Thursday, March 26, 2020

Bell's palsy

Dear Care and Feeding,

About a month ago, as I was getting my 11-month-old ready for day care, I noticed that the left side of her face was drooping weirdly. My husband and I spent that evening consulting Google and more or less arrived at a diagnosis of Bell’s palsy. I made an appointment with her pediatrician.

The pediatrician, who has a stellar reputation, examined her for less than two minutes and announced he would have to immediately consult a pediatric neurologist. He left and returned about five minutes later, when he breathlessly said: “You need to go to the hospital right now. I’ve called ahead. They’re waiting for you at the emergency room.” I was stunned and asked what he thought it was. He answered, “Do you really want to know?” Without waiting for me to reply, he said, “Cranial nerve tumor.”

The next hour or so was a blur. We got to the ER, my husband left work, and he and I had to help the nurses restrain my baby while they stuck needles in her poor little hands and feet as she screamed in fear and pain. It was the worst day of my life. We sat through an MRI that evening and spent the night at the hospital and basically had to confront the possibility that our baby would die. And then, the next morning, we got the results: Bell’s palsy, probably caused by an ear or respiratory infection. It would clear up in a few months.

Our immediate relief has now given way to rage at the pediatrician who made us believe our daughter had a brain tumor based on a two-minute exam. Even the neurologist who delivered the MRI results told us, “No, a tumor wouldn’t even be in the first 10 things I’d check.” Every time I think of this incident, my blood boils. I want to write a letter to our now-ex-pediatrician and explain that this was a traumatic, devastating, and totally unnecessary and irresponsible thing for him to do. I want to publicly ream him out for this and make sure he cannot ever put another parent through what we went through that day. I know doctors aren’t perfect, but this seems inexcusable, and a big part of me wants some kind of justice. Please give me some perspective.

Dear Traumatized,

I’m sorry for this ordeal. It sounds awful.

But please consider that there are parents and children subjected to the same—indeed worse—who don’t get the happy reprieve of a non-life-threatening diagnosis. There are parents who have to restrain their infants for medical procedures day after day, and they would love the relief you are now able to enjoy.

You’re mad at your doctor, and mad on behalf of your kid being put through all that unnecessary pain, and maybe mad at the world, generally, that it contains this kind of fear and stress. It’s maddening. I understand.

I cannot say whether your doctor was negligent or impulsive or anything else; you can’t either, though the clarity of hindsight makes you believe you can. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. You have a healthy baby. You don’t need justice too. Let this go.

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