Saturday, June 4, 2016

Why asking questions could save lives in the medical profession: the Doctor's

I was in labor for 48 hours with my second child, my son. The friends who had volunteered to watch our daughter all had to go back to work after 48 hours of child care duty, and so as I lay in the hospital bed with my new baby boy, my husband went back home to watch our daughter, planning to come back the next day to get me and our newest itty-bitty.

For the entire 2 hours after he left, the nurses continually tried to persuade me to give them our baby so they could bottle feed him, even though we'd requested breastfeeding only. And then our son had to be taken to the NICU because he was too cold. An hour after that, I am in a panic because the new nurse on shift DOESN'T KNOW WHERE MY SON IS and I find that a little bit disturbing. When I finally got him back, it was about 3-4 in the morning, I hadn't slept in about 3 days, and I was so wired from not knowing where my son was that I couldn't sleep until I went back home later that day.

I got one night of sleep, with interruptions for baby feedings, and then...DAY 2 happened. And it deserves ALL the capital letters. All of 'em. Because at that point, my sweet little baby boy started crying, and crying, and crying. He cried when he was held, he cried when he was put down, he even cried when he nursed, latching on just enough to take a gulp and then crying about it. Colic with another capital C.

Except it seemed like it was going on much, much longer than it should. In fact, we timed it a couple of times and he was crying about 20 hours a day, sleeping in 5-10 minute increments only.

It went on for 2 weeks.

I can't tell you even now why I didn't go to the doctor sooner, because...seriously, who wouldn't go to the doctor when their baby is crying crazily like this? I'd like to think it's because I started off this round 2 of baby care three days in the hole for sleep, got a few cat naps' worth for a day, and then was back to such sleep deprivation that I was completely, utterly beyond the point of sanity.

My husband tried to help, by which I mean he took the screaming baby so I could get a little sleep, which actually meant he helpfully walked the wailing baby up and down the hallway next to the bedroom and in the living room of our house-of-paper-thin-walls.

A couple nights before we had our first baby check, I remember our midwife actually telling him that he needed to take the baby AWAY from the house because I was so sleep deprived I wasn't healing properly after the birth.

To be fair, it was likely my undiagnosed disorder that explained my lack of healing, but at the time, all I remember was a desperate gratitude that someone other than me was explaining that perhaps having a baby screaming right outside the door is not conducive to most people's ability to sleep. I loved that midwife at that moment?

So, what does all this have to do with saving lives?

It all has to do with attitude. I want you to get in my head, the head of someone who is too sleep deprived to think rationally, or reasonably, or to do any sort of problem solving in a normal way. So rather than think 'something is wrong, I need to take the baby in now,' all I could think was, 'something is wrong, I just need to make it until I can see the doctor at the two week check up.'

Now, don't ask me what my husband was doing at this point in time. I honestly don't remember, or understand, why he didn't suggest we go in earlier. Heck, maybe he did. Frankly, a good chunk of my memories of that period of my life are likely half hallucination.

But that is exactly why questions matter. Because in this half-hallucinatory, sleep deprived, desperate state, I went to see my son's pediatrician. I drove him there, because one should always drive when you are so sleep deprived that drunkards on a three week bender are better drivers than you. And then I waited to see the doctor. And I told him, 'my baby is crying ALL THE TIME. Something is wrong.'

And the doctor looked at me, and he weighed my son, and looked him over, and smiled one of those 'you poor, ignorant mother' kind of smiles, and told me, 'It's just colic. It'll pass.'

Let me say now, for the record, that this is a sentence that should NEVER, EVER pass a doctor's lips. Not unless they, themselves, have gone for two months straight with a baby screaming in their ears non-stop day and night, without warning, and keeping them desperate and sleep deprived. Even if it IS colic, it should never pass someone's lips, because colic is truly, truly horrible.

But this particular doctor should never had said this sentence because he nearly cost him his life. And you may think I'm exaggerating, in an 'I could have killed him' kind of way. But no, I mean this literally, because I was so completely, brain-damagingly exhausted that my first thought at his words were this: if I kill him, they will put me in jail. I can sleep in jail.

And that sounded reasonable and sane to me right then. It honestly did. I still remember that thought SO clearly, and it seemed like the perfect solution to the problem. I think the only reason I did nothing was because I was so sleep deprived that I couldn't think of a way TO kill him.

One simple thing could have saved this man's life (other than my being too tired to assassinate him): asking a question.

When I said, 'my baby cries all the time,' he could have asked one simple, yet important, question: how often is that?  No doctor in the world would tell me that about 20 hours of crying, with sleep at 5 minute increments otherwise, was normal or 'okay' for a newborn infant.* Just that one question, and he would have understood that my baby had something going on that needed to be addressed.

And he wouldn't have crushed the hopes and dreams of a woman who needed sleep so badly that she thought going to jail for his murder was the best way to GET some sleep.

So please, doctors, remember to ask the important questions rather than just assume you know the answer. It could save your life one day.

* For those interested, it turned out that my baby was likely reacting to the iron in my prenatal vitamins I'd started taking at the end of day 1 home from the hospital. A lactation nurse brought up the possibility in a forum; she had heard of this happening before, although she hadn't seen it herself. When I stopped the vitamins, the crying dropped from 20 hours to 6 within 24 hours (the cessation of crying within 24 hours seems to be a hallmark of this).  After that, he really DID have colic, but not IOCS ('Insane Olympic Crying Syndrome.').

I have since met one other woman who had a similar issue. Her pediatrician was, as was mine, pretty much not helpful. Except she remembers trying to eliminate all sorts of foods to make the crying stop, and the crying would get worse; she would increase her vitamin intake at the time when she would do the elimination diet because she was worried the baby wouldn't get enough.  When she finally stopped breastfeeding, baby stopped crying within a day.

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