The Good Doctors

In the opening days of 2006, my daughter came down with what my ex-husband and I assumed to be a cold. However, her symptoms continued to worsen. She was lethargic and had no appetite. Most concerning of all, she had trouble breathing, and her fingertips were turning blue. We went to Children’s Hospital. The doctor in the ER took one look at her and knew an x-ray was needed. Sure enough, the x-ray revealed the culprit. My daughter did not have a regular cold; she had a severe case of pneumonia. She could not breathe well because she had pulmonary empyema. In layman’s terms: too much fluid in the lungs. Her left lung was already full of fluid. If an action was not taken immediately, she was going to die.

 

My baby wasn’t even two years old yet.

 

My daughter was admitted to Children’s that night. The ER doctor who reviewed the x-rays told us she needed surgery to drain her left lung, and it needed to be done within the next 36 hours. To say we were shocked was an understatement. We were both terrified. Seeing how sick our child had become was terrible enough. Knowing how high the stakes were was nearly overwhelming. However, the knowledge and compassion of her treatment team changed that.

The head of my daughter’s treatment team was Dr. Eisenberg, a man I will never forget.

“I know this all sounds scary, but your daughter is going to recover.”

Dr. Eisenberg explained her pulmonary empyema in detail. Two hours later, we met Dr. Montgomery, the pulmonologist who would perform her surgery.

“We will make the incision here,” Dr. Montgomery intoned in a thick Texan accent as he pointed to her rib cage, “and insert a drainage tube to remove the fluid.  Her breathing and condition will start to improve once the excess fluid is gone”.

“And” Dr. Eisenberg jumped in, “the incision will leave a tiny scar on her stomach. It’ll be barely noticeable when she’s 17 and wants to wear a bikini or crop top over your objections!” I smiled. I understood Dr. Eisenberg wanted to decrease the levity and put us at ease. It worked. When they wheeled her away to the OR, all her dad and I could do was wait. During that wait, I took solace in the vision of her at 17 that Dr. Eisenberg painted for me.

Once my daughters’ surgery was finished, Dr. Montgomery came out to update us, still in scrubs.

“Her surgery went well. We will bring her back to her room shortly. The next twenty-four hours are crucial. We will continue to administer antibiotics and monitor her vitals. But my part is done now, and I will hand you back to Dr. Eisenberg. Thank you for your cooperation and trust.”

And with that, Dr. Montgomery vanished down the halls of Children’s Hospital. We met with Dr. Eisenberg again, who was pleased with the outcome of the surgery.

“We will leave the drainage tube in to get the remaining fluid out as well, but she’s already breathing much better,” he said, pointing out the change in My daughter’s oxygen saturation levels. “Her temperature, however, is still too high. As Dr. Montgomery told you, she will remain on antibiotics. Once her temperature stabilizes, she can go home”.

 

It would take another ten days for my daughter’s temperature to stabilize. I basically moved into her hospital room, only leaving once a day to go home to shower and brush my teeth. My husband came every day as soon as he got off work, and Dr. Eisenberg met with us daily to discuss our daughter’s progress. She lost 25% of her body weight while sick. Seeing her frail body hooked up to machines was excruciating. But thanks to her skilled and caring team at Children’s Hospital, my baby survived.

 

However, my daughter’s story could have ended very differently. Imagine that she and her father exhibited the level of stupidity and arrogance towards science and the medical establishment that is now pandemic in American society.

Imagine that we tried to pray her pneumonia away, believed that it could not harm her because she was “covered by the blood of Jesus.”

Imagine that we did not listen to a board-certified pediatrician because “doctors don’t know anything, and you can’t trust them based on their profession.”

Imagine that we believed the pulmonologist, whose literal job was to save my child’s life, was trying to kill her and was part of some global conspiracy.

Imagine that we discounted all the training and credentials of the doctors, specialists, and nurses at Children’s Hospital in favor of the opinions of laymen who do their “own research.”

If we, my ex and I, held to the same toxic brew of stupidity, arrogance, and hostility that I read every day on social media? Then my daughter wouldn’t be healthy and about to begin her senior year of high school. No, she would be six feet under. Instead of preparing her for college and adulthood, I would be visiting her grave.

As Americans, we are obsessed with our right to hold and speak our opinions on any matter. We have now gotten to the extreme of genuinely believing that idea is synonymous with fact. It is not. Had I attempted to discount the medical expertise and knowledge of my daughter’s treatment team in favor of opinion, the results would have been fatal. Likewise, our growing tendency to ignore and vilify experts and shun knowledge, especially in medicine and science, will have dire consequences for the United States.

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A native Seattleite and recent East Coast transplant, I have been interested in politics, religion, and race from the day I saw “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” on the bookshelf belonging to my BFF’s mom back in 1991. While my zealotry has thankfully diminished with maturity, I remain the deep thinking, passionate, and humble woman I have always been. I reside in the suburbs of NYC with my husband, daughter, and our two feisty but deeply loved cats.

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