasting away!” I yelled. I was also annoyed that Lily’s on-going antibiotics course had once again been forgotten – she clearly hadn’t gotten a single dose since leaving Guadeloupe.

The nurses said this was because they couldn’t attach the cannula to Lily hand, as “she has no veins”. What??!! She is a human being so clearly she has veins, I screamed. The nurses also tried to reassure me that “it’s actually better, the more dried up she is before going into the bloc for her operation.” That didn’t sound right to me. Why would it be good to go into an operation being already severely dehydrated and feeling really weak?!

By this point Lily was super exhausted.

I asked the nurses to try to attach the IV drip anyway, and a few of them did try their best. Poor Lily was screaming with all the needles poking at her hand. But unfortunately it was all for nothing – the nurses couldn’t get the cannula attached. The infection had made Lily’s veins too small for them to see.

“This is why the anesthesiologist will need to hook up the IV drip when they go into the operating room. He is the expert,” one of the nurses said before they left the room. But none of us knew how many hours away the bronchoscopy still was.

So far the famous Martinique hospital had not convinced me at all. I was even thinking that if nothing were to materialize by the evening, I would have to jump on a flight to Paris with Lily. If I could just breastfeed her, she would surely perk up at least a little bit and could maybe handle such a long flight, even with the peanut in her throat. The air bubble on her chest did make me worry about flying though, so I really hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

Thankfully at 10 a.m. a nurse came to tell us Lily’s operation would take place within an hour: the operating team was just finishing up another emergency on a newborn. I still wasn’t too hopeful about this timeframe actually being true… but then at 11.15 a.m. things did magically get kicked into gear. Another nurse came to tell us it was time to head into the bloc for the operation. Apparently bloc stands for bloc opératoire, which refers to the operating suite or operating theater.

The nurse asked us to follow her and brought us to the waiting room of the bloc that had many toys around. J-F had to stay outside the room while I went in, wearing the protective gear the hospital gave me (no mask, as this was pre-Covid days). It was at this point that the nurse asked me to double check all the details of Lily’s paperwork.

“Her middle name is spelled wrong by one letter, but that’s fine. Don’t worry about it,” I told the nurse. I just wanted Lily to be able to start her procedure as soon as possible. But the nurse insisted that the operation couldn’t start before all the details were correct. So she left the room to go print out new papers – I really worried that this would cause another long delay.

I checked Lily’s identifying ankle bracelet that she got from Guadeloupe’s CHU and sure enough, her middle name was spelled wrong there too. Ugh. As if we hadn’t spent enough time in the two hospitals for them to check the name details earlier!

I tried to entertain Lily with the toys, but she barely had any energy left to play. In about 20 minutes the nurse came back with the new paperwork. All was fine. “Okay, time to go!”, she said, and opened the door to the bloc at around 11.45 a.m. I saw a big room with a group of nurses and other staff surrounding an older man, who was clearly the doctor. They were discussing something together. I wasn’t allowed to go any further and had to give Lily to their care.

I said goodbye to her once again, and gave her a tight hug. I could hear her crying just before the operating room’s door was closed. She would be administered general anesthesia soon. Strangely at this point I felt calm – no more panic or crying. It was all out of my hands now. At least something was finally happening to sort out this horrible situation. I just had to keep up hope that all would go well.

I found J-F in the corridor and we went to the cafeteria to grab a bite to eat for lunch. It was the first time since Thursday’s McDonald’s lunch, 24 hours earlier, that I actually had some appetite. They had told us the operation might take two hours, so I promised myself not to get overly worried until we had passed that time.

Luckily it never got that far. About an hour later J-F received a call, saying that Lily was in the wake-up room. I felt super happy as we rushed over there.

Lily was in a little blue hospital gown and had a hairnet on as well. She seemed groggy but otherwise okay. She jumped from the bed into my arms right away. One of the nurses came to hand me a tube with the peanut piece in it – “a little souvenir,” she said. “And no more peanuts, okay!”

Phew, I agree! No more peanuts until she turns 18!

Small, but so dangerous!

