Parenting Perspective: Going with Your Gut

Sienna hanging out.
April 1, 2010 9:58:28 AM PDT
I admit, for the first five weeks of my daughter's life, I was a bit of a stereotypical new parent. The nurses at our pediatrician's office knew my voice when I called.

"Water eyes? Nothing to worry about," they said. "Just immature tear ducts."

"No poopy diaper in two days? Common in breastfed babies," they assured me.

"Nighttime congestion? Minor acid reflux, just keep her elevated after meals."

But on the Wednesday before Labor Day, came this: A lively little newborn whom didn't care much for sleeping during the day suddenly seemed lethargic. I took Sienna's temperature and it registered at 99.8. I called the doctor's office and the nurse told me that 99.8 was not considered a fever but to keep an eye on it.

A few hours later Sienna still wasn't herself. By then, the thermometer read 100.3. An hour later her temperature was 101.8. I placed a second call to the doctor's office. Another nurse told me a temperature under 104 was nothing to worry about. But I wasn't convinced. Sienna spent most of the day sleeping and although that is common for most newborns, it was just out of character for her. I kept pressing the nurse, asking her more questions about my daughter's demeanor. After a few minutes, she put me on hold to get a second opinion from the doctor. When she got back on the line, she told me to head to the hospital.

It turns out, she got her numbers wrong. A fever above 100 POINT 4 not 104 was considered a serious concern in babies less than 8 weeks of age. So, off to the emergency department we went, anxious and frightened.

When we arrived, I prepared myself for a long wait. There were dozens of families waiting to be seen. After we gave our name and described Sienna's condition, they brought us back to triage right away. I didn't know if I should be thankful or more frightened.

After confirming her temperature, the resident doctor told us because of her age and because she hadn't received any immunizations yet, it was necessary to test her blood, urine and spinal fluid for infection. The latter test had us concerned and justifiably so. A spinal tap, especially on a baby, is not an easy procedure. We found out just how difficult it was after the resident missed three times. Sienna would have to begin an intravenous anti-biotic treatment as a precaution until a radiology guided tap could be completed twelve hours later.

Unfortunately, those test results came back vague. Doctors found white blood cells in her spinal fluid and could not distinguish whether the cells were from a hematoma caused by the missed spinal taps, or were an indication that Sienna was fighting off an infection, specifically bacterial meningitis. A team of infectious disease doctors encouraged us to take the conservative route and treat for bacterial meningitis. That meant a fourteen-day stay at the hospital.

Needless to say, it was an excruciating two weeks. Although we never doubted Sienna would make a full recovery (which she did), there is nothing more painful then seeing your child in pain. What's worse, you can't explain to a newborn why she is being stuck with a needle every few days or why strangers stop in every few hours to poke and prod at her tiny body. There's no way to verbally reassure her that all of this is all being done to make her better, not to cause her pain, but she would have to endure some pain none-the-less.

There were times when my husband and I questioned whether we were doing the right thing. What if this was simply a minor virus (which the doctors strongly believed it may have been) and she didn't NEED the antibiotics or a two-week visit in the hospital? For the first time we understood what it meant to truly be responsible for another person and the agony of the decisions that go along with that responsibility.

Whether or not Sienna had bacterial meningitis, we will never know. Medicine has come a long way but it is not perfect - neither are doctors or nurses. But something was causing Sienna's discomfort; something triggered that fever and her lethargy; and something in me told me she needed help, even when a professional initially told me otherwise. This was our daughter and neither my husband nor I believe you can be in the business of taking chances with your child.

This is not meant to criticize anyone who was or is involved with Sienna's care. The doctors and nurses were exceptional and we will be forever grateful for the care they provided our daughter. I simply want to reassure parents, especially new parents that your greatest tool is not that 600-page baby book or the Internet; it is not something that can be taught or bought or referenced. It is your gut, your instinct. Go with it... chances are it's right and if it's not, well then you can be reassured you have a healthy baby, and it doesn't get much better than that.


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