I thought maybe my 14-month old son woke up on the wrong side of the crib from his afternoon nap. He wasn't acting like himself. He had no appetite. He was burning up. And he was breathing noisily. I had thought he was getting better from his cold that started several days ago but now he looked sick.
I took out my stethoscope and listened to his lungs. Coarse breath sounds, rhonchi, and wheezes. It sounded awful in there. In my little baby boy. My sweet, angel of a boy. It seemed so wrong that such sounds would be coming from his lungs.
I grabbed his sister's albuterol inhaler and spacer and gave him a couple of puffs. Which did nothing appreciable to his breathing. He also wasn't the most compliant of patients.
It was Sunday afternoon. Of course. It would be the ER. Now, or in the middle of the night, I thought.
I made the executive decision to have him be evaluated in the ER. We should go. Now.
At the front desk, I insisted to be the one to fill out the triage paperwork (as opposed to my husband, not in lieu of the nurse!) Reason for coming: wheezing, tachypnea, fever. I needed to "sell" him as someone who needed to be a priority. I needed them to know I knew.
Rectal temperature in triage: 102.9 F. Pulse 180s. O2 sat 93% (!) RR 42/min (!)
It wasn't very busy and we got into a room right away. They set up a neb for him right away and had me administer it to him, knowing that I was a physician.
JL did NOT like the nuisance mist machine all up in his business all the time and fought it sadly, crying, twisting. I watched as the nebulized mist battled his thumb that was firmly planted in his mouth. He was burning in my hands.
I told the ER physician right away that I was an internist. We needed to be on the same page. Because of that, her way of dealing with me changed, giving me a lot more power in the physician-parent relationship. She told me her thoughts, but then wanted mine, and ultimately left certain choices up to me. X-ray or not (no). Antibiotics are not (yes). I couldn't bear the thought of his little body soaking of radiation - and for what? To definitely know he had a pneumonia? Would I be satisfied if it was negative to not give him antibiotics (no)? But, I worried about some focus of bacterial infection since he was getting better from his cold and then turned for the worse. Bloodwork or not (no). Ceftriaxone IM x 1 (no).
I appreciated having the chance to weigh in so heavily, although I do wonder if I was completely clinically "on" given my duress having a sick child in my arms. Not any sick child. My sick child. But we decided this would be our management. He would be given an acute follow-up appointment in the peds clinic the next morning.
At the follow-up, the pediatrician examined his ears and saw a very clear-cut ear infection in his right ear. This was never done in the ER. I had wondered to myself if someone was going to look in his ears for the sake of completeness, and even entertained the idea of taking a look myself with the otoscope in the room, but quickly brushed the thought aside when JL had pried open the red biohazard container of the floor exposing some kind of urine hat. Plus, the ER physician didn't think it was necessary.
Perhaps I led the ER physician down a diagnostic pathway due to my own suspicions, and maybe coming from me, was persuasive enough not to veer her too far off that path. I know how to give a compelling story for whatever process I think is going on. Isn't this only natural? But, I'm wondering whether she would have done exactly the same with a parent who wasn't a physician. Would she have been more complete? Would she run more tests?
Anyway, JL is doing better, on antibiotics. He's defeveresced but still with a "junky" chest exam. His antibiotic dose was increased since apparently the dosage is higher for an ear infection than pneumonia (wow, peds was that long ago).
And I'm left wondering how much I help and how much I complicate when it comes to the health of my own children. I hope it's heavily weighted towards the former.