My fellow pediatric residents at a municipal hospital in NYC in the mid-70s probably remember this horrible story very well.
A child was brought to the emergency room with extensive burns to one side of the face. She must have been two or three years old. The smell of burned flesh and hair was horrific and her pain was beyond belief. The other doctors and I had to hold back our tears as best as we could.
My job was to take a history from the mother who had accompanied the child in the ambulance. She told me that because the child had “misbehaved,” the father tied her to the bedroom radiator. When the heat later came on later at night, the right side of the child’s face was stuck between the radiator and the wall, and she wasn’t able to move away from the heat. By the time that her mother realized that her right eye and cheek had been melted away and scorched, it was too late.
This child became a long-term patient on the pediatric ward. She required numerous plastic surgical procedures and was eventually fitted with a removable prosthesis which fit well into the reconstructed area of her face. It had a beautiful false eye which matched well with her other side.
One time as she was playing in the children’s playroom, she became angry at one of the other children. In a fit of rage, she yanked off her facial prosthesis and threw it on the floor. There it sat for a minute, staring up at us with that almost realistic-looking eye, until her nurse picked it up and replaced it.
I’ve often wondered how a child or for that matter anyone could ever recover from such a horrible intentional act of violence.
I can still picture that eye and cheek lying on the floor. Not my favorite visual memory!
The other day my wife and I had dinner with an old friend and her husband who now live most of the year in another state. She and I go “way back” almost forty years since she was the first doctor that I hired for my pediatric practice. It was inevitable during these reunions I would be reminded of stories from the past.
I’ve written before that one of the most successful ways of attracting new patients was for expectant parents to come to our office to meet us even before their child was born. These “prenatal consultations,” scheduled at the end of the day, gave us time to know each other to see if we would be “a good fit”.
One family had moved from Broward County to Palm Beach County. They had one child and another one on the way. During our visit, I thought I heard them say that their first child was born “by implantation” and I proceeded to tell them that my first two children were adopted and the third was conceived “biologically.”
After I went on and on saying that I had many children in my practice with all sorts of different family origins, he looked at me strangely and asked, “What are you talking about?”
“Well, some kids have surrogate mothers, others are adopted and some are biological. Some families have two mommies, some have two daddies.” I continued on with a description of my practice and how I was glad that we had a varied demographic.
“All I said was that my first child was born in Plantation,” he said.
“Oh, Plantation, Florida,” I replied, feeling very stupid that I had misheard him completely.
We laughed about it and I wondered how ridiculous I must have sounded.
It turned out that they ultimately chose my practice when their baby was born. I continued to follow both of their children throughout their teenage years. Whenever I saw their family, I would fondly remember them as the “Implantation Family.”
One day, I was examining an eight-year-old boy. As I entered the exam room and introduced myself, he said, “I didn’t know that doctors could be men.”
Apparently, in all the years that he had coming to our practice, he had only seen the women “providers.” He wasn’t aware of how things had changed so much during my career.
Fifty years ago when I started medical school, my class of 80 students included 16 women (20%) which at that time was higher than the national average. When I finished my pediatric residency in 1978, my specialty was still dominated by men. Over the years, as more women went into medicine, pediatrics became a specialty which attracted many more women than men.
Now when I go to a pediatrics conference, I am surrounded by mostly women. The majority of the men are typically old timers like me.
In the early days of my pediatric practice when I was working completely by myself, it was very common to receive calls from patients at all hours of the night. Some of these calls were legitimate emergencies; others were matters which could have been addressed during normal office hours.
However, it is a known fact in pediatrics that children’s fevers are often higher during the evening and night hours. It wasn’t unusual for new parents to become alarmed at the first sign of a rising temperature, so I would often receive these “fever calls” just as I was ready to go to bed.
One call, however, humbled me.
A friend who was actually the lawyer for our practice called me and the answering service put it through to me immediately. “My daughter has a fever of 107!” he screamed.
Trying to calm him down, I replied, “No, you mean 100.7, don’t you?”
“No, I took it twice and it’s 107.1……….. and now she’s having a seizure!” he yelled.
“O.K.” I answered, calmly, “Call 911 and bring her to the hospital immediately.”
It turned out that she was developing chicken pox encephalitis and she was running high fevers during the first three days of her hospitalization.
I learned from that encounter that sometimes an anxious parent is accurate. Even in panic mode, parents can be right.