It was about 6:45pm when I held my baby to my chest to feed him. His body felt much warmer than normal, which prompted me to take his temperature. After three different readings, the temp 101.4 triggered my mommy instincts. I needed to take him to the hospital. I asked my husband to pack his diaper bag while I calmed my worried thoughts. At only 5 weeks old, my baby was experiencing discomfort and it was breaking my heart. We pulled into the children’s hospital around 7:25 pm and sat in the waiting room.
As he rested quietly, I opened my phone to begin writing about my feelings. The life of a wife and mother of two was taxing. It was beginning to wear on me emotionally, physically — pretty much every -ally possible. I was beyond tired and fatigued due to little sleep the night before but I was hopeful. I was looking forward to getting a break on Friday. My mother in law had promised to take off work in order to watch the baby for me. I had been planning that day for at least a week.
Eight o’clock rolled around and I heard our number called.
Within five minutes, my concern deepened. My sons temperature was 104. I remained calm and hopeful that he would be fine. We were taken to a room and waited for our nurse. Vitals were taken and he was given a Tylenol suppository for his fever.
Moments later (or maybe an hour, time has become a blur) the doctor came in. A middle aged black woman with a cute curly fro. She explained they would like to draw blood and do a catheter to test his urine for infection. I was familiar with the process because my daughter needed the same treatment when she was 6 months old.
The doctor also briefly mentioned something about needing to do a spinal tap if something something something. I don’t remember. I might have tuned out a little.
When they came to do the catheter and draw blood, I had to step out of the room to talk to my husband. I can handle the crying on a regular day, but after taking care of a crying baby all day, I absolutely couldn’t take seeing him go through so much probing.
It was over within 15 minutes and for the next hour, I held my baby in my arms as I sat on the bed and watched Queen Sugar. The resident Dr, who was completing her residency, came back and said his urine returned abnormal and he may have an infection. Because of this, they needed to do a spinal tap to test the fluid in his back.
This is where the night got interesting.
I expressed that I wasn’t comfortable with a spinal tap. Her reaction was that of surprise and expressed she would go and get the other doctor. At this point we had been at the hospital for about 3 hours. After a conversation with my mom and more waiting, I told the nurse to bring me our discharge papers and I would take him to his doctor in the morning. She informed me I’d have to sign papers indicating I’m refusing the recommended care. I acknowledged and told her I was ready to go.
Within what seemed like seconds, the two doctors came rushing into the room almost in a panic.Curly Fro doctor had a concerned look on her face.
“Hey, I thought we talked about this?” She said it while holding her arms open like we were lovers about to quarrel about her going out on a Friday night.
“We did. I’m not comfortable with it.”
“Well, let’s keep talking about it”
I listened as she explained this was the best thing for my child and the best method going forward. I listened as she explained how the spinal tap works as she simultaneously drew a diagram on the fitted bed sheet in front of me. I listened as she told me that this could literally be the difference between life and death.
Then I started responding. “I’m not comfortable with the spinal tap. Is there another option?”
She responded, informing me (for about the 7th time) that in babies as young as 5 months old, a 104 fever moves doctors to test every fluid in their body to rule out meningitis. Having had a friend experience meningitis, I knew first hand that it wasn’t anything to mess with. Even still, I wanted to explore any other possible methods of treating my baby before we went straight to sticking a needle in his tiny back.
That is when she traveled to the dirtier art of convincing — manipulation:
“There’s definitely bacteria in his urine. His body is fighting an infection”
“So you’re just ok with fluid and bacteria swimming around your baby’s head?”
“What am I not explaining to you? What don’t you understand?”
“Why wouldn’t you want to make the best decision for your child?”
I realized I had a few choices. I could have begun cursing at her. Telling her to leave me alone and give me my damn discharge papers so I could take my son to the Doctor in the morning and get a second opinion (which I did say, without the rude tone and curse words). I reasoned that instead of meeting her with belligerence, I would use intelligence. I’d speak with a firm yet educated tone. Cuz ain’t nobody bout to be telling me what decisions I need to make for my own child.
“I’m pretty sure there isn’t fluid and bacteria swimming around my baby’s head”
“I understand everything you’re saying. I just don’t agree with your opinion.”
“You being a doctor doesn’t mean you get to decide whether or not my decisions are best for MY child. He’s mine.”
Over the course of forty five minutes, Curly Fro Doctor left and came back several times to see if I’d changed my mind. In between her absences, I had conversations with my husband and mother. They both agreed that we should come home. One of the times she returned, she presented me with two options.
Option A: Get the spinal tap and stay for two days while the baby received antibiotics via an IV.
Option B: Not get the spinal tap and stay for 10 days while he received antibiotics via an IV because at that point they’d have to treat him as if he had meningitis.
I told her, I choose Option C: Going home.
She said, “No, you’re not going home.”
We went back and forth once again. Me telling her I’d sign paperwork agreeing that I refused care and her saying she couldn’t let me do that because it would endanger her license. She then educated me on the Terrell Peterson Act, which states “that a physician may retain temporary protective custody of a child without a court order and without parental consent if the child’s life or health is in imminent danger…”
Basically, she told me she would be taking custody of my child if I continued to refuse her recommended care.
