As the cars parted to the side of the roadway in front of us and the sirens wailed overhead, I wondered how our vacation had veered so far off course in only two days. I nervously glanced through the window into the back of the ambulance where my son lay with the paramedic and Mommy and I silently prayed that he’d be alright. It occurred to me that I’d always said it was amazing that we’d made it this far with three boys and never had a visit to the emergency room. Well that streak was over. This was certainly one ride that I hadn’t expected to go on at Disney. Thankfully, my son’s situation turned out to be non-life-threatening, but it was scary for him and for us as parents. But let me back up as I skipped too far ahead.
With our long Thursday of travel to Orlando behind us, we spent a very full Friday at the Magic Kingdom, hitting the majority of the park’s big rides. We sailed with Captain Jack on the Pirates of the Caribbean, we braved the ghosts of the Haunted Mansion, conquered all the Mountains: Big Thunder, Splash and finally, Space. I realized it had been 29 years since I’d ridden Space Mountain the first time and my lasting memory was of crazy green lights shooting through the dark and sitting in front of my father who laughed hysterically the entire time. I’m not sure which encounter left me more scared, although this one certainly left me more humbled after my kindergartener nudged me shouting, “Dude, put your hands up, be brave!”
Late in the afternoon we headed home, only to venture back out in the evening for dinner, taking a boat from our hotel at Port Orleans Riverside over to Downtown Disney. All of us nearly froze, but we made it onto dry ground alive and had a good dinner over at Wolfgang Puck Express (it’s on the meal plan of course). We wised up and boarded the Disney bus after dinner, and once it made all 349 stops through the endless Downtown Disney parking lots, we headed back to our hotel. I stood on the overcrowded bus, bent over and clutching the cursed double stroller which refused to fully fold against my shins. I was so tired that I couldn’t imagine how any of us would have the strength to venture a step further, and we’d only just finished our first full day.
The next day was Animal Kingdom, which by all accounts was pretty cool. We all loved the Expedition Everest Rollercoaster with the Yeti (somehow it seemed smoother to me than Space Mountain), and I thought Dinosaurs was cool, although it freaked the kids out a bit. The River Rapids ride was fun but put me in a bad mood after I was drenched by a passing waterfall spray. (Don’t go on the River Rapids in the morning unless equipped with a poncho or on a really hot day). We were halfway through the jungle walk when right on cue, my son urgently announced that he had to go to the bathroom. A ten-minute dash back through Africa got us there just in time, and we weaved our way back through the crowds just as our family was leaving watching the gorillas and heading for the exit.
We were heading to lunch, just after we braved the Yeti on the Everest rollercoaster, when things started heading south. My seven-year-old was getting increasingly tired and sluggish. We noticed that his breathing had become very labored and wheezy and he seemed feverish. He’d had a barking cough the last couple of days, so we decided to take him to the first aid building around the corner. The nurse gave him some Tylenol, but his breathing concerned us the most since he’d never had Asthma or any similar issues before. After consulting with a couple EMTs who acted more like Goofy and Pluto than actual medical professionals, I decided to take him to the local health clinic. We bid the rest of our family good-bye as they headed for the guided Safari tour, and we waited for the shuttle van. The doctor at the clinic declared that my son must just have a cold or allergies and that nothing was wrong with his lungs or his breathing. Some Claritin should clear it right up. I was skeptical, but felt better that we’d taken him to the doctor so we headed back to the hotel.
Later that night, I received an urgent call from my father in law in the hotel room while I was up at the lobby. He said my son had woken up crying, so I jogged back to the room to try to calm him down. I wasn’t prepared for what I walked into, as I found him hysterical and bent over on the bed, gasping for breath. This was not a scene that any parent wants to walk into, as he really seemed not to be able to breathe. I carried him into the bathroom and flipped on the hot water in the shower full blast while clutching him tight in my arms. It was scary to see him so panicked and I started to cry when he asked me in a trembling little voice whether he was going to die.
My wife soon arrived back too and we decided that we should call 911. It was a helpless feeling to be in a strange place with no car with your son in need. The steam seemed to help, and in a bit the paramedics arrived. I can’t tell you how great they were. They quickly sat him on a stretcher and gave him a steroid breathing tube that immediately helped his air flow. My son was so brave the whole time, he didn’t get scared as they worked with him and we wheeled down the sidewalk at Disney into the ambulance. I think we were all thinking how none of us expected this to be part of our vacation.
Once we raced across town and got to the hospital, (note to Florida drivers – if an ambulance with my son in the back is on your bumper with lights and siren, YES, you need to pull off the road…) they hooked him up to an IV for some more drugs and monitoring, and we spend the next few hours making sure he was OK. He finally drifted off just before midnight in his bed, and for a couple hours Mommy and I caught a bit of sleep on and off in our small chairs against the cinderblock wall. We headed home around 2AM, each of us drained and tired but glad that things looked to be OK. We’d barely been in Orlando for 48 hours and it already felt like at least a week.
(This was Part 2 in a series of posts on our Disney vacation – Read the rest at the links below!)
Death by Disney – Part 1: Getting There Wasn’t Half the Fun
Death by Disney – Part 3: Jedi, Jones and Jungles