Saturday, May 14, 2011

Match the Words to the Situation

Finding an effective treatment or cure for a problem means identifying the right medicine. My grandmother used "pink pills" (wintermint drops) as a disciplinary measure (bribe) for kids with imaginary illnesses. Therefore, we would all develop an imaginary illness from time to time. My mother used sulfur and molasses any time any one of her children developed a cough. That stuff tasted horrible, but it was a magic cure. None of us would dare cough within hearing distance of her.

Using the appropriate medicine for an illness has a parallel in human relations. It is called matching the words to the situation. Sometimes they need to be soft, and other times they need to be direct. They always need to be in a language that can be understood.

My youngest son, Doah, whom we stole from a Pennsylvania hospital (we shall call that place Renboro Hospital) where he was dying from a subglottic stenosis, treated with a tracheotomy, and where the doctors angered us with their arrogance, was finally cured in Cincinnati. However, we were warned that while his airway would grow quickly, for several months it would be marginal and that Donnie (husband), Lizzie (oldest daughter), and I should keep our CPR skills current for those times when Doah might stop breathing. So, although we expected periods of apnea and knew that getting through these few months was the only way to get get Doah to the point where he could consistently breathe without a tube in his trachea, the apneic episodes were always unwelcome occurrences.

The first apneic episode after our return from Cincinnati resulted in my doing 15 minutes of CPR before Doah began to breathe again. While we were en route to the hospital, Donnie driving and I doing CPR (faster than waiting 20 minutes for a volunteer ambulance crew to be assembled), the local small-hospital staff contacted the Life Flight helicopter to fly Doah to, sigh!, Renboro Hospital. Even though Doah was breathing on his own by the time we reached the local hospital, he was whisked to Renboro.

Of course, we were not allowed on the helicopter with Doah, so we arrived somewhat later than he did. When I walked in, an ENT resident was sitting beside Doah and reading the ten-inch file on him. When he learned who I was, the doctor lectured, asserting that all the Renboro Hospital procedures had been correct, that I was an impatient parent who had erringly taken my child to another hospital, and that clearly Doah had needed a tracheotomy and still needed one because he had scar tissue in his larynx. He told me that an operating room was being readied as we were speaking. I explained the opinion of the doctor in Cincinnati, who had not replaced the tracheotomy when Doah had accidentally removed his breathing tube in his sleep: The problem was not the old scar tissue in the larynx but the new scar tissue caused by the tracheotomy that was now interfering with Doah's breathing and that if everyone were just to leave him alone, he would outgrow the problem. (We sure loved that doctor in Cincinnati! Dr. Robin Cotton is his real name, and he has a large fan club, formed of the parents of all the children whose lives he has saved.)

The Renboro Hospital resident patronizingly pointed to the laryngeal area. In condescending tones so typically used with parents, he said, "Right here is where the scar tissue is, and we must put in the tracheotomy again."

I was very tired from the CPR, the 45-minute drive to the hospital, and the late hour. Further, Donnie was still parking the car so I was alone with this insolent, obtuse (my opinion), and impolite doctor-in-training. At that point, I chose to talk to the resident in a language that he could understand quietly and calmly and, therefore, effectively.

"Doctor," I said firmly, "this baby does have subglottic anomalies, but the area of gravest concern is the site of the tracheotomy itself where there has been a significant build-up of granulation tissue." (Comfort with that language comes from my study of Greek and Latin--and much time spent reading medical journals.

The doctor looked at me for a minute or so silently. Then, he picked up Doah's chart and walked off with a monosyllabic comment, "Oh."

I fell asleep beside Doah, not waking up until morning. At that time, Doah was released without further discussion of another tracheotomy. We finally got Renboro Hospital to do it our way!


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published about real-life events, copyright 2003.

Note: Also posted on Mahlou Musings and 100th Lamb.


  1. Life can be frustrating. Good Post. God Bless You.

  2. Thanks, JT. I am, for sure, in the middle of one of those frustrating periods right now -- my boss was afraid of getting in trouble, so he blamed his failure on me! Oh, well, this, too, will blow over.


Search This Blog