Tag Archives: doctor

Mother Knows Best

17 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 17 – Learned the hard way: What’s a lesson you learned the hard way? Write about it for 15 today.

I first started having doubts about our family doctor when he kept telling us that there was nothing that could be done about my husband’s sciatica. It was a very disappointing thing to hear: although not a life-threatening condition, sciatica had been giving my husband a whole new kind of agony for a couple of years, and now we were hearing that he would have to live with it for the rest of his life.

It seemed improbable.  What about physiotherapy, or if we were really pressed, surgery? What about a simple MRI scan or a referral to a specialist?

But my husband’s family had been seeing this doctor for years, and they seemed to have complete faith in him. My husband was resistant to my suggestions to see another doctor.

A few months later, when I was hugely pregnant, I took my older son to the same doctor for his two-year check-up. All of the vital signs looked good. George was in healthy percentiles for both height and weight and he was not showing any signs of illness.

With the main purpose of the visit accomplished, I said to the doctor, “George isn’t talking.”

Indeed, George wasn’t talking. The only words that he used in a contextually appropriate way were milk, juice and jump. Like all new parents, I had practically memorized the developmental checklists, and I knew that George should be doing far more at this age.

The doctor asked a few questions, and then agreed that George did indeed seem to be delayed in his speech.

“But,” said the doctor, “The range of normal development is so broad, particularly where boys are concerned. I will give you some speech exercises to do with him at home, and we will see where we are in a year’s time.”

Every instinct I had was telling me that the doctor was wrong, that waiting was not the thing to do. I knew, had known on some level since George was an infant, that there was something wrong.

Instead of trusting my instincts, I listened to the doctor. I did the speech exercises with George, hoped against hope that he would simply open his mouth and talk one day, and then felt extremely guilty when he didn’t improve. Had I not done the speech exercises right? If I had spent more time on it would I have seen results?

At George’s three-year check-up I finally got a referral for a developmental assessment. When the autism diagnosis came in, all I could think of was how the doctor had told us to wait, and worse, how I had listened to a man I already had reservations about.

I thought about the year that George had lost because of this. The year of speech therapy and other autism-related interventions.

The guilt just about killed me.

And I swore that I would never, ever go against my “mother’s intuition” again.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/truthout/3901813960/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

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Taking Care Of Mom: A Story Of Survival

29 Mar

I don’t usually take calls on my cell phone during meetings, least of all calls from numbers that I do not recognize.

Answer the phone, said a little voice in my head. It was the same little voice that has guided me many times in the past, the little voice that I always listen to, because when I don’t, I regret it.

I excused myself from the meeting and answered the phone.

To my surprise, it was the lady at the pharmacy down the road from my parents’ house. My mother had come in to the pharmacy to fill a prescription, and while she was there she had started complaining of abdominal pain. Could I please come and get her and take her to a doctor right away?

Bear in mind that this happened in a country that did not have 9-1-1. I was definitely a better and faster bet than the local ambulance service.

I made the fifteen-minute drive to the pharmacy in about eight minutes, only to find that my mother was not there.

“I’m sorry,” said the lady at the pharmacy. “We couldn’t wait. Your mother really needed to see the doctor immediately, so Michael drove her.”

I didn’t know who Michael was, but that was the least of my worries. I thanked the lady and drove to the doctor’s office. I was ushered into the consulting room immediately, and Michael – who turned out to be a kindly delivery man – was free to leave.

My mother was lying on the examination table writhing in pain. Her body was burning up with an ever-climbing fever and her face was the colour of paper. The doctor, who I had known for years and who had always, up until this moment, been completely unflappable, was trying everything she could. Although she was displaying an admirable calmness, I could see undercurrents of desperation.

An ambulance had been summonsed. It arrived and ferried my mother off to the hospital, with me following in my car.

At some point during all of this chaos I got in touch with my dad and my brother, who were out of town on separate business trips. While I took care of admission paperwork at the hospital, they were trying to get themselves onto last-minute flights home.

