Jan Thompson recalls a Belgian hospital's impressive treatment

We had been in hospital in Bruges for about 10 minutes. My seven-year-old son was having difficulty breathing, but the nebuliser was helping. He pulled the mask off his face briefly and asked the doctor: "Am I going to live?"

We had been in hospital in Bruges for about 10 minutes. My seven-year-old son was having difficulty breathing, but the nebuliser was helping. He pulled the mask off his face briefly and asked the doctor: "Am I going to live?"

That was the moment when I fully understood what it means to have asthma. If it is frightening for a parent, how terrifying is it for a little boy who suddenly feels he cannot get enough air into his lungs?

We were heading to Holland on holiday when we made our unscheduled detour to the accident and emergency department. Calder had been off school for a week and was on oral steroids as well as using his Ventolin inhaler. But he seemed to be on the mend from the cold and cough that had started the cycle of illness and so we decided to go ahead with the trip.

After an hour or so on the motorway from Calais, we pulled into a service station for something to eat and to think about where we were going to spend the night. Calder was extremely quiet and very pale. He used his inhaler again but said that he was still finding it hard to breathe.

"I have to go outside. I really don't feel so good," he said.

My husband told me to find out where the nearest hospital was while he carried Calder to the car. We hastily followed a scribbled map which directed us around the ring road and 10 minutes later into the hospital car park.

I dropped them at the A&E entrance, parked hastily in the consultants' bay, and dashed in after them.

Calder was already in a treatment room with a mask on his face, surrounded by medical staff. Within another five minutes they had been joined by a paediatrician who very quickly told us that they would admit him – the first time his asthma had ever required hospitalisation.

Next morning the doctor had a few questions for us. Why, he wondered, was Calder on oral steroids? Had he had a lung function test? Had he had allergy tests? What triggered the asthma? No, we said, Calder hadn't had any tests. Our GP had diagnosed asthma, and prescribed first Ventolin, then inhaled steroids, and, during the last two severe bouts brought on by viral infections, oral steroids.

After two nights in hospital we headed home. Back in London, our GP sent us to the paediatric clinic at our local hospital where we explained what had happened in Bruges and said we now felt it was time to see an asthma specialist. Calder asked the doctor about the lung function test he had heard so much about in Belgium. Oh yes, she said, that could be a good idea.

The appointment to see the specialist has arrived. It is for July. The letter warns: "We will try not to keep you waiting .... it is a good idea to bring something to drink." In Bruges, they bring bottles of still and fizzy water to your room.

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