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.

A story of a peanut-eating toddler and four hospitals on five Caribbean islands. Part 2.

This is part 2 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. Out of all the stressful times we had during this ordeal, this day described below was probably the worst to deal with mentally. You can read Part 1 here that explains what happened before this anxiety-filled day that even included an emergency helicopter ride to another island.

December 12, 2019

After a week spent in Anguilla (where Lily’s peanut inhalation actually happened) and St. Barthelemy, we were back home in Guadeloupe again, after flying in the night before from St. Martin. On our first full day back we managed to get a last-minute appointment for Lily at our regular medical clinic for around 11.30 a.m.

The doctor we saw there was a new one for us. At first he wasn’t phased about Lily’s strange breathing: He told us that as the girl was already on antibiotics and steroids due to the pneumonia, we could just wait it out until the end of the course to see if she would heal well. I mentioned my worries that maybe the was still a piece of a peanut stuck in her lungs, causing the infection – the doctor said that even if there was, it would just “decompose and disappear” on its own. FYI: No. That’s not how things work in the lungs… There is no stomach acid there that would break food down.

After listening to the toddler’s breathing for a while longer, the doctor changed his mind: He said the breathing did sound a bit unusual, so it would be best to check it out. He told us to go to the ER of the pediatrics ward at the local hospital CHU, i.e. Centre Hospital Universitaire Pointe-a-Pitre.

Knowing that CHU visits tend to take hours, I passed by the McDonald’s drive-thru lane before driving to the hospital. J-F went to work to wrap stuff up, and said he would meet us at CHU in an hour or two.

On the way to the hospital Lily was still a happy camper.

So Lily and I arrived at the hospital and registered with the secretary, explaining the situation. We then sat in the waiting room surrounded by other kids and their parents, eating our lunch. Around 1 p.m. a staff member noticed that we were eating fries and told me not to feed Lily anything – they wanted to keep her stomach empty for any tests they might run. Breastfeeding was also not allowed, which was a major bummer since that always comforted her in times of stress.

Around 2 p.m. we got invited into a preliminary interview. The nurse then asked us to move into the waiting room inside the ward. From there we eventually got moved into our own room that had one hospital bed and a few chairs. At this point Lily started crying and getting cranky, as it was nap time. Some nurses came to tell me they actually wanted her to fall asleep so they could run a CT scan on her throat and lungs easier.

But Lily was too anxious to sleep under the bright lights of the hospital. I walked with my screaming toddler back and forth to the general waiting room every five minutes to check if J-F had arrived as I had no phone service. I was getting pretty frustrated that it was him taking so long. The other people in the waiting room also got very tired of me yelling out, “J-F, are you there??” They always responded, “No!” But after a while a nurse came to hook Lily up to an IV drip with a cannula through the back of her hand and then put some wires on her big toe, so we could no longer move away from the bed at all.

Luckily when Lily’s dad finally arrived to the waiting room around 2.45 p.m., people immediately yelled out, “J-F!!” From this enthusiastic response, he knew to come look for us inside the ward. He found us in our room, with Lily crying hysterically and me getting more desperate by the minute as I was trying to calm her down without much success. She was furious at having been tied down to the bed and was attempting to rip off the cords. But after about a half an hour she did fall asleep.

Unfortunately Lily’s nap was a very short one.

Some 10 minutes later the nurses came to push Lily’s bed into the CT scan room. She was lifted up and placed inside the scanner tube. Unfortunately all the commotion was a bit too much and she woke up just as she was about to have her scan. Ahhh. Needless to say, this lead to a major crying fit. In fact the kiddo was so upset hat I didn’t think the scan would work out at all. She screamed and resisted big time. But somehow we managed to get her to stay still for a brief moment and got the scan done. Phew. We moved back into our hospital room to wait for the results.

It was around 4.30 p.m. when a nurse came into the room to tell us the results of the CT scan. Sure enough, the scan had shown there was a peanut in Lily’s trachea, i.e. the wind pipe! Ahhh, why was I not surprised at all?! “Le cacahuete est bien logee,” the nurse said. I took this to mean that the peanut was properly stuck in there. She smiled a bit and looked at Lily and said that little children like her should not be eating peanuts. (Yeah, we had missed the memo on peanuts not being recommended for kids under 5.)