With the admin taken care of, all I could do was wait. I discovered that hospital waiting areas are every bit as bleak and depressing as movies make them out to be. After what felt like hours, the doctor came out to see me. The bad news was that my mother had an infection so severe that her kidneys were failing. The good news was that the fever was under control and the pain was being managed. I was allowed to go in to see my mother. She looked dreadful, but with the pain and fever taken care of, she was at least able to talk a little.

She was very afraid – and who wouldn’t be? I was terrified myself but trying hard not to show it. The doctor came back into the room and gave my mother some milky-looking medicine. She sipped the cloudy colloid as I gave her assurances that she was OK, she would be OK, the doctors were taking care of her.

I’m not sure when my dad and brother arrived. All I know is that at some point, they faded into the hustle and bustle as people entered and left the room, trying to get my mother’s body to work the way it was supposed to.

This story has a good ending. My mother recovered and thankfully she is in good health.

On some dreaded day – hopefully a long way in the future – I will lose my mom, because no-one lives forever.

But I am eternally grateful to whatever powers prevail that that day, Mom stayed with us.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Cedar challenged me with “She sips the cloudy colloid. ” and I challenged Leo with “Tell a story that makes a lot of use of contrasts, like light/dark, big/small etc.”

A Letter Of Thanks

13 Oct

Dear Doctor P.,

Hootie And The Blowfish were playing on the radio when the baby growing in my belly died. I could tell from the cramp that tore through my body, from the sudden spike in my body temperature that left me reeling, and from the change in energy that comes from a soul winging its way to another world.

My baby girl, gone before she could be born.

For ten weeks you had brushed me off and dismissed my concerns.

“Women bleed during pregnancy all the time,”  you told me.

In the beginning I listened to you. You seemed so composed and your explanations made sense. You were immaculately put together, with your tailored suits and your perfect hair and your flawlessly applied crimson lipstick. You looked every inch the professional. Anyone looking at you would have had no doubt that you were competent in a cold, calculated kind of way.

I may have felt intimidated by you, but I had no reason to doubt you.

I didn’t even doubt you when, ten days after the bleeding had started, you continued to tell me that nothing was wrong.

Although I believed you, I hated you. I want to make that absolutely clear. I hated your air of superiority and your utter lack of compassion. I hated the way you told my husband – even though I was sitting right beside him – that I was “acting in a paranoid and unstable manner.”  I hated the way you ordered me not to do research on the Internet, as if I somehow didn’t have the right to the knowledge. I hated it when you insisted that an ultrasound would not be helpful, that it could in fact harm my baby.

I despised you and everything you said with an intensity that was almost poisonous.

And yet, I respected you. Somehow, despite everything, you were credible. You made me believe, with medical jargon that was beyond my realm and yet somehow logical, that it was OK for me to be bleeding from Week 8 until Week 18 of my pregnancy. When you finally deigned, in your God-like way, to allow me to have an ultrasound, you effortlessly explained away the too-slow growth and the irregular fetal heartbeat. You even succeeded in convincing me that I was crazy to think my baby was dying.

As I lay there on my kitchen floor that day, doubled over with pain and the beginnings of grief, with Hootie and his gang mockingly blaring out, “It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day,” I couldn’t help wondering what the doctor would say now.

When I walked into your office and told you about my dead baby, were you still going to somehow convince me that everything was OK? Were you going to say, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal for women to lose their babies after ten weeks of untreated complications?”

I want to thank you, Doctor P. Whether or not you contributed to the loss of my baby, and to the unbearable heartbreak that my husband and I endured, I am truly grateful to you. You opened my eyes, you see. You taught me not to trust the professionals I turn to for help, to question everything I hear, and to view life through shades of scepticism.

Thank you, Doctor P., for making me grow up.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Kelly Garriott Waite, who gave me this prompt: Take a person – in your fiction or your life–whom you despise. Now write a piece–a letter, a scene, whatever – showing love, admiration, or respect for that person.
I challenged Diane with the prompt: Tell the story of a telemarketing call that takes a very surprising turn.

