The Holiday That Almost Wasn’t

I decided to try my hand at competing in a British Sugarcraft Guild (BSG) show, and found a category to my liking at the Sugarcraft Southwest event in Taunton on April 18, 2015. So I registered for the cupcake category and registered Peo to enter a kids’ cake. We worked very, very hard on our entries in the weeks before the show, as you can see from my cake blog entry on it here.

cupcake toppers in box

Miniature Jack and Jill scenes as cupcake toppers, carefully packed and ready to go.

Corran and I also decided to have the show serve as an excuse to go on a week-long holiday in Dorset, so we rented a National Trust holiday cottage right by the Jurassic coast. We knew we wouldn’t have internet there so we pre-planned tons of activities to do, both indoor and out in case of various types of weather. We also set up for single-night hotel stays just before and after the holiday cottage so we could stay very close to the cake show on the first night and then in Milton Keynes on the way back home since the rented car meant a good opportunity to shop at IKEA and Costco.

All of this had been pre-paid, pre-planned, and arranged in advance.

On Thursday morning, Robin – who had been coughing through the night and seemed to be losing her voice – “helped” with the packing by climbing into my bag and refusing to get out.

Robin in my bag.

“All the attention for meeeeee!”
Later I’d look back and think that this could have been the last photo of her.

Even aside from Robin in the bag, it’s hard to pack stuff with two kids running around, especially when one is too young to understand about helping and the older one is so excited as to have gone completely spare. But I figured, “No problem, I’ve already written a mostly-complete list of what we need, I’ve got the kids’ clothes packed and ready, and I can finish packing when they’re in bed tonight after I get home from the Cambridge BSG meeting.”

Corran got home early so we could eat dinner early so I could get to my meeting on time. Robin was still very hoarse and making rattly coughs, but kids do that a lot in the spring so nobody was concerned.

I went to my meeting in a very good mood because I was excited that my entry for the show had turned out pretty well and because the prospect of a holiday is always fun. I was cheery enough that I snapped some cheeky pictures in the loo of the church where the local BSG meets because I thought I might blog a public service message to the world that bathroom door stops should not be brown and lumpy. After all, this is a loo-themed blog.


I seriously thought this was poo on the floor when I first entered the room.


It really is just a doorstop. A very poorly designed door stop.

The meeting included annual business of the club, so there were calls for people to step up and take on roles to relieve some of the folks who have been doing it for years, and there was little interest in helping other than from myself. I enthusiastically said I’d help out even though I can’t be a committee member because I haven’t been a regular member for a year yet. I offered to help them build a basic website so more people could find them. I offered to start a Cygnets monthly meetup (the kids’ version of the British Sugarcraft Guild) despite the club’s heads telling me about all of the obstacles in the way of that. I made promises of being available and helping out in many, many ways.

Then the chairperson began a demo on how to make a particular kind of flower, and a short time into it my phone started vibrating. I thought that very odd since Corran knew I was at a meeting and would not generally interrupt it. In the time it took me to see that it was indeed him calling, the call went to voicemail, but I thought that was strange enough that I’d better excuse myself and go call him back. So I politely left the room and went around the corner.

I kept dialling him but kept getting his voicemail on the first ring, indicating that he was still leaving me a message. The longer that went on, the stranger it was, and I started to worry. Eventually I went to text him to say I couldn’t get through, and that’s when I noticed these texts from him:


My blood ran cold. I texted him back:


And then I kept trying to call, getting more and more worried.

Finally my phone vibrated to tell me there was a new voicemail. I picked up the message and heard Peo telling me in a teary voice to come to the hospital – which was just down the street from the cake club meeting. She didn’t say why, but I could hear sobbing in the background, and I couldn’t tell who it was but it sounded like an adult, not a baby.

In that moment, I thought Robin had died, Corran was sobbing, and somehow Peo had gotten his phone to call me.

Which really doesn’t make sense now that I think about it in a more calm, and rational mindset. But it’s what my panicked brain concocted and ran with.

Then on the message I heard a strange man’s voice say, “Hello? Is this mum? Hello? Is anyone there?”

And that’s when I hung up on the message and ran for the door. I called out a panicked apology to the rest of the meeting as I barrelled through the room, saying my baby was being brought by ambulance to the hospital and I didn’t know if she was still alive.

Fran, the Cambridge BSG secretary, offered to drive me and for once I didn’t try to turn her down. In only a few minutes she was dropping me off at the emergency entrance. I thanked her – I think – and ran inside.

There were people all around, mostly sitting and looking bored. I ran past them. I didn’t join any queues or anything. I went right up to the first open desk I saw and said I didn’t know where my baby was. Because that was a totally useful thing to say, right?

I wasn’t exactly having my Best Moment.

Of course, emergency room (or as it’s called here, accident and emergency of A&E) staff are fairly used to dealing with people panicked to the point of stupidity, so they calmly got me to give them Robin’s information and tell them what was going on. She wasn’t there, but they could see an ambulance had been sent out, so they brought me back to a separate waiting room and brought me a cup of water.