I asked questions.
“Is there another way to give him the antibiotics aside from an IV?”
“This is the best way” was her answer
“Is there any other way?”
“This is the best treatment.”
“You aren’t answering my question.”
“What’s your question?”
What? What’s my question? Ok. Now you playin’
Yet and still, I repeated myself.
“Is this the only way for my child to get antibiotics”
“He needs to get the antibiotics via an IV. It’s the best way.” This was her final answer obviously.
“Ok. So your answer is yes? IV is the only way?”
She hesitated, then replied “yes.”
You’re lying, I thought, But OK.
We went back and forth. She kept using scare tactics and talking her shit. I told her I wasn’t doing it.She told me, she had to get her social worker and social services involved.It was now 2 am.I was exhausted. And pissed.The social worker came and asked how she could help. I told her I didn’t know.She basically repeated what Curly Fro Doctor said. A few times.She added in a story about how her son had to get a spinal tap.Thanks for sharing. Still not comfortable.
By this time X was on the phone listening. After threats to involve DFCS and take custody, X and I decided to just let them do the spinal tap. It was now 3:00 am and I was delirious and overwhelmed.
Social Worker left and I began expressing my anger to X. Then I realized, he isn’t the one who needed to hear it so I called Social Worker back in. I told her I felt bullied into making a decision. Because I did. I felt as if I was treated as if I don’t have the capacity to know what’s best for my child.I asked her what would happen if I put my son in his car seat and walked out.
“We wouldn’t let you.”
“What you mean you wouldn’t let me? You’d stand in front of me to stop me?”
“We wouldn’t let you leave.”
The conversation wasn’t going anywhere so I dismissed her, respectfully. I was still upset, but we had made a decision to go forward with it.
They did the stuff. All of it. At this point I was extremely exhausted and emotional. I needed a break, and I didn’t see one in sight. I was alone. My baby had been crying from being poked and injected. I was weary. I was coming to terms with the reality that the next two days would be spent in a hospital. All of this + hearing my baby cry continuously, evoked tears. I cried. Hard. Then I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I had now been awake for almost 24 hours. Drained. My crying became uncontrollable. And no one cared. No one came to my aid. Not even Social Worker.
It was then that I cursed this system. The one that forces you to do what they feel is best. Using manipulation and scare tactics. Making me feel as if I’m too uneducated to make rational decisions for my child. Threatening me with DFCS (Department of Family and Children Services). As if somehow my disagreement with them made me an unfit mother.
Another resident Doctor came in and stared at me as I gasped for air and tried to gain control of myself. A short, white, bald young dude.
He finally spoke “Whats wrong?”
“I’m just tired” is all I could get out.
“Well. Your kid’s gonna be fine.”
My kid’s gonna be fine. Thanks. Thanks for your compassion. Thanks for your comfort, Short Bald Resident.
“Get out of my face” is what I wanted to say but like I mentioned, I could barely breathe let alone talk.
Finally (because he needed me to answer questions) he coached me through taking deep breaths. I took about 10 deep, intentional breaths before I was able to gain control and return to a calm state.
By 4:30 am, we had been admitted into a room and X was packing things to bring to me. He had called our kids’ amazing god parents to stay at the house with our daughter so that he could come keep me company. At this point, I needed someone. I needed a hug, or just a familiar, loving face. He was exactly that for me when he showed up at 5:30am. We both laid together on the small twin couch thing in the room and drifted off to sleep for an hour.
So this is what I’ll say. Through this experience and the experience of having two kids, I’ve learned that healthcare is a tricky business. In some places, they’ll convince you that you need a procedure or even medication simply because they think so. Or because it’s standard practice. They’ll give you Pitocin (Pitocin is used to produce contractions during the third stage of labor, and control bleeding after childbirth.) during childbirth even though you don’t need it. They’ll ignore your requests because well, you don’t know anything. They’re medically trained and you aren’t. This experience with Curly Fro Doctor frustrated me to say the least. To be told over and over that my decision for my own child was inadequate. To experience manipulation and scare tactics for the purpose of control. To be threatened with the taking of my child. It’s enough to make me reconsider coming into a hospital ever again.
So here’s the update. Curly fro doctor lied to me when she said my baby definitely had an infection in his urine. My son apparently never had a UTI or any bacteria in his urine. The test for bacteria that causes meningitis came back negative as well. Most likely, he had a viral infection…a cold. Just as I suspected. So the irony here, is that I actually did know what was best for my child. I actually was making the right decision for him. Now, he has diarrhea from the antibiotics and several band-aids from where he was given shots and the spinal tap.
While this experience has been quite traumatic and stressful, I’ve learned to do my research. To express myself even when it means it causes conflict. To ask for my options and not just accept what I’m being told. To stand on what I truly believe in. And to have someone with me if for no other reason than to comfort me when I’m crying hysterically in triage because I’m overwhelmed by Curly Fro Doctor and the health care bullies.