Out Of The Darkness: Overcoming Post-Partum Depression

4 Jul

This post was a hard one to write, even though the events described happened several years ago. It took me a number of days to get this all down, and it has taken another few days to actually decide whether or not to publish it. My hope in publishing this is that it will make a difference to somebody. Maybe you’re a new mom who is going through post-partum depression. Or perhaps you know a new mom who seems to be retreating into herself. If your life is touched in any way by post-partum depression, know that there are things that can be done. Talk to your friends and family, seek help from medical professionals. And whatever you do, don’t lose hope.

My younger son James was born at a tumultuous time in my life. I had lost my dad to cancer a year previously, and me and my husband were going through some challenging times in our life together. At around that time, we were also starting to realize that there was something wrong with George and we had started to experience the frustration of wrangling a referral out of our family doctor.

I sometimes wonder, when I look back, whether all of these factors led to the post-partum depression I went through. Or perhaps it would have happened anyway. This is an illness that can strike the most unlikely of victims.

I knew within a couple of days after giving birth that the utter bleakness I was feeling was more than a case of “baby blues”. What I had experienced with George two years previously – the mild sadness, the anxiety, the tendency to be emotionally weird – that was baby blues. What I was going through now was completely different.

On New Years Eve that year, when James was six days old, I was sitting in front of the TV nursing my newborn while I watched CNN coverage of festivities around the world. At about five to midnight, Gerard brought me a cup of tea, and as he set it down beside me, he asked in surprise, “Why are you crying?”

I was just as surprised as he was. I had not even noticed the floods of tears rolling silently down my cheeks.

Even though I was filled with this feeling of terrifying – emptiness – I did not initially label what I was experiencing with any name. The first time I thought of the term post-partum depression in relation to myself, James was about two months old. A replay of an old Oprah episode was on – the episode where Tom Cruise spouted forth about how there was no such thing as post-partum depression, and how all new moms could solve all of their problems by eating right and exercising.

What an idiot, I remember thinking. This thought was followed by the sudden light-bulb moment in which I realized that I was suffering from post-partum depression.

There was a good news and a bad news aspect to this discovery.

The good news was that I now had a name for what I was going through. I had something to Google, and sure enough, on every checklist I found, I was able to put checkmarks beside all but one or two of the signs and symptoms. I had a basis for research, and I felt some validation that I wasn’t simply going mad.

The bad news was that I too far down the path of post-partum depression to be able to actually do anything about it. Talking to someone – my doctor, my friends, or even my husband – would have taken energy. And that was something that I had in very short supply. Just getting through the day was an accomplishment. Once I had attended to the basic needs of my kids – feeding, diapering, bathing, dressing – there was nothing left over. No reserves of energy whatsoever.

And because I didn’t do anything about it, my illness got steadily worse and worse. I didn’t talk to anyone about it, and no-one recognized the signs. My friends and family saw me retreating further and further into myself, but they did not know why. They saw that the kids were obviously being taken care of, so they didn’t realize that there was anything to be concerned about.

Even when my depression was at its very worst, I was not suicidal in the sense of wanting to actively go out and kill myself (again, that would have taken energy that I just didn’t have), and I was never in danger of harming the kids. Their health, safety and happiness were my top priorities – my only priorities.

I did start to think about dying, though. I fantasized about what it would be like to die in a car accident, or to have a sudden heart attack, or to be shot during a bank robbery. I thought about being on a plane that had a bomb on it. What if I had some undiagnosed condition, and simply went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up?

My depression went untreated for over a year, and by then I honestly thought that I was lost forever. Right after George was diagosed with autism, I went to see my family doctor, who had received a copy of the diagnostic report. I was seeing the doctor about something unrelated – an old ankle injury was acting up – but he immediately picked up that there was something seriously wrong.