Based on the nurses somewhat lighthearted behavior, I didn’t think that our child’s case was anything too challenging or out of the ordinary. Thus I was very surprised when two doctors came into the room afterward and they looked very, very serious.

Speaking pretty good English, the two women explained that the situation was quite complex. The peanut piece was blocking the entry to Lily’s right lung, meaning that she had only been breathing with her left lung for the past 5.5 days.

The CT scan finally showed the peanut that was stuck in her trachea.

Taking it out in a bronchoscopy would be difficult, they said, as there was a risk it could cut off her airways altogether. “But we cannot leave it there either,” they said, as that would lead to the lung perishing away and Lily’s health deteriorating further.

I started to panic. So what were they suggesting to do?! Neither of these sounded like good options. I couldn’t believe that we were in this super crappy situation without an obvious, clear solution. Tears started running down my face as I hugged my little daughter as tight as I could.

After a brief pause the two doctors said that due to the severity of the situation, they were considering sending Lily to Martinique with a helicopter. Apparently the hospital on this other French island had a better pediatrics’ ward with more specialists on site. That way, should complications arise during the bronchoscopy, the doctors there would be better equipped to deal with them.

If in fact this plan was to be chosen, the doctors said, one of us could go in the helicopter with Lily. We quickly decided it would be me, and J-F would follow us on a regular commercial flight the next morning.

“Sounds like a plan, so let’s go! What are we waiting for?”, I thought. Apparently I wouldn’t even need a passport to fly there with the hospital helicopter. J-F could bring our passports with him the next day, as well as some clothes.

The doctors left our room and said someone would come back to us with an answer soon as to what we would do. I was relieved that we at least had some hope in the horizon for solving the situation. But unfortunately soon after this is when things took a more chaotic turn, with plans changing left and right over the next several hours.

Lily was not happy anymore after many hours spent at CHU.

First off, in about a half an hour, someone came in to tell us that indeed Martinique it was. Lily and I would be taking off later that night.

Then an hour later, around 6 p.m., another doctor came to tell us that in fact the hospital thought it would be best to fly there only the next morning instead of that night since it was already dark. Lily and I could stay overnight in another room at the Guadeloupe hospital so that Lily’s health could be monitored. Okay, fine, I thought.

But then at 8 p.m. we got some alarming news: the docs had decided that it was urgent for Lily to be flown to Martinique that same night after all. Unfortunately there would be no space in the helicopter for me to join for the one-hour flight, as a regular doctor, an emergency doctor and a nurse would need to fit in too. Lily would need to travel alone, and stay in the Martinique hospital overnight by herself. She would undergo the bronchoscopy either immediately after arrival or the next morning, depending on her condition.

We, her parents, would need to purchase our own flight tickets for the next day if we wanted to join her in Martinique.

“What??! No way! I am not letting my baby travel alone. She’s only 1.5 years old! She can’t. That is not an option!”, I screamed.

“You have no choice. It’s an emergency,” said the doctor, the same woman who had just told us we would fly in the morning because it was safer to fly in daylight. Now she had a different tone altogether. She explained that while the peanut was currently blocking the entry to just one of the lungs, “it could shift at any point and block the other one too.” That’s why it was crucial for Lily to be transferred to Martinique tonight already, she said, and the helicopter would be full. The doctor left us alone shortly after delivering this disturbing news.

These sad times were some of the longest hours of my life.

The evening hours at the hospital were a blur – and there ended up being many of them, as we all stayed around until midnight despite the helicopter transfer being classed as “an emergency”. That is Guadeloupe and the Caribbean for you – everything takes ages.

I cried a lot, sometimes yelling out loud in anger and then sobbing quietly. I held my baby even more tightly than before. She cried non-stop too, until she ran out of strength to do so and finally fell asleep. I also felt like the worst mother for having to keep her from breastfeeding despite all her cries. She just looked so sad and couldn’t figure out why I was doing this to her.

