THIS IS PARENTING
Reflections on Parenting #17
Going into hour two at the emergency room of our local hospital, we patiently await the results of Olivia’s blood draw.
Pobresita Mija has had some abdominal pain off-and-on for three days running, nausea and a fever of 103 at one point, so doctor-mama thought it was time to rule out “appendicitis.”
I had mine 23 years ago on Valentines Day, February 14, 1999. Luckily, I had my mother and my expectant-wife-at-the-time both urge me to “go see a doctor.”
I had been mustering through most of the morning with a temperature, chills and an incessant sharp abdominal cramp that had me reeling and keeling over the bathroom sink at work.
By noon, I had no choice but to heed their motherly advice and so I got on the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn, where there was a clinic a few blocks from home.
I distinctly remember feeling like I might not make the relatively short walk from the metro station to the doctor’s office.
Practically upon arrival, no more than ten minutes later, I was sent to the emergency room four long blocks away, because the doc immediately diagnosed “acute appendicitis.”
After a few rounds of physicians and residents poking and prodding my tender belly, a blood draw or two and a muffled discussion among the white coats about what seemed like uncertain results, it was decided that I would go into surgery overnight.
At the time, I was not experienced or educated enough to ask questions about anything, both before and after the operation. Hence, I will forever remain curious to know if the surgeon actually found anything after all.
Frankly, being briefed on the risks of a burst appendix, upon awakening from the anesthesia, I was simply happy to be alive.
If it had ruptured, then we would have “peritonitis,” a fancy word doctors use for “your life is seriously in danger because now the infection has spread throughout your abdomen and left untreated will cause sepsis, which will more likely kill you. Removal will take hours of surgery, after which you’ll have to wear a shit bag sticking out of your belly for a while.”
And then, not much later, I was off to the surgeon’s office for my appointment to “remove the stitches.” Honestly, I think I was more anxious about this routine procedure than the life-threatening situation I had faced a few weeks earlier.
I didn’t know what to expect, so I imagined that he would have to stick me with a big fat needle to numb my tummy before delicately unthreading Raggedy Andy.
The visit went far faster than anticipated, for after removing my dry blood-soaked dressing he took a pair of bottlenose pliers and pulled out the three staples they used to sew me up. I was surprised at how quick, easy and painless it was.
Where it hurt most was the pocketbook, because I was shocked when I received the $500 bill for the five minute visit.
So, here we are, five children, a second wife and 23 years of life later. Thankfully, we’ve been thru the mill on children having to go to the hospital for one reason or another.
Thus, much like my own visit, a mere month before the birth of my first child, as well as the second hospitalization 17 years later to remediate a retinal separation, by putting a permanent rubber band around my left eye to prevent me from going blind - in both cases, and even today, during now going on four hours of figuring out what is wrong with our little Olivia, I have felt rather calm.
Admittedly, I was slightly more anxious about having lost half a day of productivity toward the million projects we have on our plate at Hacienda Dominguez.
That may all sound utterly insensitive about the peril my daughter might face, but I just didn’t see the point in panicking.
Yes, she had an unusually long bout of symptoms that resembled appendicitis, but she wasn’t wrenching and ailing from unbearable pain, girls are significantly less likely than boys to have it, and I knew her mama-doctor was apt to consider the worst possible scenario, if only because after years of seeing daily traumas and tragedies she was painfully aware of all the medical possibilities and ugly outcomes.
Practically from day one of when we began dating during her residency, I began feeling like a bit of a hypochondriac, because of the horror stories she would often share.
Luckily, if you listen, you tend to learn and over the years we’ve armed ourselves against environmental toxins and bad habits, so that ultimately our physical and mental health became a high priority for our family.
Indeed, after my eye operation; then turning 50 and realizing a responsibility to be a model for my children; and most recently, all the harrowing events that led to our move to Santa Fe to lead a life purposefully less convenient - we’ve confidently positioned ourselves to live a longer and healthier life.
