4-year-old struggling to breathe had to wait 16 hours in ER amid RSV surge

As an increase in pediatric respiratory illness, especially RSV, overcrowds hospitals across the country, one Oklahoma mom said she waited 16 hours in an emergency room before her daughter received care.

Shelby Templin, 31, knew something was wrong when she picked up her 4-year-old, Jade, from day care on Friday, Oct. 21. That day, Jade needed to use her inhaler, after being diagnosed with asthma about six months prior.

Concerned, Templin monitored her daughter over the weekend, paying special attention to her breathing.

Jade Templin, 4, pictured just a few weeks before she got sick. (Courtesy Shelby Templin)
Jade Templin, 4, pictured just a few weeks before she got sick. (Courtesy Shelby Templin)

By Sunday, Jade was coughing, having trouble breathing and spiked a fever of 103 degrees. When her daughter shared that her throat hurt, Templin decided to call her pediatrician.

"We went into the urgent care connected with our pediatrician's office, and they tested her for flu and strep (throat), just based on her symptoms," the mom of two, who lives in a suburb outside of Oklahoma City, told TODAY. "Both were negative."

The pair were sent home, and Templin was told to monitor her daughter and give her plenty of fluids. But by Monday evening, she said her daughter was getting worse.

Related: These are the most common ways kids get RSV

"It was around 7 at night, and I noticed she was really struggling to breath and coughing so much she couldn't catch her breath," Templin shared. The daughter of a nurse, Templin knew how to monitor respirations and laid her hand on her daughter's chest to count her breaths per minute.

"She was at about 50 — our pediatrician likes it to be 40 or under," she added.

The mom then used an at-home pulse oximeter, which measures oxygen saturation in the blood, that she bought for the COVID-19 pandemic. The reading, 93, was lower than Templin said she thought it should be.

"I called urgent care again, and they said we could come back, but they'd probably send us to the children's hospital anyway, so we might as well just go right there," Templin recalled. "At that point, I loaded her up in the car, and my husband stayed home with our 1-year-old son."

Jade Templin, 4, trying to get some sleep in the emergency waiting room. (Courtesy Shelby Templin)
Jade Templin, 4, trying to get some sleep in the emergency waiting room. (Courtesy Shelby Templin)

That night, on Monday, Oct. 24, Templin drove her daughter to the emergency room at Oklahoma Children's Hospital, part of OU Health, in Oklahoma City.

"When we first got there and checked in, I started talking to other parents in the waiting room," Templin said. "Several of them said they had been waiting for eight or nine hours. At that point, I texted my husband to let him know it was going to be a long night."

'She was getting worse, but not bad enough to be moved up on the priority list'

Every two hours, Templin said a nurse would come by to take Jade's vitals.

"She was getting worse, but not bad enough to move up on the priority list," Templin explained. "So we just waited with four or five other parents with kids my daughter's age, all with the same symptoms and same situation."

Jade was able to sleep on and off. Templin didn't sleep at all, because she had to keep her daughter propped upright in order to help her breathe.

During an earlier vitals check, a nurse — who, Templin said, was incredibly kind and apologetic — informed her that the hospital's pediatric wing was at capacity. This meant that some children had been stuck in emergency room beds for two to three days, causing a backlog and prolonging patient wait times.

More than three-quarters of pediatric hospital beds are full nationwide, NBC News reported on Nov. 8.

"RSV season has come early in Oklahoma ... impacting many of our services, including our Emergency Department," Dr. Cameron Mantor, OU Health physician executive in the children’s division, told TODAY via email. "Hospitals are dealing with constraints around capacity, and as the state’s only comprehensive children’s hospital, Oklahoma Children’s Hospital is in an active response mode around the demand for beds."

"In an attempt to mitigate the spread of RSV, we encourage everyone to practice stringent hand washing practices and to stay home when they are not feeling well," Mantor added.

Shelby Templin holds her 4-year-old daughter upright so she can breathe while waiting to be treated. (Courtesy Shelby Templin)
Shelby Templin holds her 4-year-old daughter upright so she can breathe while waiting to be treated. (Courtesy Shelby Templin)

There was nothing Templin or her daughter could do but wait. Templin said the parents stuck in the waiting room with their struggling-to-breathe children started to rely on each other, forming a bond unlike anything Templin has ever seen.

"It was a bunch of moms there alone with their kids, and we all banded together to get through the night," she explained. "We would watch each other's stuff as people went to the restroom or to get food and kids were sharing iPads. We were making it work, but it was definitely nerve-racking."

At around 4 a.m., Templin said she asked a nurse to tell her exactly how bad her daughter had to get in order to be seen.

"I took a video of her breathing and sent it to my mom just to listen to, and you can just hear the crackling in her lungs," Templin said. "I just kept reminding myself: I would rather be here and have something happen than be at home."

'My mom gut was saying we need to be here'

After 16 hours, Templin said she and her daughter were finally able to be seen.

"They actually put us in a little side waiting room so that we weren't taking up a bed in the main emergency room," Templin explained. "The respiratory therapists came in and gave her a bunch of breathing treatments to get her breathing under control. The doctor came and said they were going to run a full viral panel."

What Templin had assumed was a case of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) was actually an infection with three viruses: COVID-19, parainfluenza and what Templin called a "regular cold virus."

"Our kids have had COVID three times in the last six months," she added. "She had three viruses all at once, wreaking havoc on her system."

Shelby Templin and her daughter, Jade, pictured on Halloween day. (Courtesy Shelby Templin)
Shelby Templin and her daughter, Jade, pictured on Halloween day. (Courtesy Shelby Templin)

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With her daughter's breathing under control, a diagnosis and a treatment plan, Templin and Jade were able to go home late afternoon on Tuesday, Oct. 25.

"On Thursday, we called and talked to her pediatrician because she was still coughing, and we were doing albuterol treatments every four hours," Templin said. "At that point, our pediatrician ordered her steroids to help her breathe."

After five days of steroids, Templin said her daughter was "back to normal." After 10 days, the mom felt confident allowing her daughter to enjoy Halloween night and go trick-or-treating.

Once she was on the other side of the 16-hour wait and her daughter's illness, Templin said she finally allowed the anxiety of the situation to hit her.

"Therapy is wonderful," she said. "My therapist has heard all about it. I knew I had to just get through the night, and as soon as I got home, I crashed and slept for 12 hours. When we got on her steroids, I felt better, but then we were on watch for my son. He doesn't have asthma or breathing problems, but he's quite a bit younger. He just turned 16 months."

Templin encouraged parents in similar situations to "seek out other alternatives" if one hospital is filled to capacity.

"Everyone was super apologetic and understanding, but they couldn't deal with it — the staff kept saying they'd never seen anything like this," she explained. "So knowing what I know now, I probably would have sought out a different emergency room."

The mom also hopes that fellow parents trust their instincts as cases of respiratory illnesses in kids continue to surge.

"I know it seems excessive that we were there for 16 hours, but my mom gut was saying we need to be here," Templin said. "I just knew that if we went home, things could take a turn for the worse."

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This article was originally published on TODAY.com