At some point another doctor came in to introduce herself – she would be one of the people flying to Martinique with Lily. She showed a few toys that she planned to bring along for the flight, which was nice of her. I also asked her about Lily’s antibiotic treatment that she was supposed to be on – could I give that to her now so that her course wouldn’t get disrupted? (I had asked about this already hours ago from other staff but had not gotten an answer. Now Lily was already hours behind the schedule.) The doctor gave me kudos for knowing the importance of finishing the antibiotic treatments you are given – “not everyone knows about that” – and she said would get back to me. After some time a nurse came to administer Lily her antibiotics via the cannula as she still wasn’t allowed to eat or drink.

I also insisted on Lily getting an identifying bracelet around her ankle, as she still had nothing on her with her name on it. “Oh, that must have fallen off,” said one of the staff members. Uhm nope, she just never received anything in the first place. After me asking about it a few more times, she finally got her bracelet. It was quite alarming that I had to stay on top of so many things that really should have been the hospital’s responsibility.

This was after things were finally kicked into gear, after hours of waiting.

At some point, around maybe 10 p.m., J-F called Guadeloupe’s air traffic control tower (where he knows people due to his work). He asked them to contact the pilot of the hospital helicopter to ask if the helicopter really was slated to be full.

Randomly the pilot said there would definitely be space for me to join them, even with all the other people coming. He said he would be happy to take me onboard. That gave me some hope – maybe I would be able to travel with Lily after all. That thought kept me somewhat sane throughout the rest of the evening.

We also found out from the air traffic controllers that it might still be a while until Lily’s flight – the helicopter was apparently busy tending to patients in the rainforest of Basse Terre. I actually didn’t mind the delay too much. I figured that the longer it took, the less hours of separation we would have from our daughter (in case I wasn’t able to join on the flight and would need to fly to Martinique the next morning). And since the peanut had stayed stable for five days already, I didn’t worry too much about it suddenly shifting places.

Finally around 11 p.m. one of the doctors showed up in our room again (the one who had said that this was an emergency and that I had no choice). She said it was time for Lily to go. She was surprised when we told her that the helicopter pilot had invited me to come on the flight, too. “Oh? You know him? Well, that’s good. It’s true that Lily is so young that it’s better if one of the parents can go with her.” Yes, I agree!

I was already feeling great relief, but then it all came crashing down when the hospital helicopter staff appeared. It was the friendly female doctor from earlier, a new woman nurse and a new man, who was apparently the emergency doctor. The man got very upset hearing that I wanted to join the flight. “I am not taking any tourists on this flight,” he said with a snark, speaking unusually good English by French standards. He then went on to say that he wouldn’t be able to do his job – “to keep your daughter safe during the flight”- if I was there taking up his working space in the cramped helicopter. “If you want to come, fine. In that case I will just go home to watch TV. That is what I would rather do anyway. Up to you.”

This type of attitude was the last thing I needed after 11 draining hours spent at the hospital. Ugh! I was so angry at his tourist reference – I wanted to be there to hold my child’s hand and to help keep her calm, not to bother anyone. Grrr! But finally I had to accept my fate.

Little Lily being wheeled inside the ambulance.

I figured there was no point in fighting further and making the guy even more upset. Then he would certainly not be motivated to do a good job with Lily, should she need help during the flight. I realized I truly had no choice but to stay behind, as heart wrenching as that was.

Both J-F and I cried when Lily was moved to a narrow upright hospital bed and the nurses started wheeling her along the hospital corridor towards the door. It was such a sad moment: she was really leaving us to go alone to a whole other island 190 km away (118 miles), at the crazy young age of 19 months. Lily herself luckily seemed more intrigued than distraught – she could clearly sense that something different was finally happening after way too many hours spent in that boring hospital room. Plus she was clearly quite sleepy.