So, all things considered, I couldn’t help but reflect on this feeling of ease, even though we were waiting to have blood drawn in order to draw more concrete conclusions than those inconclusively being drawn by pressing on her stomach.
In fact, I was far more concerned about the radiation from the CT scan that the emergency room doctor was seemingly eager to give Olivia. My wife had specifically sent me Christus Hospital because they had an ultrasound machine, whereas Presbyterian did not.
However, the obviously exhausted doctor with the pirate eyes explained that they had a few instances where an ultrasound was unreliable and had led to some serious misdiagnosis.
Meanwhile, while the two doctors in the room analyzed the lab results, I did what any good layman does and I googled “CT Scan and childhood risks.”
Immediately, I found fairly recent study findings that concluded a high risk of cancer, especially for girls under 12. Luckily, this was enough to give one doctor pause, whereas the other kept pushing toward radiating our daughter. I attributed it to the fact that he was probably sleep deprived and not necessarily making the most prudent decisions, especially because he was eager to simply bring closure to each new patient, so he could quickly move onto the next.
When we balked on the CT scan, he hesitantly asked if we wanted to see the pediatrician on call. I was doing my best to both defer to my wife who knew far better than me, but at the same time I thought I had to also serve as the voice of reason that would balance the eagerness of those who know too much, especially if abetted by maternal instinct - with the fact that even doctors - don’t know everything.
Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe modern western medicine saved my life and my eyesight. That said, we’ve also experienced a time when the medical professionals, all nine of them, had it all wrong.
Almost exactly ten years ago, on March 12, 2012, we went through a similar situation where we had to anxiously await the examination of our newborn child for over 12 hours in the hospital.
Milodeus “Milo” was all but four days old, when unexpectedly the two days of rest we had anticipated to have with all our four boys was suddenly overturned by circumstance and uncertainty.
Ultimately, what began as a five-alarm fire, turned out to be a false alarm.
It began at 11 AM, when Chelsea called me because she was on her way to the emergency room with Milo, who just after nursing was coughing up some mysterious black substance. I was half way home from having just picked up Enzo and Dominic from their mother’s home in Jersey, who were going to meet their littlest brother for the first time.
Even though for hours Milo endured endless poking and prodding, and an ambulance ride alone - he was calm as a cucumber and smiled as if nothing was happening. Indeed, he slept through most of the drama.
And all the while, while all others lost their wits about them, as they tried to figure out his mystery ailment - his vital signs, the X-rays, his blood pressure, and his baby EKG all indicated he was in perfect health.
Thus, it wasn’t until after 9 PM and after 10 hours of prodding and poking, a battery of tests, as well as an ambulance ride uptown in the neonatal bubble that my wife - the physician, an emergency room pediatrician and nurse, two neonatal care doctors, three residents, one neonatal paramedic and a layman father (me) finally realized, that the dark, almost black, substance that Milo had vomited at noon was actually blood from his poor mama's sore and chapped nipple.
It could have been much worse - intestinal blockage or internal bleeding, either of which could have likely meant immediate surgical intervention.
Hence, our drama and grand upheaval. As you might imagine, fraught with anxiety the entire time, Chelsea and I felt as if we had endured a train wreck from hell.
Thankfully, it was determined that he-and-we would not have to stay for observation overnight after all. When we finally received the green light to go home, we were utterly exhausted, but grateful to feel free to be ecstatic newborn parents once again.
Hence, my Spock-like stoicism today.
Fortunately, Dr. Amy Williams joined the chorus for the third and most persuasive opinion. For after she went through the gamut of questions and diagnostics and a frank discussion about the true telltale signs of appendicitis and otherwise, her calm and even playful demeanor was reassuring enough to convince us that patience, faith and some IV-fed fluids to rehydrate our little girl was all we really needed to make her feel better.
Thus, after five hours, Mama took Olivia home, while I went to the pharmacy for some antibiotics to treat what was most likely a lingering and nasty bout of gastroenteritis (stomach flu), as well as to the grocery store for the ice cream we promised her if she survived this ordeal.