As RSV grows in Minnesota, reporter Jana Shortal shares her son’s story
Most of the time, it causes mild, cold-like symptoms, but the CDC says two out of every 100 cases can become serious. It is difficult for these very young children. This burdens families and the health system. Now I’m joined by Jana Shortal to talk about her experience. Welcome to Minnesota now.
JANA SHORTAL: Thank you very much. It’s great to be here.
MELISSA TOWNSEND: Yes. It’s good you’re here. Thank you. I said that RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus. But in your Twitter post yesterday, you said RS stands for “real shit.”
JANA SHORTAL: I’m not the creator of words in the family. My wife is. But I felt that yesterday in the waiting room of Dječje. We were at the end of about three days of real debate, should we tax our health care system? And yesterday morning, I just hit a wall– part of it was just grief for my child.
And I don’t have other kids, so just nervousness, “Am I checking the house here? Am I checking to see if he’s okay?” And then again we’re trying to protect our health workers because I know they’re overwhelmed with so many families that need help right now.
When I was sitting in that waiting room and he was snoring and trying to fall asleep on my chest and all those kids were coughing in there– RS, it’s really shit.
MELISSA TOWNSEND: I bet every parent right now is like, uh, huh. What symptoms did you notice in your son that worried you?
JANA SHORTAL: I think the way you described it is correct. My child goes to kindergarten so that his parents can work, so we decided that the kindergarten is cold. And that almost a week ago. And then on Friday night we noticed this wet cough, and I’d say that was the thing that changed the situation.
And then Saturday, Sunday, when he started eating a little, if he ate at all– he would eat formula, but not food, and he’s a very healthy eater. His eyes got red and watery, and then that wet cough. He couldn’t sleep. So at that moment, you know it’s crossed the threshold into the cold, into something else.
And again, because of the work I do, I thought, this absolutely adds to the RSV. But the thing about RSV is you can go to the doctor, you can go to the hospital. And unless your child is one of the two to receive, there is nothing that can be done. They just have to get through it, which then goes into the question, “How do we take care of ourselves as a family? How do we, as middle-aged parents becoming parents for the first time– how do we figure out how to stay well?”
As you can see, my voice is a little bad. It’s hard because you have that secondary effect of then getting sick. I think it just goes around. I have heard from families who deal with this for weeks and weeks, especially if they have more than one child.
MELISSA TOWNSEND: Yes. How old is Zeke, if you don’t mind me asking?
JANA SHORTAL: 10 and 1/2 months, so exactly in the age range of RSV.
MELISSA TOWNSEND: Small. He is small. Have you heard that going around? You said you heard it probably through work.
JANA SHORTAL: Oh, yes. We have done so many RSV stories. And frankly, we’ve all just been conditioned for the last few years to fear and react and understand when COVID is a threat, and then RSV jumps into center stage this fall very early. And it just felt like the impact of a wave.
It happened so fast here in Minnesota. I mean, like I said, my son is in kindergarten, and it’s so contagious. And it’s as if an illness that you didn’t expect until winter came out from behind you because you were still so aware of COVID.
MELISSA TOWNSEND: So tell me about the emergency room. You waited. What did the doctors tell you when you came? How do they check it?
JANA SHORTAL: Yes. So I didn’t go to the emergency room. Children’s Minneapolis has one of the few– at least as far as I know– clinics where you can get a safe same-day exam. And it was so early in the morning that I couldn’t call the pediatrician. And we’re still figuring it all out as first-time parents.
So, my dear, dear friend, Dr. Angela [INAUDIBLE] said, go to this place at Children’s. So I did, and I was probably the first or second person there. And just in the time that I was waiting– because they’re the first to make appointments– I’d guess at least 200 people came through.
As parents, children, either with appointments, or trying to get through – at least twice the waiting room was completely full while he and I were still waiting. It took about an hour and 45 minutes to see. The concern was enormous. I mean, think about it.
I don’t know how many doctors or nurses were there, but there are so many people in their waiting room. I just can’t keep up. But the care was enormous, and they were so, so kind. They immediately tested him for RSV, COVID and flu. And within an hour, they had a positive RSV test.