The friendly doctor who was going on the flight was nice enough to invite us to tag along for the ambulance ride to the helicopter launch pad. So we got to spend another 15 minutes with our child and to at least help her stay chill during the ambulance ride through the dark streets. The doctor also asked us what shows Lily liked watching on YouTube – I said she preferred Peppa Pig in Finnish. The doctor looked up “Pipsa Possu” on her phone so that Lily could watch it during the flight.

When we arrived at the helipad, the engine of the red and yellow helicopter was already switched on. It was very loud outside and pitch black dark. Lily was wheeled off from the ambulance with her hospital bed and moved towards the helicopter door. We hugged her goodbye a few times and told her we loved her and we would see her very soon. It was helpful to see that Lily wasn’t scared – she was ready for an adventure. Luckily she had always been very comfortable on planes, as she took her first flight with a small rental Cessna when she was just a month old.

“Bye, bye! Au revoir,” the brave little girl said, waving to everyone when her bed was pushed inside the helicopter. It was only after the staff had climbed in and the door was almost shut that I heard her saying in an alarmed tone, “äiti??” (mother in Finnish). I guess she realized at that point that I wasn’t joining her. That broke my heart.

Here she is being pushed inside the helicopter.

J-F and I climbed back into the ambulance and looked out of its window for a few minutes while the helicopter was preparing to take off. I started crying somewhat hysterically when it finally did, just before midnight. Seeing the chopper disappear into the dark night with my baby onboard felt like someone was literally ripping my heart into pieces. It was the worst, also because we had no idea under which conditions we would see our child again.

After arriving back at the hospital with the ambulance, we walked to our car and drove the 15-minute trip home in silence. It was exactly 1 a.m. when we finished booking our airline tickets to Martinique’s Fort-de-France, with our departure planned for 6.45 a.m. Thankfully even such last minute tickets were not that expensive, at 128 euros one-way.

Shortly after this the friendly doctor called J-F and let us know they had arrived to Martinique safely. Lily had been calm and had slept most of the flight. Since she was in good health, the bronchoscopy wouldn’t take place until the next day. So there was even a chance that we would get to Martinique before that.

We quickly packed some stuff for ourselves and for Lily, and tried to sleep for a couple of hours before it was time to head to the airport. Needless to say, this being my first night ever separated from my baby, I did not get much rest at all. I couldn’t help but wonder how she was handling being all by herself in strange settings on another island (one that I had never been to – so Lily even got to Martinique before I ever did).

The helicopter that took my baby away. 😦

The story continues here with Part 3.

A story of a peanut-eating toddler and four hospitals on five Caribbean islands. Part 1.

This is part 1 of the Peanut Saga – one of the worst things that ever happened to me. It’s taken me a while to feel strong enough to write all this down. Yet I wanted to do it, even if only to remember the details myself and to not take a single day with my child for granted. Maybe you can also learn from this and keep this from happening to other young kids, or know what to do if it does happen. I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone. It was very nerve-wracking.

So now it’s been just over a year since our toddler inhaled a peanut into her airways in the Caribbean and at last I feel like I can write about this experience without getting too emotional. Up until now I have felt nauseous just thinking about it or looking at the photos from those crazy days on my phone (yes, this peanut saga went on for several days! But luckily it has a happy ending).

So I hope you “enjoy” this wild tale that involves a toddler, a peanut, an emergency helicopter ride and four hospitals on five Caribbean islands.

As this is a long story, it will be split into several posts.

So here is how it all went down:

December 7, 2019

While we normally live in Guadeloupe (and thus I also run a blog called Guadeloupe Guide), at this point we were on the beautiful Caribbean island of Anguilla with my little family of three: me, my French spouse J-F and our then 1.5-year-old toddler girl Lily. I was there reviewing local luxury hotels for an American website (I know, it’s a hard life but someone has to live it! Or had to… this was obviously pre-Covid days).

Dec. 7 was the last one of our three nights in Anguilla, and we were living it up at the 5-star Manoah Boutique Hotel on the northern end of the island. We had just come back to our spacious room for a bath after doing a night swim at the Olympic-size lit-up pool of the hotel.

Night time swim, anyone?

