Monday, July 21, 2008

Medical Miracles -- More or Less

After writing yesterday about my daughter’s birthday and remembering, as I did, the birthdays of my other three kids – none of which I was supposed to have, I began to reflect on my experiences with the medical profession. That’s not hard to do these days when there seem to be more and more nightmare tales of screw-ups not only by doctors, but hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

My kids and I have frequently joked that we are alive today in spite of doctors rather than because of them and because we spent their early years on a military base I soon became convinced that all the medical students who made Ds in med school automatically went into the military. The fact that I even had a child much less four normal, healthy ones was considered unbelievable unless one believes in miracles. I had been told by several doctors that my chances of getting pregnant in the first place were slim to none, let alone carrying one for a full nine months. But get pregnant I did just three months into my marriage. I carried my baby full term and delivered an eight pound, very normal and beautiful little girl.

As soon as my husband returned from Vietnam I promptly got pregnant again but this time, in the process of moving to Germany, I did miscarry. My husband took me to the hospital on the base where he was stationed. A D and C was performed with only a local anesthetic and then I was stuck into an empty twelve bed ward – alone at midnight and sent home the next morning. I developed an infection several days later which was first diagnosed in the emergency room as a urinary tract infection and again I was sent home. Three days later, back in the emergency room, babbling incoherently with fever of 106, I was told that, no, it wasn’t a urinary tract infection after all, but a uterine infection. I was sent home again with a bottle of pretty powerful pills and after about eight weeks I began to feel normal again – more or less.

We thought that perhaps my first little girl was a miracle and there would be no more. Wrong! Three months later I found myself pregnant again and shortly afterward we were transferred to Madrid, Spain. Again, it was a very normal full term pregnancy, but about a week before I was due I woke up with what felt to me like pleurisy pains and we made a trip to the air base hospital. There I was told by the doctor that there was no indication of anything wrong and I was just getting anxious to deliver and he sent me home. The next day it was worse and we went back to the hospital. This time a different doctor took my husband aside and told him there was nothing wrong with me, I was not in labor, but if he wanted to leave me at the hospital for the weekend, he’d okay it. Wisely, my husband declined the offer. The following day we made a third trip and saw still another doctor who said he could find nothing wrong, but asked if I had been x-rayed earlier. When I told him no, he said that real or imagined, I was obviously in pain and I was certainly far enough along that an x-ray wouldn’t injure the baby and urged me to have one. It turned out that I had walking pneumonia and the pain I had been experiencing was indeed pleurisy and, with a proper prescription this time, I was sent home. Four days later, pneumonia free, I gave birth to another perfect little seven and a half pound girl. Within three more years I had – remarkably given birth to two more perfect, healthy babies – boys this time. And they’re all still miracles to me.

Over the next years my wariness of the medical profession and aided by extraordinarily healthy children, we were pretty much able to stay out of doctor’s offices except for routine shots etc. Then when my youngest son, Adam, was eighteen months old, our whole family was returning home in the car from an evening swim at the local indoor pool. The kids were hungry and quickly found a jar of their Dad’s favorite dry roasted peanuts. There was a lot of giggling and teasing and Adam choked on his peanuts. We whopped him on the back and a peanut flew out of his mouth and we continued on our way home. The following morning he was flying around the house as usual, but what wasn’t usual was the fact that he rattled. By mid day it was obvious that the rattle wasn’t going away and I took him in to see the pediatrician. I told him what had happened the previous day. He listened to Adam’s chest and x-rayed him, but could find nothing. I told him again about the peanuts and he patiently explained how it was impossible for Adam to have inhaled a peanut because the oil in the peanut would have set up an infection that would have resulted in pneumonia almost immediately. I explained that they were dry roasted peanuts and he sighed and shook his head and asked me to bring him back in the following day if he was still “rattling”. The next day he still couldn’t find anything, but admitted there was definitely something not right even though Adam was still tearing around like a normal eighteen month old – he just rattled. The doctor then sent us to a thoracic specialist, who also listened and x-rayed without results. I told him the same story of the dry roasted peanuts and got the same head shaking response – impossible, he said. For the next five weeks Adam was subjected to every imaginable test – all to no avail and while he was still tearing around, he was also still rattling.

By that time the specialist said they had no option other than to fluoroscope his lungs and that had to be done in the hospital and could have possible side effects. But, feeling that we really didn’t have a choice, we took him in and I spent the night sitting beside him, feeling so frightened because he looked so small and helpless in that big bed. They were supposed to take him to the operating room at seven, so he wasn’t allowed to have anything to eat – tell that to a hungry eighteen month old! As it turned out they didn’t come get him until nine and by that time both his Dad and I were worn out carrying him all around the ward trying to distract him from thoughts of food. Adam saw a nurse coming out of a room with a tray of food and kept trying guide his Dad in that direction by tugging his ears like a steering wheel.

Finally, they came for him and let him take his “blankey” with him. I was fighting back the tears and clinging to my husband’s hand. Adam looked so tiny and helpless as they rolled him into the operating room. The next hour seemed like thirty. Finally, the doctor came out and walked towards us.

“Boy, is my face red,” he said, with an embarrassed grin.

“You found the peanut, didn’t you?” I asked, trying not to leap on him scratching and biting.

He nodded.

“I’ll certainly tell all my patients from now on that if they’re going to let their kids eat peanuts, make sure they’re dry roasted.”

We took Adam home later that morning. He almost did get pneumonia because since the peanut had been there for five weeks, as soon as they tried to remove it with their peanut forceps – yes, they actually have peanut forceps, the peanut disintegrated and even though they “vacuumed” it out, it did set up a minor infection in his lungs. Fortunately, it cleared up quickly and within a couple of days he was running around again, but this time without the rattle.

I’m still wary of doctors and the frequent headlines about the medical and pharmaceutical professions don’t do a lot to encourage trust. But I do have a wonderful doctor these days who, strangely enough, feels pretty much the same way I do, so we get along great and I have a lot of confidence in him.

And as for Adam, well, like his siblings, he’s grown into an incredible young person that I’m outrageously proud of – definitely one of the four best things his Dad and I ever did – in spite of the medical profession.

1 comment:

Judy said...

The peanut story is amazing. WOW, that would have scared me to death, also. I am so glad everything turned out o.k. for him.