NOTE: This writeup is a first-hand account of dealing with an extreme case of croup in a toddler rather than any new medical insights.

Though mostly regarded as relatively benign, my experience with croup reigns as one of the most frightening incidents of my parenting life.

In early October, my oldest son, SweetfaceBoy, developed a barking cough on the day he went to his doctor to have his stitches pulled from his left foot. The doctor diagnosed it as croup. SweetfaceBoy was to not play hard for a day or so and try to talk as little as possible. Despite spiking a fever overnight and staying home from school the next day, within three days he was fine.

A few days later, my nephew, Vonda MaShone (who Supervixen and I are raising), had a less-severe, but still noticeable seal-like cough. He was still able to go to school without a problem.

Then at 12:21 a.m. on Thursday, October 24, 2002, I awoke to my youngest, 22-month-old RunningHammer, struggling with a hoarse, faint cough. Supervixen was the first out of bed, and I was up and out by the time she came in to the room with him in her arms.

His face was a tear-stained mask of wide-eyed fear. The first thing I noticed is that his lips were blue. I slipped on my shoes and took him from wifey. Shaking, he inhaled in short, quick gasps which collapsed his chest cavity slightly, but he hardly exhaled at all. Normally his cry can shatter windows. Now it was barely a whisper.

"He can't breathe," I said. "I'm taking him to the hospital."

With the calmest voice I could muster, I buckled him in to his carseat. ("Don't worry, buddy. You'll be just fine. We'll get you all fixed up.") More chest heaving and collapsing. Worse now. Panic on his face. I started the Volvo, and stomped on the gas all the way to the hospital. At one point, he ceased to make any sound at all. ("You still there, pal?") A squeeze on a bare foot got him complaining again. I got there literally in five minutes.

It is amazing how saying "My son can't breathe" focuses an emergency room like a laser. He was whisked in to the ER and within a minute a respiratory therapist arrivied to give him a breathing treatment. A nurse came in to give him a shot. To my little guy's credit, he had a lot of fight in him, twisting and squirming away from the tube of mist being blown in his face. I took this as a good sign.

"I think it's an asthma attack," I told the therapist.

"Nope," she said after listening to him cough. "It's croup. Listen. The cough is in his throat. His windpipe is inflamed."

She added that this was the second one she'd seen that day. Apparently there was some virus going around carrying it. When I asked why my other boys were not as badly affected, she said babies and toddlers are not as strongly developed to combat the sickness, whereas older children can almost shrug it off.

A doctor came in a few minutes later. He ordered another treatment and then x-rays and said he'd like to keep RunningHammer around awhile for observation. He might stay for a few hours or overnight, he'll just have to see. On his chart my son was listed in guarded condition.

We were shown to a separate room in the ER, not a curtained cubicle. Another treatment followed, which RunningHammer tolerated well. We rode in a wheelchair to x-ray, which the little guy apprehensively enjoyed. Several attempts were made by the x-ray tech before he could get a shot he could use. We were wheeled back.

An unexpected side effect of all the medicine was that it turned him into a wired, amped, hyper little boy, only wanting to play with the two Hot Wheels cars and super ball I had stashed in his diaper bag.

Finally, the head ER doctor came in and said based on the medicine he had and x-rays, RunningHammer had not improved as significantly as he would've had liked. So, erring on the side of caution, he was admitted at 3:30 a.m., still in guarded condition.

More paperwork. Another phone call to update Mommy. A sip of juice. Diaper refreshment. We had our own room. Unfortunately, the crib was one only Hannibal Lecter would love so I walked with him for a while until he put his head on my shoulder. At 4:30 a.m. he fell asleep, oblivious to the nurses that came in to install a cool air humidifier, take his temperature and listen to his throat.

Supervixen came to relieve me the next morning so I could go to work. RunningHammer had eaten some breakfast by this point, but was still raspy. Kisses and hugs and off to the rock pile.

Observation throughout the next day, a few more x-rays and breathing treatments and at last he was discharged at 7:00 p.m. Friday night. By that time, I'd put a cool-air humidifier in his room and he had a nice long sleep in his own comfy crib.

Like I said, no medical insights, but if you have a little one and suspect the croup, invest in a cool-air humidifier, pay attention and as soon as things turn south, head to the doctor.