Around 9 p.m. J-F prepared a typical (albeit a very late) French apero for us on the low-lying mirror table, consisting of beer, nachos and crushed peanuts. Our dinner was to be a store-bought baby meal for Lily and some Ramen noodles for us (fancy, eh!), as those are easy to prepare even in a hotel room without kitchen access. (And we weren’t about to pay those 5-star dinner prices at the hotel’s restaurant – that could easily wipe out my earnings from the whole hotel reviewing gig, hah.)

After seeing the food set up, Lily rushed over to the table and quickly stuffed her mouth with the peanuts and the nachos. I wasn’t too worried about it as she had been successfully eating crushed peanuts since turning one. (At this point I wasn’t aware that whole and crushed peanuts aren’t actually recommended until age 5! It’s better to serve young kids a thin layer of peanut butter on a cracker instead. This reduces their risk of developing a peanut allergy but helps avoid the choking risk.)

Suddenly things took a dark turn. Before Lily had managed to swallow the peanut pieces and the nachos, she also grabbed some noodles. She quickly shoved those into her mouth, too, on top of all the other stuff. And it turned out they were spicy noodles! So she freaked out. Acting in a panic, she took a deep breath and thus inhaled much of the food that was in her mouth. She then started coughing and was clearly struggling to breath. I panicked but instinctively grabbed her onto my lap and slapped her back a few times while she was lying down on my knees, facing the floor. This helped most of the food to come out but clearly not all of it.

The scene of the unlucky peanut incident.

The child’s breathing then became scratchy and wheezy – we could hear there was something stuck in her airways, probably a piece of a peanut or a nacho. She coughed a few more times but nothing more would come out. She calmed down. She remained unusually chill for about 10 minutes but then seemed all energetic and fine again, despite her breathing being labored. Soon she was roaming around the hotel room and playing with the room’s mirrors and the safety deposit box, as usual. We the parents, on the other hand, started frantically Googling what to do if a toddler inhales a peanut. While there were some tricks to try at home, like giving the child a bubbly soft drink in case the food was in fact just stuck in the food pipe, most of the advice seemed to point at going to the hospital. So that’s where we headed too.

Anguilla’s small Princess Alexandra Hospital is located in the center of the island, so it was about a 10-minute drive along the small dark roads for us. When we arrived there after 10 p.m., only one corner of the single-story building was lit up. This is where we found the Accident and Emergency department. We explained the situation, filled out some papers and sat down to wait. There were only a few other people in the small waiting room but it still took about 20-30 minutes for us to be seen. We were then called into the doctor’s room. The man listened to Lily’s breathing with a stethoscope and said he could clearly hear the scratchy sound. He thus ordered a chest X-ray. Before getting it done, we had to pay for the hospital visit at the cashier’s desk. I remember the bill being around 60 euros.

After about a half an hour of waiting in the hallway, we got called into the X-ray room. The room had seen better days – it had paint peeling off the pink walls and the machine itself seemed scruffy and old. We had to hold Lily down on the bed while the machine took a picture of her chest from about a meter above her. Of course at this point Lily started panicking and crying and coughing frantically, so much so that it was hard to get the picture taken. Finally we succeeded though. And magically after she got up from the bed, her breathing seemed normal again. No more heaviness or scratchiness. Whoa! I wasn’t sure if I should be happy or worried about this – after all, we had not seen anything come out of her mouth. Could the peanut have gone further down the trachea (wind pipe) or even into her lungs? Or could it have come up and she had simply swallowed it?

When the doctor told us the results of the chest X-ray a while later, he seemed convinced all was fine. The chest X-ray had showed that Lily’s lungs were clear. “And her breathing is okay now”, he said victoriously. The doc said that ideally he would have also taken a picture of Lily’s trachea, too, but the person in charge of running that particular machinery was off the island at that moment. So if we really wanted to get further consultations, he said we could go to the island of St. Martin the next day and visit the hospital there. But that would be up to us and just an extra precaution – overall it seemed that all was great now. Lily was breathing just fine and the X-ray was clear. (Plus I only learned later on that peanuts don’t often show up at regular X-rays since they are organic material…)

I asked the doctor if it was possible that the peanut could have gone deeper into her lungs during her coughing fit. “No, we would hear it. Her breathing would sound scratchy if there was anything more in her airways,” the doctor reassured me. Plus, again, the X-ray had looked good, he said. So we ended up driving back to our hotel around 11 p.m. and let out a sigh of relief that all seemed to be well again.

