When An Ear Infection is Meningitis. Or Not. Part 1

“Ma’am, if it’s all the same to you, we’ve been here over an hour waiting for this ambulance. This is getting ridiculous. We don’t even NEED one, we can drive ourselves.”

“I’m told they’re here in the clinic somewhere. They’ll be here shortly. I promise.” The nurse responded, touching my arm compassionately.

This old woman seemed nice enough, she knew how frustrated we were, but it didn’t matter how sweet this nurse was, I was beyond upset by the predicament we were in, and quite tired of being ignored and not listened to by this “doctor.”

Moments later, a gurney came rolling towards the door. For my daughter. For an suspected ear infection. They had masks and gowns to prevent infection for themselves. I was told I could sit on the gurney so they could wheel me out the medical center on it, buckled. Meanwhile, my daughter slept, happily, on my shoulder, unaware of the embarrassment I faced as I was wheeled out into the lobby, past the front desk, folks staring at us.

This was all so unnecessary.

“She feels warm, babe. Did you have her laying on your heating pad or something?”

I looked down at the control to my right. My trusty heating pad control I turn to every evening to ease my aching back, the one I love that warms up my stiffened back, I checked and it was switched off. “I don’t know, babe. I think she was just laying on me, it’s not on.”

We didn’t think anything about her warmness until the next day, she was displaying a little extra fussiness and irritability. I decided to use a rectal thermometer to gently encourage her to have a bowel movement (figuring she was having a little trouble). I checked her temperature while doing it, and it registered at 99.8.

She displayed no symptoms of illness other than this fussiness and now a fever. I nursed her, rocked her, and on-and-off she was fussier than normal, but nothing serious or inconsolable. We even tried to call to make an appointment, only to discover she wasn’t entered into TRICARE properly (the military’s insurance) and the appointment couldn’t be made until this was rectified.

My husband did eventually fix this issue the next day, Tuesday. Meanwhile the fever grew to 100.5 and her irritability increased. We gave her baby Ibuprofen (hubby said it was the only baby pain reliever he could find at Walgreens, we didn’t know some infant pain relievers were reformulated) and she seemed to settle somewhat with it. Clearly she had pain somewhere, but we didn’t know where. Her appointment, though, could still not be made for that day, but for Wednesday morning.

She woke up irritable and upset with the world on Wednesday after a not-so-great night of sleep. As I changed her diaper, my five-year-old played with her left earlobe, and Baby V exploded. I paused for a moment, until I realized what this meant. “Ahhh, THAT’S it!” I called out (if only to myself), “YOU have an EAR INFECTION!”

With this newfound knowledge, we attended our appointment expecting to be there only a short time. My husband was busy at Camp Bullis planning an upcoming event while I wrangled my sicky Baby V and my two toddlers to the appointment. I was met with the sweetest of nurses, but greeted by the physician who seemed to not like babies or children. At all.

This young Captain was straight-forward, to the point, barely looked at me and immediately admonished my children to be quiet so she could “hear.” As she spoke, she gave my family a snippy once-over as she typed furiously at her screen while she asked me a ton of questions, finally admonishing me for not vaccinating my daughter.

“As a medical professional, it is my moral duty to…” and she continued with a diatribe, meanwhile my daughter still had yet to be looked at let alone diagnosed with the issue at hand.

Sure enough, it was confirmed that her ear truly bothered her, she did not cry with her right ear at all, but, when examined, she screamed bloody murder with her left. “It seems she doesn’t scream any less even with Ibuprofen…”

The doctor exploded at me. “Wait, you GAVE.HER.PAIN.RELIEVER?”

“Um, yes. I had to get here somehow. She wouldn’t have stayed quiet and consolable in her carseat to get here, we live 25 minutes away.”

“Well……” she huffed and puffed, “how am I expected to give her a thorough exam if I’m not given all the facts? I can’t get an accurate gauge on her pain level or her temperature. You’ll have to come back tomorrow, WITHOUT pain reliever, so I can recheck her ear.”

She continued on, like the teacher from Charlie Brown wah-wahwahhhh, about how she wanted blood and urine taken, and how “we’d be there for a while.”

She added, “I’m not truly convinced it’s just an ear infection. Especially since she’s unvaccinated. I won’t be like other doctors and just assume it’s the ear.”

Okay, that’s no problem, I thought to myself. I appreciated her tenacity, even if I disliked her bulldog demeanor and snub-nosed tactics. I didn’t mind ruling other things out. I texted my husband to assist me, though. I didn’t know how I was to wrangle curious toddlers with a sure-to-be screaming infant with tests performed. He, however, was unable to get to me right away.

We were moved immediately to the “procedure room” in the clinic, while she assured me these ladies had performed these tests many times. It turns out, they were drawing blood through a needle in her arm, similar to how adults have blood drawn (I was expecting a foot prick). They also had to stick a catheter up her vagina to get urine. Both tests did not go smoothly, caused my daughter even more pain, and these ladies did not seem knowledgeable about how to conduct these on infants.

I consoled my poor daughter, trying to choke back my own tears until I asked where we were to wait to be seen. “You’re going to X-ray now.”

“X-RAY!? Why!?” I demanded to know.

The doctor snubbed me on our way to X-ray when I motioned I wanted to talk to her, to ask her why. She continued walking down the hall to her next patient.

Tears didn’t begin falling until the X-ray technician told me he couldn’t scan her until I had someone watch the kids, they weren’t allowed in the room with us. My husband still wasn’t there, he was en route and too far away. I was beside myself when he told me.

I returned, angrily, to the nurses. I demanded to know why the X-ray. The doctor stepped into the room to talk down to me once more, explaining that, although unlikely, she was trying to rule out pneumonia.

I didn’t understand. She exhibited no symptom of stuffiness or inability to breathe properly. In fact, her SATs (oxygen saturation levels) were 100% and her lungs sounded clear, so said the doctor herself. One of the nurses offered to watch my toddlers for me. I cried when finally on the way to the X-ray.

The scan went quickly, thankfully, and showed nothing, thankfully. We continued to sit in this nurses room, letting the kids color, while I silently wept, wanting my husband. Wanting this to be over.

The CBC and urine test came back immediately and were fine, but the cultures needed twenty-four hours. They eventually sent us home to wait for those tests to come back, and so she would arrive unmedicated for the exam tomorrow. They told us they’d like to see us around noon for a walk-in, explaining the only appointment they had available was for 7:30 am but they knew that I couldn’t come that early due to school drop-offs.

We returned home with no meds, no diagnosis, just another irritable night for my peanut. If only we had known that tomorrow would be worse.

Part 2

Signature