After this we returned back to the room where Lily had spent the night. Lily got a funny little certificate attached to her bed that congratulated her for undergoing general anesthesia and an operation, signed by her doctors. We never got to meet these doctors in person but I was very grateful for the efficient work they had done.

I still had to wait an hour or so before I could feed Lily to make sure she would be out of her tired state and wouldn’t choke on the milk. But finally I was allowed to breastfeed, and she immediately cheered up. She also started pulling on some cords and magnetic stickers that had been attached to her back and stomach for whatever reason for some additional monitoring. She was clearly on the mend.

We all felt such relief that all had gone well. At some point we were told that the procedure had been fairly straightforward: the peanut was extracted with a rigid tube, and the lung reacted just fine to the removal. The infection in Lily’s right lung was also smaller than initially thought. Phew. But as she still had the air bubble on her chest as a result of her right lung having been overfilled with air, we wouldn’t be able to fly back to Guadeloupe until that bubble would go down. She would also need to continue another week with antibiotics. For the first few days that would be administered through a cannula that had been placed on top of her right foot.

After all the drama of the past days, I didn’t mind having to stay longer in Martinique. I wasn’t in a rush anymore. My Finnish friend Meri, who lives in Fort-de-France with her family, came to visit us in the hospital too (though she wasn’t allowed into the ward – I had to meet up with her outside while J-F stayed with Lily). We agreed that J-F would go sleep at their place for the night as only one parent was allowed to stay overnight at the hospital.

Around 6 p.m., we were moved from the pediatric ER to the children’s recovery floor where Lily got her own room. She was pushed there in her iron crib and cried hysterically – I guess she feared she would be taken for another operation again by herself. She calmed down fast though when she saw it was just her new room. There was a blue pleather lounge chair that converted into a single bed where I could sleep and we had our own bathroom too. Outside there was a common area with lots of toys and a small round table for kids. There was only one little boy in the ward with a cast on his hand, but Lily was happy for the company. She also enjoyed pushing the hospital’s doll around in a little stroller.

For dinner we ordered a pizza, of which Lily ate a little bit too, though the hospital also served her a chicken and rice meal. Then my friend Meri and her daughter came to greet us at the new ward – this time they were even allowed inside. J-F left with them soon after to go to their home to go catch some sleep. Lily and I fell asleep around 10 p.m. at the hospital as well. What a crazy day it had been!

December 14, 2019

It was my mom’s birthday and we managed to call her from the hospital despite the phone reception only working sporadically. She got the best birthday present ever – hearing that her granddaughter was recovering very well.

J-F came to see us around 9 a.m. for a few hours, but then he had to head to the airport as he was catching a flight back to Guadeloupe. We had no idea how long Lily and I would need to stay in Martinique, but we hoped it wouldn’t be that long until we could all be reunited in Gwada.

Lily kept herself busy by pushing this doll around the children’s ward.

The day went by quite slowly in the hospital. Lily played with the toys and her little hospital buddy, and the nurse came to administer her antibiotics. At some point she was also taken for an X-ray to check on the state of her lungs and the air bubble in her chest.

Food-wise we had quite slim pickings: the breakfast was a piece of white bread with butter and some powder for hot chocolate. For lunch we luckily had some pizza leftovers to finish, as for some reason we weren’t given anything from the hospital and we couldn’t go out to the cafeteria to buy stuff since Lily wasn’t allowed to leave the ward.

In the afternoon we received some great news: since Lily was doing so well, we could leave the hospital for 24 hours and go stay with my friend Meri that night. Yessss! I was so happy to get out for a bit. Meri picked us up around 7 p.m. and took us to her place that wasn’t far from the hospital. Lily was excited to play with her two kids and I enjoyed eating a proper meal for a change.

Being out of the hospital meant that Lily could take her cannula out and she was switched over to oral antibiotics. She hated the taste of the powder, so getting her to take the meds three times a day for the next week proved to be a real struggle. But somehow I made it work – it was a pretty small challenge after everything we had already been through.

A cute little certificate. She did it!

You can read Part 4 here to learn more about Lily’s recovery and the costs of this whole ordeal.