Lily enjoyed a good night’s rest after a rough night.

Little did we know at this point that this was just the beginning of the long-winded peanut saga.

December 8, 2019

After a short but fairly well-rested night, we woke up around 6 a.m. to drive to the Anguilla port to catch the day’s first boat to the neighboring island of St. Martin. Lily seemed to be back to her usual energetic self in the car and in the waiting room of the port too. She slept for most of the 20-minute boat ride to the bay of Marigot in St. Martin.

For a while we pondered if we should in fact visit the hospital in St. Martin just in case, but in the end we decided not to. Our kiddo appeared totally okay and normal and was breathing well too. She coughed a few times during the morning in a dry way but it didn’t sound alarming – I figured her throat was just irritated from the previous night’s overload. So once we got to St. Martin, we hopped directly onto the ferry going to the island of St. Barthelemy. I was slated to visit some more luxury hotels there during the next three days.

We spent the day in St. Barth’s catching up with my Swedish friend Veronica who lived there, and visiting a few of the first hotels. We settled into our cute luxury boutique hotel, Les Ondines sur la Plage, where we would stay for three nights. Lily was excited about the hotel’s pool and its nice waterfall.

We were the only guests at the hotel so the pool was all ours.

We also passed by a beach near Gustavia and did a small hike to a beautiful viewpoint. It was incredibly hot and sunny that day and unfortunately we forgot to put a hat on Lily. None of us probably drank enough water either.

Therefore when Lily suddenly developed a fever that night and I woke up to her puking onto the bed and on me at 2 a.m., my first thought was that she was suffering from heat exhaustion. The symptoms all seemed to match what I read online about the impacts of excessive sun exposure.

We gave the poor little thing some of the children’s Doliprane (paracetamol) that we had brought with us. That quickly brought down the fever and she was able to fall asleep again. I soon went to sleep too, of course feeling like a terrible parent for not keeping her out of the sun.

December 9, 2019

Lily woke up seeming completely fine, with no sign of fever or nausea or anything being wrong. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on our ground-level balcony, just in front of the beautiful bay of Grand cul de Sac. Lily also took a morning bath in our jacuzzi tub that lit up with various disco lights. She was loving it.

Around 10 a.m. Veronica took us on a scenic hike along the coast nearby. The plan was to head down to a swimming hole of sorts, but finally the cliffside path looked too steep to descend down with a toddler. So we just admired the views for a bit and then turned back. During the hike Lily was in a baby carrier and wearing her sun hat tightly on her head, and we regularly offered her water to avoid any risk of heat exhaustion.

The rest of the day we kept the little one out of the sun as much as possible, too. During the hot midday hours her dad stayed with her at our hotel while Veronica and I toured some of the luxury properties on the island.

In the afternoon we visited a local playground, where Lily played as happily as ever. In the evening we had drinks by the waterfront in Gustavia and then a nice Thai dinner at the trendy Black Ginger.

Throughout all of this Lily seemed to be totally healthy. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary within her behavior.

One of the hotels we visited this day was the luxury property of Eden Rock St. Barths.

But alarmingly enough, later that night Lily developed a fever again. We didn’t have a thermometer with us, but her skin certainly felt very hot. That got me worried, as this time it clearly could not have been heat exhaustion. We gave her some Doliprane again and a few hours later she fell asleep. Wisened up from last night, I covered the bed with towels just in case. And sure enough, at 2 a.m., Lily woke up to puke on the bed for the second night in a row. At this point I really started to worry and searched for hospital info for St. Barth’s. But as she only puked once and then settled back into sleep, we decided to wait until the morning to see how she would be doing.

