12 Questions I Wish I’d Asked My Daughter’s Doctors Before Every Outpatient Procedure

notepadNo matter how many times I sent my daughter into an operating or medical procedure space, it was always unnerving. Though eventually I knew what to expect — and so did she — there was always something I forgot to ask. Sometimes, even if I thought I’d heard the answer enough times that I didn’t need to ask it again, a new anesthesiologist or nurse followed a slightly different protocol, and I’d be taken off guard. Because of that, there were questions I wish, in retrospect, that I’d had the presence of mind to ask each and every time.

If you’re taking your child in for outpatient surgery or an invasive test, here are some things you might want to ask – and write down the answers in a notebook you can keep handy. Continue Reading…

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I Am Not a Fool, and Other Thoughts

hosesAfter ten endoscopies, a year of restricted diets, nearly six years of medication to block acid production in her stomach, diagnosis with an inflammatory disorder called eosinophilic esophagitis, and dozens of trips to gastroenterologists, my eight-year-old daughter slid under an x-ray machine, drank some barium, and lit up the screen with a reveal of her esophagus, kinked into utterly unnatural shapes. After the radiologist told me in a hushed voice that the indentations in her esophagus were coming from her aorta, snaking its way across the back of her body, I began to put all the pieces together on my own.

The esophagus is like a rubber hose stretched between two funnels —  mouth on one end and stomach on the other. For Sammi, on one side of that hose —  about a third of the way from the top — a firmer hose was pressing into it from the side, trying to make its way across. That was her aorta, arching down the right side of her body instead of the left, where most people’s aortic arch lives, because of a surgery she’d had to correct a double aortic arch as a baby. It partially succeeded in crossing, but when it met with too much resistance, it snaked down further and tried again, forcing Sammi’s esophagus to follow its path until that esophagus was shaped not like a long straight rubber tube but like a lightning bolt. Continue Reading…

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Holding Things

insideSammiBetween 2010 and 2013, between the ages of four and eight, my daughter Sammi had ten endoscopies. Each time, she fasted from dinner the night before until after her morning procedure. Each time, they held a gas mask over her face in the operating room until she fell asleep, and then, after escorting me out of the room, they inserted an IV with heavier anesthesia and fluids, took a blood sample, inserted a mouthpiece and fed a camera down into her esophagus. They took pictures and they took biopsies — tiny pieces of her esophagus to test for the presence of eosinophils, the white blood cells whose functions, according to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, include

movement to inflamed areas, trapping substances, killing cells, antiparasitic and bactericidal activity, participating in immediate allergic reactions, and modulating inflammatory responses. 

Ten times. They did that to her ten times in just over three years. They did that because she was still experiencing the symptoms of GERD — also known as “reflux” — past the age that a child would normally outgrow it. We took her to a major children’s hospital gastroenterology practice, a practice in the same hospital that had corrected her cardiac issue when she was a baby. Keeping everything in the same hospital made sense to us, at the time. All the records would be together, we thought. There would be less repeating ourselves, far fewer requirements of us to remember dates and test results — all the information would be stored with her chart.

We believed in the power of information sharing among professionals, which was a mistake. Continue Reading…

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Just Finish

pleasefinishIn the fall of 2013, Sammi’s mealtimes became the most tortuous they’d ever been. Eating enough food took every free moment of her day.

Like the endless meals of her earlier years, Sammi’s times of sitting at the table became a fight between my instinct to fill our relationship with more than just the constant nagging to eat and my growing worry over how obviously difficult it was for her to get enough calories in a day. I could feel my blood pressure rise every time I watched her sit, holding a spoonful of uneaten food, and talk to me about what she had seen on television or what was happening at school. No food was tasty enough to hold her attention. She would rather do anything other than eat.

“Just. Eat. That. Bite,” I’d say with my back to her, clenching my jaw.

Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. After half a cup of cereal and milk, it was time to leave for school. On a good day, she would eat half of a small quesadilla, a few crackers, and one Oreo for lunch. On a bad day, just a few bites of her quesadilla. At dinner, she stopped every five minutes or so to refill her water, go to the bathroom, or inexplicably stand up and bounce next to her seat. By 7:45 — usually more than 90 minutes after dinner began — we would have to stop her meal so that she could go to sleep.

Massive doses of Prevacid — a proton-pump inhibitor that kept her stomach from producing acid — took away her symptoms, but anything less than a crazy dose returned her to us as the sunken-eyed, chronically underfed child we’d struggle to help through a day.

To say that this process was maddening is to touch only the surface of the fury it brought up in me. Why couldn’t she eat like a normal kid? I spent much of each school day in a state of cognitive dissonance, trying not to think of how few calories she was taking in, how little fuel she had to get her through gym class, recess, and a day of learning.

Her gastroenterology team told me, whenever I worried to them, that these kids with eosinophilic esophagitis are notoriously poor eaters. They feel nauseated a lot of the time. They have bad associations with food. They don’t know any different, so they can’t describe the feelings to us. This is their normal, the doctors and nurses told me. Continue Reading…

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