We entered the children’s hospital on a dark December evening. We didn’t bring a child.
Up the escalator to the lobby, to the registration desk for our badges, we made our way through the mazes of floors and elevators until we reached a place that looked like nothing we’d ever seen before: a carpeted hallway, two small couches, and an empty coffee table outside a closed door with no window.
We were not visiting the doctor in an examining room, we learned. There would be no paper-covered table, no swiveling chair, no cheerful posters. We were visiting the doctor in his office itself.
The door swung open, and he shook our hands. “I remember you guys,” he said, smiling. “It’s nice to see you again.” Continue Reading…
When I was pregnant with my younger daughter, Sammi, I worked in an aging office suite with a highly-coveted tiny kitchenette. Other departments of the same non-profit had to go to the basement to retrieve and reheat their lunches, but our little corner of the building had a full-size refrigerator and a microwave.
That microwave must have been older than I was. In the years before having children, I often warmed my cold fingers in front of it as heat leaked out the seams in the door. Once I was pregnant, I wouldn’t even pass by the cubby where it rested if I knew someone was using it; I was afraid the radiation was seeping out with the heat, and I didn’t want to put my unborn child at risk of cancer before she was even born.
Then she was diagnosed with a rare congenital heart condition at the age of 13 months, and in addition to the chest x-ray she’d already had, she had to be put under general anesthesia so that her surgeon could get a clear picture of her vascular anatomy via computed tomography — also known as a CT scan. An IV allowed the flow of a contrast solution into her veins and arteries so that they would all light up in the scans. I sent her in — all sixteen pounds of her — and tried not to think about how much radiation she was absorbing. They needed those pictures. It was the only way to get them. Continue Reading…
After 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…
Between 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…
My daughter Sammi was born at 41.5 weeks of gestation at four pounds and eleven ounces. I have spent the last ten years reciting those statistics in reverse.
“So mom, what was her birth weight?” is often one of the first questions a pediatric specialist asks.
A pause for my answer, and then I could chant it along with them: “So was she premature?”
No, she wasn’t, I have to answer. She was what they call post-term, which is the opposite of premature. It’s late. She was waiting it out inside me, and then when she came out as tiny as a premature baby, everyone scrambled. She was totally proportionate — filled out and lovely, just miniature. The hospital did genetic testing and found nothing out of the ordinary. That’s when we began to hear two different lines of justification for her size. Continue Reading…