My doctor, who had been absolutely dismal at detecting signs of early developmental delay in George, was able to tell right away that I was going through a major depression. He put me on medication and insisted on seeing me once a week until I was out of the woods.

The pills were both good and bad for me. The bad part was that they made me feel angry. While I was taking them, I was mad at everyone and everything. Back then, I didn’t even have running as a stress coping mechanism, so the anger just sat there and frightened the living daylights out of me.

The good thing, though, was that the pills helped with the depression. I started feeling some energy again – even though the energy itself was negative, it was a start. Negative energy was better than the absolute empiness and desolation that I had been feeling for so long now.

And so gradually, I started finding my way back. With time, I rekindled my relationship with my husband, and I discovered the true joy of parenting. I went back to work and started to find my own identity again. I started running. Little buds of hope started to grow within me.

I found my way out of the darkness, and into love and light.

Vaccination Vaccilation

8 Mar

Several weeks ago, I got a letter in the mail from Toronto Public Health, informing me that if George’s vaccinations weren’t brought up to date, he would be suspended from school. There is a series of shots that he was due to receive when he turned six, and due to a number of logistical factors, including the retirement of our doctor and George’s phobia of anything medical, we just hadn’t gotten around to getting them. I called the number listed on the letter and spoke to a very nice lady who told me that the six required vaccinations could be administered with just two needles.

While two shots certainly seems more manageable than six, we have still not been able to get this done. Since our doctor retired, we have still not been able to get another one. There is a dire shortage of doctors in Ontario, much less doctors who are good with children who have autism. There is a walk-in clinic that we’ve gone to frequently enough for them to know us, and they do carry all of the vaccines, but it’s one of these first-come first-served places.

Jabbing needles into the arm of my child with autism is something that requires epic planning. We would have to find a doctor who we could make an appointment with. We would have to secure the very first appointment of the day to guarantee no waiting. We would have to prepare George, ourselves, and the staff at the doctor’s office. The whole thing would have to be done much like a military strike: go in, do what needs to be done, and then leave.

You can’t do that at a walk-in clinic. There, you show up and wait your turn, which could give your child up to two hours to have a complete meltdown and make dents in the drywall with his head (I ain’t kidding about that, by the way).

In between our phonecalls to locate a suitable doctor, we have been doing research on vaccines.

I should say at this point that I have never believed in the connection between autism and vaccines, and I still don’t. Whenever I admit this within my autism circles I create a bit of a stir, because it would seem that most people do not agree with me.

I would never presume to speculate on what does or does not cause autism in other peoples’ children, but looking back, I knew that something was not right with George from a very young age, before vaccines even entered the picture for him. If I were to guess at the root of the problem, I would say that it is a genetic roll of the dice combined with certain dietary elements.

Much to the horror of many parents (whether they have children with autism or not) I chose to vaccinate James even after I knew about George’s autism.  That’s how much I do not believe in the vaccine/autism link.

So the research we have been doing is not from an autism angle. It is from a general health and wellbeing angle. Some vaccines apparently (depending on which websites you believe) contain potentially toxic ingredients that really don’t need to be there. These ingredients can do things like challenge the immune system and create a propensity to getting mild upper respiratory complaints.

And as convenient as it may be, we are debating the wisdom of administering three vaccines per needle, all in one session. That is a lot of stuff to be putting into the human body all at once. I’m no doctor, but I’m not sure that the human body is designed to be blasted in such a manner.

We fully intend to get all of George’s shots updated. We may just take our time and spread them out. It will involve more trauma for George, but there is a chance that it will be better for his long-term physical wellbeing. When James turns six, we will have to make the same decision for him.

In the meantime, while we are waffling around trying to decide whether to get George his shots, the Toronto Public Health deadline is upon us. With just two days to go until imminent suspension, we decided to apply for an exemption. We completed a Statement of Conscience, which basically says that we believe vaccinations are not the right option for us at this time.

It just buys us a little time to do this properly, without pressure bearing down on us.

