Be thankful for good health on Thanksgiving

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Among the things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving is the good health of my family. I was reminded of this during a recent trip to the hospital.

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My daughter went to bed early the other night, something she almost never does. She said she was tired but she was obviously uncomfortable, complaining of a "scratch." After lying in bed for an hour, she started to cry.

This was no ordinary cry. This was a screaming, hollering, wailing cry of inconsolable pain. She was doubled over and clutching her stomach, the right side of her stomach. There was some nausea. She felt hot.

Although she said her stomach "scratched", she was really trying to describe a different pain. Our daughter, like many children, has a limited vocabulary. More precisely, she is mildly autistic. Fortunately, she uses the words she knows with reasonable effectiveness and we usually, eventually figure out what she means.

The symptoms my daughter displayed were consistent with appendicitis. I know this from personal experience. In short order we were in the car on the way to the hospital.

During the drive I continued to ask how she was doing, but she did not answer. Unfortunately, one of the manifestations of my daughter's autism is great difficulty in expressing herself, including answering the most important of questions, "How do you feel?"

Before we entered the emergency room I tried once more.

"Does your tummy still hurt?" I asked.

"Yes," she replied.

We spent less than a minute in the waiting room. Almost as soon as we were in the door we were ushered into one of the staging rooms and very shortly thereafter had visits from two nurses. They verified her symptoms and confirmed that appendicitis was a possibility, and said the doctor would be with us soon.

Actually, the doctor did not see us until much later. There were other emergencies, and my screaming, hollering, pitiable child from earlier in the evening had become a quiet little girl in some unknown degree of discomfort who was otherwise content listening to her daddy read from the storybooks I brought along. To be truthful, it was a great bonding experience.

When the doctor on duty finally saw us, the pain had already subsided considerably. My daughter's stomach was no longer tied in knots like it was earlier, but she still winced when he pressed down on top of her appendix. Unfortunately, the examination revealed little else.

I told the doctor about my own burst appendix, ten years before, when I was confined to a hospital bed for five days before it was discovered. He promised me that diagnostic methods have improved since then.

There were some tests. A urine sample was produced but proved inconclusive. A CT scan also failed to provide any answers. I was told that an ultrasound would be done right away and then blood would be drawn, and after that the doctor would consult with a surgeon.

Throughout the evening, my daughter was a real trooper. It became apparent that she was feeling better as the evening progressed, as evidenced by finger games we were playing back and forth and by her giggling. Shortly after midnight she asked if we could go home.

After waiting thirty minutes for the "right away" ultrasound we were told that it would be another half an hour before their technician could arrive. I felt my daughter's forehead and felt no fever, pressed down on her stomach with no pained response, and summoned the doctor to tell him we were going home.

Most doctors are well trained, well intentioned, professional and courteous. Our doctor was all of these things. Still, doctors are limited when it comes to diagnosing physical ailments, especially when diagnosing children with limited vocabularies.

In the end, our doctor could only express his medical opinion. While he was concerned about our leaving without a diagnosis, as I was, he agreed that observation of her condition overnight was an acceptable alternative. We went home.

The next morning she awoke healthy and happy, and wanted pumpkin pie for breakfast.

I hope your family enjoys good health this holiday season, and that hospital staffs everywhere have a very quiet Thanksgiving.

• Michael Wittig is a stay-at-home parent and longterm Juneau resident.



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