December 10, 2019

For the first time since this all started, Lily did not wake up looking healthy or energetic at all. In fact, she looked very tired. She had developed a proper phlegmy cough instead of the occasional dry one she had exhibited here and there over the past few days, and she still seemed feverish. It was definitely time to take her into the local hospital.

I still had a few more hotels to visit before completing my work assignment, so Veronica and I dropped off J-F and Lily at the island’s modern-looking Centre Hospitalier de Bruyn and headed off to my meetings. Needless to say, I was quite absent-minded during the morning and anxiously awaited for some news about my little daughter.

She and her dad got out of the hospital a bit before noon and all we met up at the Hotel Villa Marie Saint-Barth, where we had been invited for lunch. Oh man, it broke my heart to see my baby sleeping on her dad’s arms, totally limp. She just seemed completely exhausted.

Despite our worries, we tried to be cheerful for the lovely lunch at the Hotel Villa Marie Saint-Barth.

J-F told me the doctor’s verdict: Lily had a lung infection in her right lung, i.e. pneumonia! Oh my goodness. 😦 My heart sank upon hearing that. Apparently the doctor had no idea what was causing the infection though, as no foreign object had showed up on the X-ray that morning. (Again, food particles don’t always show up on X-rays….and neither does plastic, FYI.) So the doc had just prescribed steroids plus a week of antibiotics (Amoxicillin) for her and told us to go see a doctor back in Guadeloupe in about a week, to make sure the pneumonia had subsided.

I was pretty upset about the antibiotics – I had hoped that Lily could avoid taking them at least until she was a little older to protect her gut bacteria. But of course at this point we didn’t have a choice. Pneumonia is a very serious condition and you definitely don’t want to leave it untreated.

While we ate our multi-course lunch, the little one got her first dose of the meds (which she hated taking from the get-go). Throughout the day she started perking up and regained some energy. In the evening Veronica and I even had dinner at the famous Le Ti St. Barth, the only cabaret restaurant on the island, and Lily ran around the property and admired all the outfits in the performers’ backstage closet.

Things were looking better but I was still kind of worried – what could have caused the sudden lung infection? I had lingering fears that there was still a peanut hiding in there somewhere…

Le Ti St. Barth serves impressive drinks and has the island’s only cabaret show.

December 11, 2019

We were slated to fly back to Guadeloupe in the evening from St. Martin, so around 10 a.m. we caught the one-hour ferry to Marigot, St. Martin. The boat trip went well again, with Lily sleeping most of the way. After our arrival, our Bolivian friend Edgar who lives in St. Martin came to meet us at the port and drove us around the island for the day. We had a nice Mexican lunch near the famous Maho Beach, known for the dramatic airline landings. We spotted a few planes landing and then drove to the French side. While there, we visited the impressively long beach of Grande Case before our friend dropped us off at the Grande Case airport.

The 45-minute flight onboard the French carrier Air Caraibes went by fast. Lily seemed fine, she fell asleep as she usually does on flights. Once we got back to Guadeloupe, we breathed a sigh of relief: it was great to be home as now Lily could really start recovering. We gave her the antibiotics and she went to sleep early.

A family pic at the famous Maho Beach of St. Martin.

But it didn’t take long for me to notice something was weird about her breathing: it sounded scratchy and raspy again! I wondered if it was just the sound of the phlegm in her throat but somehow I wasn’t convinced. In an eerie way, the sound was familiar – it reminded me of how she had sounded on Saturday night in Anguilla, right after she had inhaled the peanuts and nachos. Oh gosh.

I got concerned and stayed awake a long time listening to the toddler’s raspy breathing. I even recorded a video of the sound, which I sent to my step sister in Finland. She played it to one of the pediatricians at the hospital where she worked, explaining about Lily’s pneumonia diagnosis too. The recommendation I got from there was to go see a doctor again: if in fact there is a foreign object in the trachea, it apparently most often causes aspiration pneumonia in the right lung. That is exactly where Lily had the infection. And, my sister told me, food particles do not usually show up in X-rays. That was exactly what I had been worried about…

The story continues here with Part 2.