 

A Night Away From Home

11 Feb

They should sell T-shirts that say, “I survived my child’s first overnight stay in a hospital.”  Or they should give out badges, like they do in Girl Scouts. Because let me tell you, it is quite an accomplishment. Just one night in the hospital with my son left me feeling jagged and raw. While I was sitting there yesterday afternoon wondering when I would be able to grab a sandwich and a cup of coffee, I sent a message to my friend Amy, expressing my pure admiration for the fact that she did this in a far more serious situation, day in and day out, for five months.

It all started when James started tossing his cookies at the daycare on Monday. For a full 24 hours he was throwing up and having attacks of diarrhea, and even when they kind-of-sort-of passed, he didn’t get better. By the time I got home from work on Wednesday evening, he was still not eating or drinking, and he was crying out from the pains in his tummy.

Recognizing that most kids’ tummy bugs are over and done with in a day or so, and we were now at the end of Day Three, I took James to the walk-in clinic (no family doctor – ours had the gall to retire, citing stuff like “time with family”). The doctor at the clinic examined James for five minutes and decided he wanted none of it. He told me to get James to the hospital. “Now,” he said.

The triage nurse at the hospital was cranky. She was abrupt and acted as if we were inconveniencing her. I didn’t hold it against her. She was nearing the end of what had probably been a long shift in the emergency room, but still. Being cranky with a sick five-year-old seems a bit much. She did her thing and then sent us off to see the admitting doctor – go to the room at the end of the hall and wait in partition D, she said.

The doctor was cranky. He overheard James saying that we were looking for “Number D” and grumpily said, “D is not a number.”

For God’s sake. I mean, I know E.R. doctors are taxed to the limit. These guys are on their feet for long shifts during which they no doubt have to make many life-or-death decisions, but come on. Don’t take out your stress on a five-year-old child who is visibly ill.

Anyway.

The doctor examined James and said that he was severely dehydrated. He invited me to feel James’ hands. I did, and they were ice-cold. The dehydration had made his core body temperature drop right down. We were taken to a dedicated examination room and IV fluids were started. Within 20 minutes, James’ temperature was looking better.

The on-duty pediatrician came in, examined James, and made the decision to keep him in overnight. He was transferred to the pediatric floor, and we were installed in a room. I helped the nurses get James as settled as he could be, and then I lay in the bed provided for me and failed to sleep. Every now and then I kind of sank into a trance, only to be roused by the comings and goings of the nurses who came in to fuss over James every now and then.

James was in much better spirits when he woke up in the morning. He still couldn’t eat, but he requested and received a Popsicle. In a turn of events that was very sweet, when the nurse came in with the Popsicle, he asked her if she would please get another one for his Mommy. We sat there in companionable silence, eating our Popsicles together (and it was so welcome – my throat was parched), and then another nurse came in bearing gifts.  Apparently, every child admitted to the pediatric floor gets a bag of toys that they get to take home with them.

I borrowed a BlackBerry charger from the doctor, and was able to be in touch with the outside world again. I read and responded to emails, James played with his new toys plus the ones his Dad had brought him from home during the night.  Apart from the occasional stomach cramps and attacks of diarrhea still plaguing James, all was well, if a little bit boring. IV fluids continued to drip into his system, and the comings and goings now involved a different group of doctors and nurses.

In the middle of the afternoon, I was finally able to get a cup of coffee and a sandwich. By this point I was beyond exhaustion and beyond hunger. With the nurse watching James, I fled to the donut shop, where I got a sandwich and a cup of coffee. Then, in a bid to extend my freedom for a little longer, I went into the gift shop and got James a new Cars toy and a book.

Back upstairs, I drank my coffee and ate half of the sandwich. I promptly threw both of them up.

Lovely. Just as my son is getting better, now I start to get sick?

Since I have not had a repeat episode since then, I am assuming that my system was just responding to exhaustion, and that the shock of actually receiving food for the first time in 24 hours was a bit too much for my body.