Once in that room, totally alone, I experienced the “narrowing” I’ve read about from other parents who have had kids with terminal illnesses. That’s when all of that little stuff you’d been thinking about – whether it was keeping a mental list of toiletries that need packing and worrying about not forgetting the nail clippers, or being amused a poo-like door stops, or thinking about global political situations – is just gone. Gone. At some point it occurred to me in a fuzzy way that the vacation was off and I’d have to go home and throw out my cupcakes for the entry, because I was never going to enter a cake show again, but even all of that was ephemeral.

Because I was pretty sure my baby was dead.

In between bouts of crying I tried to reconnect with that voicemail, because it was 4 minutes long and I’d only listened to 30 seconds or less of it. I thought maybe on there someone would say Robin was fine. Or that she wasn’t. Or some other scrap of information that wasn’t about just sitting in a room not knowing.

As I dialled I thought, “Maybe I shouldn’t do this. Maybe I should live a few more minutes with the possibility that she’s not dead.”

But I had to know, so I dialled…

…and got no connection, because I was deep in a concrete building.

I closed my phone and sat staring at the walls. I don’t remember what was on them.

A man suddenly poked his head in the room and I leapt to my feet. He said he was another paramedic and wanted to let me know that yes indeed, an ambulance was bringing Robin in. I think I asked if she was dead because he went into “calm the mother down” mode and said she must be fine, because nobody had called the “red line”. Apparently if an ambulance is coming in with someone who is dead or dying, they alert the “red line” so hospital staff can be right and ready as soon as the patient arrives. He said if they didn’t call that, her situation couldn’t be that bad. He told me not to worry and headed back out.

I worried anyway, but with slightly less panic.

Only slightly.

A few minutes’ worth of an eternity later, I heard Corran’s voice followed by Peo’s, and I leapt up once more just as they came around the corner. There, in Corran’s arms, was a half-naked but very much alive little Robin.

I grabbed her and held her as the story on all sides got explained out.

Corran had the girls in the bath when Peo reported that Robin’s chest was sucking in. I’d looked up croup earlier and told Corran that if her cough turned into croup, everything on the internet said to watch for indrawing at the base of the throat. I’d checked Robin through the day and she’d had no sign of it. The web sites had mentioned that in severe cases, the indrawing moves to the chest area as well. So when Corran looked at Robin – who was otherwise playing in the tub – and saw that whenever she tried to cough her whole chest sunk in, he called 111. On that call as soon as he mentioned the indrawing, they upgraded the call to 999 and sent an ambulance.

Corran had texted me while waiting for it to arrive, then got Robin out of the tub and dried her and got her jammies on, and sent Peo to get herself dried and dressed.

In the ambulance the paramedics put a mask on Robin, which apparently made her howl, but because of the mask it was muffled which is why it didn’t sound like her when I heard it over the phone. Meanwhile Corran had dialled his phone for me and told Peo to leave a message to tell me to come to the hospital.

As he pointed out later, if Robin had been dead, nobody would have been phoning me in that moment. They’d have been coping with the emergency as it unfolded.

As this was told to me, Robin tried to cough and I saw her chest cave in. It was horrific; her whole sternum going indented into her chest. I’ve since Googled for videos or images to try to show you what this looks like but I can’t find one that is as severe as what Robin had. I’ve also learned that there’s a 12-point scale for croup where 9 through 11 are increasingly severe indrawing and that Robin was around 11. 12 is dying.

But thankfully we were now at a hospital and had medical staff monitoring her. She was safe enough at that point that she was lower priority than the other kids coming in with bleeding head wounds and fevered infants, so we waited a few hours before a doctor finally came to see us. He ordered a steroid for her and then had us stay an hour more for observation, during which time she improved to the point that she was only indrawing before a sneeze.

At the shift change, another doctor deemed her okay to go home. We mentioned about the intended holiday and were told we should still go, that Robin would be fine and that the sea air might actually be helpful. They said as long as we knew where the closest hospitals were – and I already knew that in the Google map I’d planned out since I knew we wouldn’t have internet – that we should go and have fun.

It was very surreal to start once more contemplating a cake show and a holiday at 1:30 am in a taxi ride home from a hospital.

I slept in Robin’s room that night, still spooked and needing to hear her breathing every time I stirred (which was often), but she was fine.

So Friday morning Corran went and picked up the rental car while I haphazardly threw things in bags, then we tossed it all in the car (except for the cake entries, which were of course placed on laps for highly controlled handling), and we drove off for Taunton. Robin was still hoarse which made for a quiet trip, but she didn’t fuss and seemed content to either stare out the window or nap.

And then the next morning in the hotel room before the cake show, she found religion.


“I don’t know what this book is but it has shiny words on the cover and floppy pages inside so it must be good!”

So…yeah. We got to have our vacation and Robin’s fine, tearing apart the living room in between beeping my nose as I type this entry.

So prepare to be pic-spammed with gorgeous Dorset and Wiltshire scenery over the next few posts, and go hug your babies a little extra today because the future isn’t as well-planned as you think, except when it is.

Freaky, huh?