A few years ago, my eleven year-old came down with something. He felt horrible, and after a long day in the clinic, I dosed him with ibuprofen and tucked him into bed. I reassured him that he would feel better soon. I’ve got this, I thought. I’m a doctor. I wasn’t going to panic about a day of fever and malaise. I pulled out the Gatorade and chicken soup and enforced naps. My quarantine was effective, and no one else got sick.
Four days later, he was still vomiting. He stopped drinking. He had no interest in his favorite ice cream. Soon, he was barely making urine. Kicking myself, I imagined simultaneous appendicitis and rhabdomyolysis, Occam’s razor be damned. Or instead, rashless HSP. My quarantine mocked me: no one else had caught it because it wasn’t contagious. I called my pediatrician and showed up in the office with a child whose moaning broke my heart and accused me of neglect. Had I waited so long his appendix had burst? What good was all my training if I couldn’t even trust my own abdominal exam?
I shared my broad and crazy differential diagnosis with our pediatrician, who gave my son one dose of ondansetron and sent urine, blood and a rapid flu to the lab. While we waited, the magically dissolving tablet did its job, and my son sat up, asking for a drink. When our doctor came back in with the lab results, the patient was begging for apple juice and Dairy Queen. I hung my head in shame. Ready to do an appendectomy for Influenza B, I had become the hysterical mother I routinely saw in my own office.
Once the sting of fear wore off, I realized that while being a mom has made me a better doctor, being a doctor hasn’t necessarily made me a better mother. I have yet to locate the elusive sweet spot between the extremes of doctor and mother. I cannot be objective when it comes to my own children. Which is why I keep my pediatrician on speed dial and a supply of ondansetron in my cupboard.
--Ann Dominguez, mom to four children, writer and Family Practice attending. I have been in community health for 16 years. My novel, The Match, came out in November, and is available on Amazon, iTunes and Kindle.