Suspect Words from Your Doctor

women doctor clipboard Pictures, Images and PhotosMy youngest Sizzler is sick. We’ve been running back and forth to medical offices quite a bit of late, and we’ll be going to the hospital for a fairly serious test tomorrow.  It’s not a concern in the life-and-death category, but neither is it a mere cold.  It’s a semi-major concern that will probably be with us for many months to come. 

Why am I telling you this?  Because in the midst of all this medically related busyness I had a profound moment of Deja vu. 
And THAT is the thing about which I am writing to you today. 

As my little fireball was overcome with high fevers, pounding headaches and other debilitating symptoms, she slowed a bit from her usual level of high energy. To the loving and familiar parental eye, she was clearly a shadow of her former boisterous self.  But to the stranger’s eye, that of a doctor, she didn’t display near the level of lethargy that a typical child might show under similar conditions. 

And that’s when I heard it.
The words that were a shock wave from 13 years ago.
The doctor said with a shrug…“She doesn’t look sick.” 

Now, you might think this is an innocuous statement. And certainly when compared to the vast majority of children, indeed, she does not look sick.  (fever, vomiting and pounding headache not withstanding).

But this time I heard it with a more experienced ear.  This time I was taken back 13 years, back to the day when I sat in the emergency room with my first born son.  At age five, he was even more of an active, moving ball of energy than is his littlest sister. He sat on my lap, leaning back and sweetly raising his arms around my neck. He was not a complete wet noodle as perhaps you or I might have been under the same circumstances.  The doctor at the ER that day ran a few perfunctory tests, each of which revealed nothing. Other than his fever, they found nothing that produced conclusive evidence of an illness.  And that was when I first heard those words…..
“He doesn’t look sick.”

Because this was the first time I’d heard them, I didn’t know to be alarmed. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a declaration of intent, or rather a lack of intent to look further.

They began the process of checking us out of  ER. 
“But…but…” I stammered, “he’s really sick. We’ve got to find out what’s wrong with him.”

Still, the checkout process continued. 
The nurse looked over her list and said, “If his fever goes up to 105, then come back in.” 
As I held this child in my arms, I could feel that he was burning up.
“Please, take his temperature again”
She did…and found his fever to be 105.

This woman then turned to me, adjusted her notes and said…I kid you not…”Well, then if it goes up to 106, then come back in.”

I was absolutely astonished….and panicked…and restless in my desire to get out of there and find help.
I left the hospital and drove immediately to our pediatrician’s office.
I explained that the ER had just sent my child home with a 105 degree fever and I knew in my heart that something serious was going on.

Now I must tell you how blessed I was in my choice of pediatricians.
Several years before this event, this lovely doctor watched as my young son crawled all over everything in his office, including him and me.  He loved the energy and the heart of my son.  And he said to me that this child would probably have a lot of bumps and bruises in his life because he is everywhere at once and has no fear. Furthermore he told me that I should NEVER avoid coming to his office in fear that he might suspect abuse.  I had heard of such things.  ADHD kids can end up with so many injuries that parents become suspect. This doctor wanted me to know that he knew my child, and that I could always seek the help we needed with no fear of reprisals.  I have always loved him for this.

So when I quickly unloaded my story on this lovely man, he put us back in the car, sent us back to the ER, got the attending physician on the phone, and gave him step-by-step directions on what he was to do. I learned later that he said to this ER doc, “You don’t know this child. He may not look sick to you but I assure you that he is. So here’s what you’re going to do.”

Amazingly, subsequent tests proved that my son had a rare form of a highly communicable disease. 
We never found out how or where or why he could have possibly contracted such a thing.
But there it was.
And were it not for the panic that kept a mother in motion, coupled with the wisdom of a lovely pediatrician, this story’s ending might have been a different one.

I share this because you too may have a Sizzler.
You too may have a child who’s energy is at least 5 times that of most children.
You too may have a child who often doesn’t even notice he has an injury because he is too busy living life to be bothered.
And I share this because you too may one day hear, “He doesn’t look sick.”

Now I don’t want you to panic if you hear it.  It may simply be a statement of fact and the speaker has every intention of following up with reasonable research into the cause.
However, it may also be a sign of resignation.
Listen for it and watch carefully.
If this is the case, it will be up to you to advocate for your child.
Trust your experience.
Advocate graciously but firmly.

This doctor may indeed know medicine, but you know your child.

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14 Responses to “Suspect Words from Your Doctor”

  1. Caroline Hogan Says:

    thanks carol…i have a question for you but I’ll email it.

