When my daughter Savannah was 13-months old she developed severe idiopathic thrombocytopenic (ITP) and needed an emergency blood transfusion. She – thankfully – survived, but I, no surprise, came down with a bad cold while she was in Pediatric Intensive Care (PICU).
“Why are you sick?” the haughty Indian resident examining my daughter during her morning rounds asked. Her indignation seemed to imply that I somehow violated an unspoken hospital rule that states kids can be in dire straights moms but must remain steely strong.
I’ve always considered myself super healthy. There were years I didn’t miss a day of school and rarely call in sick to work for legitimate reasons. I could be drowning in a pit of co-workers with the flu and never so much sniffle, which made the doctor’s comment especially irritating.
“Are you serious?” I wanted to scream. “The better question to ask would be how in the hell I’m still alive with all the germs in this place!”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 648,000 people in the U.S. developed infections during a hospital stay, and about 75,000 die in 2015. Clearly, if the germs in the hospital didn’t get me, the stress of managing my daughter’s panhypopituitarism, a rare medical condition, stress certainly would.
Within hours of Savannah’s birth, I was dropped into a vortex of specialists, tests and emergency rooms. I was a single mom trying to manage this whirlwind while holding down a full-time job. The day before Savannah was admitted to PICU I thought I reached my personal Waterloo, as I painfully watched a team of 10 medical professionals (I counted) in the hospital’s hematology struggle for a good 30 minutes to get an IV into her tiny frail arm. Her blood-curdling screams are sounds a mother never forgets. And doc wonders why I’m sick?
I was a neophyte mom then still learning to navigate the healthcare maze, so gave medical professionals enormous power. I had yet to find my mommy voice or realize that doctors, as brilliant as they are, could lack common sense and were just as prone to unkind, insensitive remarks as the strangers who would say in sponse to Savannah’s condition, “Well, at least, it’s not cancer!”
In the early days after Savannah’s diagnosis, the lessons came fast and furious. The PICU encounter was another reminder that in order to preserve my emotional sanity and keep Savannah healthy I could not afford to be a passive participant. I needed to assert myself when something didn’t feel right.