In the late afternoon, the pediatrician came in and declared James almost well enough to go home. He was hydrated again, he was drinking on his own, and he had even managed a bit of food. All we were waiting for, she said, was for him to pee. Once he had peed, we would know that fluids were getting both into and out of his system OK. In the I.T. world, we would refer to this as end-to-end testing.

A couple of hours later, James’ bladder obliged, and we were given the all-clear to leave. The IV was disconnected, final temperature and blood pressure checks were done, and we were out of there. James was definitely a much more healthy, brighter child than he had been before going in.

It felt almost obscenely good to be back home.

James is OK. George, who was doing a great deal of his own throwing up in our absence, seems to be on the mend. I have not tossed my cookies again (although, to be fair, I haven’t taken a chance on eating either).

Equilibrium seems to be returning…

And I am truly grateful to the doctors and nurses at Centenary Hospital for taking such good care of my baby.

I Thought It Would Be Hard

8 Jan

Captain Snuggles

I thought it would be hard to do this one-post-a-day thing, but I find myself with an abundance of material.  Sure, it can be hard to find the time to write, what with a full-time job, a long daily commute, and the whole parenting enchilada.  But I find that the key element is having the seed of an idea in my head.  If I have that to start from, the words flow easily.  To be fair, these are early days, and I’m only one week into this challenge.  A month or six months from now I may be singing a different tune entirely.  But for now, I’m finding this OK.

I thought it would be hard to run a half-marathon.  I was overweight, unfit, and didn’t feel capable of walking down a flight of stairs.  But I planned and trained, I lost weight and got fit.  I still thought it would be hard, because you know, thirteen miles is thirteen miles.  I reasoned, though, that this was two and a half hours of running, of merely putting one foot in front of the other.  Compared with what my son George has to endure, trapped in his world of autism, day in and day out, two and a half hours of running didn’t seem to be too bad.

I thought it would be hard to be a special needs Mom.  I remember sitting in the doctor’s office, receiving the diagnosis, listening to the doctor tell us everything that George would never achieve (some of which he has, in spectacular fashion, since accomplished).  I thought that parenting my beautiful boy would be a lifetime of challenges and heartbreaks.  And yes, there is some of that.  There are days when it all seems too much, when I want to ask the gods of fate why they picked me to fulfill this extremely challenging role in the life of another human being, one who needs special care and attention.

But when I compare that to what some other parents have to go through, it doesn’t seem too bad.  About fifteen years ago, I attended the funeral of a seven-year-old girl who had died from a diabetic complication.  My fiance’s cousin lost his seventeen-year-old son to cancer a little more than a year ago.  Witnessing parents burying their children is awful.  It’s the saddest thing in the universe.

My friend Amy – someone I met through the magic of the Internet just a couple of months ago – is watching over her son David, a.k.a. Capt. Snuggles.  The Captain has a genetic disorder that three of his brothers were also born with.  Nathaniel had just five days on earth before this disease – Citrullinemia – took him from his parents.  Jonathan and Zachary received transplants to “cure” them.  David received a transplant as well, but he is so deep in the woods right now that medical experts are struggling to bring him out.

The last few months have been a series of setbacks and progressions.  Some days good, some days bad.  Right now, things are not looking great, and Amy is now having to endure conversations about “Do Not Resuscitate” orders.

Miracles can happen.  I am writing this in the belief that Capt. Snuggles is going to pull through this and go home to live with his family.

I thought it would be hard to raise a child with autism.  But what I have to go through is nothing compared to what some other parents have to endure.  At least my child is alive.  At least I can kiss him goodnight with the reasonable expectation that I will get to hug him when he wakes up the following morning.

When I think about Amy and her family, and what they’re currently living with, I find myself grateful – tearfully, overwhelmingly grateful – for every single second I have with my boys.

(Click here to read Amy’s story)

Photo credit: Amy (http://transplantedx3.wordpress.com)