  2. newbuffalomom Says:

    Oh my can I relate. Nothing makes me shudder more than a doctor who feels his 10 mins (max) can overrule my lifetime experience with my child.
    Stand firm. Make a fuss. *You* know your child like no one else. Here’s another secret: If you can, get Dad in to make noise. Ped’s and ER’s see Mommys all the time. If Dad is there, it must be serious. I hate it, but this has happened to me more times than I can count.

    • carolbarnier Says:

      I LOVE the suggestion of taking Dad along, even if I do resent what else it implies. But I’m certain you are right about this. Good tip. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Carrie Says:

    Oh yes. My sizzler can still play at full speed with scarlet fever. And goes from “mom, my ear kinda hurts” to an exploding eardrum within 12 hours. If she says she hurts, we get to the ped ASAP and they know to take it seriously.

    • carolbarnier Says:

      A Sizzler’s obliviousness to their own pain has amazed me many times over the years. I guess there’s a plus side to this, but man, the stuff they miss till it’s overwhelming is still astounding.

  4. Joy Ellis Says:

    My first child was just like your first child. We were very thankful to have a wonderful Pediatrician as well. All I can said is thank God for mother’s intuition. To this day, even though he is 17, I usually know when something is really wrong with him by the way he acts and talks. He is still very active just like he was as a toddler.

  5. Kim Williams Says:

    I can so relate to this post! I have to admit, even as their mom I have often missed signs of illness in my two children (one a definite sizzler and one a semi-sizzler). There have been times they are going full steam ahead, then when I touch them I realize they’re burning up. My kids almost never complain of feeling bad and almost never use the words “I’m sick”. When they do complain of feeling bad it’s a sure sign that they are very ill. Within the last year my daughter has had scarlet fever and both of my kids have had pneumonia. I had no clue until more serious symptoms started showing. Neither child ever complained. Thank goodness I have a pediatrician that has seen both kids from the beginning and knows their usual level of energy, so I haven’t had the problems with the pediatrician. I’m trying to be better at recognizing the subtle signs of illness in them myself. I agree with your comment, Carol. Their obliviousness to their own pain is very disconcerting.

  6. Yuri Says:

    My son is a Daddy’s Boy! The moment he says, “Mom, can I just sit on your lap?” We start calling doctors. I am a food source until he is sick. When he’s sick, he wants nothing to do with Daddy. We’re blessed that’s he’s not been that sick that often, but I wish I could hold him more!

    Now, I have the opposite problem, of when the doctor walks in for a well baby check, my son will start manifesting strange symptoms and then they want to run more diagnostic exams. Fortunately, we have good pediatricians who kindly say, “You have a bright boy!” Other doctors who do not know him will insist on a whole range of very invasive tests. We always say, “No! We know our child and there is NOTHING wrong with him.” Remember the opposite can happen too. Your sizzler can look broken to the medical community and then they want to fix him.

    • carolbarnier Says:

      Oh, I agree. It’s only when they’re sick that they look “normal”…you know, calm, generally attentive. They’re too sick to bounce around the room as usual. This is where a good relationship with a good pediatrician makes all the difference.

  7. kk Says:

    So true!! I have heard that with both of mine, and luckily I am in medicine and kept insisting. Our kids can be so deceiving!

  8. Kathy Kuhl Says:

    When my son had pneumonia at age 4, the only symptoms were he said his back hurt and he wanted to go to bed after breakfast. I knew something was really wrong!
    I remember hearing some parents joke that “Your child might have ADHD if you feel guilty when he gets sick, because you enjoy being able to keep up with him for a change.”
    Of course, we’d all rather struggle to keep up with a healthy child than to see the poor dear suddenly and strangely sedate. What is sadder than a slow, sick Sizzler?

  9. carolbarnier Says:

    I read your note and got an instant sympathy stomach ache. I was picturing in my mind telling a doctor the two simple symptoms (backache and tired after breakfast) and then trying to make this doctor understand the powerful wrongness that is indicated by these symptoms. I’m certain it would be hard for the typical person (including the doctor) to understand. But every mom of an ADHD kid knows exactly what you mean.

    • Kathy Kuhl Says:

      Providentially, we also had a wise pediatrician, who seen a lot of us. before. 😉 Dr. B. saw us that morning, diagnosed it quickly, and gave my son a big shot of antibiotic. His recovery was as fast as the onset, a happy ending.

  10. Allison Says:

    WOW! What a wonderful website!!! I can relate to this article completely. My son had the stomach flu last fall and this article perfectly describes him. I knew that it wasnt an emergancy, just something that would runs its course but an illness that would have most of us in bed barely fazed him. He would calmly walk to the bathroom, throw up, come right back out and go play with his toys! He even was asking for snacks(which I refused!) There has only been one time that he truly LOOKED sick and really became letharigic. At that point I threw him in the car and sped down to Children’s!

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