MELISSA TOWNSEND: Oh, wow. So what is the treatment? What are you doing?
JANA SHORTAL: I mean, I hope so. Go on Twitter and ask people for advice. Basically, like any other trick– you’re really open to anything at this point because he’s so small. He can’t take Benadryl or NyQuil. I mean, you just can’t do that to a baby.
We did everything from going to the bathroom, closing the door, running very hot water and trying to relieve his chesty cough. Stick them over the humidifier and try to get the snot out. Rock it. I love him. Take him for really long walks to get some fresh air, and you just try to get through it.
As you mentioned, I couldn’t go to KARE 11 yesterday only because my wife, I think, hit a wall. Because she’s up with him at night more than I am, because we’re trying to save a few hours for me so I can be well enough to go call. But it’s just– all bets were off in the last five days.
MELISSA TOWNSEND: What did the doctors say about how long this could take?
JANA SHORTAL: I mean, I don’t even want to say it out loud.
MELISSA TOWNSEND: Really?
JANA SHORTAL: Yes. I mean, some kids said– I mean, if you’re like a baby miracle, five days, but he’s on day six now. And he is better than two days ago. The weekend was the worst, and yesterday was quite bad. But it can take up to two weeks in terms of being contagious and/or showing after the effect.
MELISSA TOWNSEND: So what are you and your wife going to do about work?
JANA SHORTAL: Fortunately, he is currently on vacation from his teaching job. And I really don’t like missing work because I don’t think I’ve ever been able to escape the part of the culture that tells a parent they can do anything. And I even worry that one day I will miss being replaced.
The mommy tax we’ve all been through that if we’re gone, someone else will be able to take our position who doesn’t have a child to care for. It may be unrealistic, but I have a lot of anxiety. And historically, that was true.
MELISSA TOWNSEND: Yes. You’re not making this up.
JANA SHORTAL: No, it’s not made up.
MELISSA TOWNSEND: Do you have any advice for other parents who are also going through this? There are a lot of parents in these shoes.
JANA SHORTAL: One of the things– because they can’t prescribe any medication or predict how it will go, but one of the last things the medical team at Children’s said to me before Zeke and I left the exam room was, find either you have a little grace in yourself for how hard this might be and prepare yourself emotionally that this is going to take longer than you think it should.
That doesn’t mean it will happen, but it was advice I never got from a doctor that I should be emotionally prepared for something. I mean, I guess in our experience I was the first to say that this was much harder on my wife than on me because she is more important to him at home than I am at this point in his life. And you just have to hold it like that.
But I think just pay attention to your child. Just because my child wasn’t accepted doesn’t mean yours shouldn’t be. Emergency rooms and walk in clinics– albeit overcrowded– exist for a reason.
I’m thankful I left, even though maybe I didn’t have to. I just needed it for me as a first time parent. Practical tip– as for me, I went to a children’s walk-in clinic.
Go as soon as they open in the morning. Do not wait, because this often happens in emergency cases. If you have a chance, go first thing in the morning because sometimes they close late in the morning because they have so many people. They have enough people in their waiting room by 9:30 to wrap up for the day.
Don’t worry about– like I was told about my kid, just make sure they’re drinking. If they don’t eat, that’s fine. Sometimes we don’t like to eat even when we are sick. It will be better. It just takes some time.
MELISSA TOWNSEND: Well, we wish you and Zeke and your wife all the best and good health and a speedy recovery.
JANA SHORTAL: Thank you.
MELISSA TOWNSEND: And thank you for coming today. Appreciate it.
JANA SHORTAL: Thank you. Zeke is a big fan of MPR. He wakes up in the morning with Cathy. He has Minnesota now at noon. I mean, he got involved.
MELISSA TOWNSEND: He’ll be back next week. Let him know. She will be back.
JANA SHORTAL: OK, that sounds good.
MELISSA TOWNSEND: Jana Shortal is a reporter at KARE 11.