I find that being a doctor and a mother sometimes leaves me with really difficult choices. Naturally it falls to me to decide whether and when our children need medical attention, and I always find it an impossible call to make. The few times I’ve taken my daughter to the GP he has asked me how her chest sounded or whether I have tried any treatments myself first, and seems surprised when I say no, I prefer to be her mother rather than her doctor. When we’ve had to take her to hospital appointments, the consultants will speak directly to me, using long words that I remember distantly from medical school but which aren’t really relevant to the specialty I have been in for the past nine years, and don’t bother explaining anything to my husband at all.
When my daughter broke her arm I gave her all the painkillers I could, made her dinner, which she ate one handed whilst quietly sobbing, before finally conceding that she could probably do with an X-ray. When the doctor, a colleague of mine, examined her, I couldn’t bare to look at her swollen, bent arm, and seeing her X-ray made me cry.
I am officially bored of the kids being poorly now. After a month in total of chickenpox quarantine after first one, then the other, got pickled in spots. As we have recovered from that my daughter got the tummy bug romping through the school, and now the delightful common cold has arrived. After days of being croupy, snotty, and coughing till he was sick, I was up all night with the two year old struggling to breath.
I spent several hours wondering to myself how poorly he needs to be before it’s acceptable to take him in to my own emergency department. As he got more obviously exhausted and more distressed by his efforts to get his breath in, I could hear him grunting from downstairs as I went downstairs to find the calpol. I could feel his chest sucking in between each rib under my fingers as I held him up. At that point I thought I probably couldn’t wait for the GP later that day. The dark before morning arrives is always the most terrifying with a poorly child, somehow once it gets light they never seem quite so ill.
I did make a point of not looking how busy the department was, and how long the wait was before I left. I worked yesterday and the department had been total carnage with an epic wait to be seen. I knew that if I had decided he was poorly enough to see a doctor as an emergency then he would have to be nurse triaged, and if he wasn’t as poorly as I was worried about, he would have to wait like everybody else, but somewhere that he had access to the medicines I was concerned he might need.
As I booked him in at the reception desk I already felt stupid, that I’d obviously overreacted and that I should have been able to sort him out myself at home. When the nurse said he was working really hard I was more relieved than I should have been to hear someone else say that my child was actually poorly. Seeing him turn from an exhausted, clingy, dribbly little soul, to his usual chattery self after having a big dose of inhalers made me sure I made the right choice to bring him. After the dose of steroids he was back to excitedly exploring all the new toys in the waiting room.
By the time we’d been there a couple of hours and the new medicines had time to work I was totally confident to take him home again, with some extra meds in my handbag.
Now it’s like it never happened. He’s back to having tantrums about not being allowed to use the electric drill, or have his sister’s new magazine, with only the quietest hint of wheezing as he strops. Back to causing carnage in the garden, getting covered in mud and spreading it around the house.
This is why I always reassure parents as I examine their incredibly well and happy looking children, who they assure me was close to death before they arrived. I tell them that they haven’t wasted my time at all, and that small children like to make us all look like liars by getting better the moment a doctor comes to see them. Sometimes it’s hard to listen to my own words though, and not worry about looking like a fool in front of friends.