When An Ear Infection is Meningitis. Or Not. Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

“I bet this is the first ambulance ride you’ve ever had for a patient who only has an ear infection, huh?”

“Wait, what?” The EMT gripped his clipboard and pen tightly. “We were called for possible sepsis and meningitis.”

“WHAT? What the hell is sepsis?!?” I yelled while gritting my teeth. “We were told we were being transported for more tests and a possible lumbar puncture. For crying out loud, she only has a DAMN EAR INFECTION!!!”

I apologized to him a moment later. I didn’t mean to yell, it wasn’t his fault we were in this predicament. He came to sit by me, placing his gown and face mask down. “Guess we won’t be needing these now, huh?”

After four exhausting hours at the clinic on Wednesday, I woke up Thursday morning feeling haggard both mentally and physically. I gingerly tiptoed around the sleeping baby as I prayed to finish packing the diaper bag quickly without her waking so we could just hop in the car to head on in. We knew that we were a walk-in, and that were was an open, unfilled appointment in the morning. We thought we could drop in, preventing Baby V from being unmedicated for too long. She’d been completely without medicine that night and would assuredly wake very upset. She only confirmed our fear moments later when she woke up crying.

We barely made it to the clinic in once piece, as she had fussed and cried and wailed the entire way. As soon as I picked her up from the car seat in the parking lot, though, she turned her head upward and looked at the sky and calmed down. The breeze tickled our skin, and she finally seemed calm and content. She continued this calmness as we walked into the clinic once more, checked in, and were brought into the same exam room again.

She continued looking up at the fluorescent lights with the exam room door wide open when the doctor appeared outside my door and yelled to everyone within earshot, “TELL ME MY ONE O’CLOCK APPOINTMENT DIDN’T JUST CHECK-IN!”

She couldn’t have been talking about us, we were told to be there at noon for our “walk-in” appointment. Plus, we weren’t scheduled, we were told that she was giving the folks at the desk a “head’s up” for our walk-in arrival. But no, after hearing her loudly declare how we were to be “dealt with” by the nurse, she then decided to step into the room, door still open, and reprimand me that I was NOT supposed to be there until 1pm, and that if things had “changed” we were to go to the ER.

“Ma’am, we aren’t here because things had changed, we are here because you wanted her here, unmedicated. She doesn’t have a fever of 100.4, it’s still 99-something, but I didn’t want to see her irritable for four more hours…”

She didn’t let me finish. “Well I have appointments every fifteen minutes, I’ll see you when I can,” and stormed out.

I had officially had it with this woman. By the time we’d left yesterday, after all the admonishing and bad attitude we’d seen from her, she left us smiling at us, oohing and cooing at the baby from afar, saying how “happy” it made her to see her consolable. A “good sign” she’d proclaimed. But now, it was back to bitch-mode, it seemed. Completely and unbelievably mean for no reason, other than our mere existing bothering her. What difference would it make, anyway? We had no appointment, she would’ve had to fit us in similarly anyway.

I cried. I pleaded with the nice nurse from yesterday, “I don’t understand. I was never scheduled at 1pm. Never. They wanted me to come in at 7:20am for an appointment. It’s only 8am, we came as soon as the kids got to school on time. I’m only a walk-in, I had no scheduled appointment, I don’t see what the problem is, she just wants to re-check her ear…”

I spoke until I couldn’t speak through the tears anymore, and she just hugged me, confessing to me this woman didn’t have children of her own and “doesn’t understand” how hard this is. (Later we’d realize how much of an understatement that truly was.) She assured me she would do her best to get me seen.

The doctor stepped out of the room next door, our nice nurse with our chart pointed to our open-doored room, “This one’s open, doctor.”

“Yeah, I’ll get to it later,” she mumbled under her breath, seething.

I furiously texted my husband in the waiting room, thankfully here with me this time. “Return to bitch mode. She’s pissed we’re here. I give up.”

I sat in the room crying, waiting, knowing she was going to ignore me for God knows how long, until all of a sudden the door flung open and in she walked, calm, collected, and straight to the point. “Lay her down,” she demanded.

She motioned for the nurse’s help again as she said, “We’re going to do things a little different today. We’re going to look at her good ear first, then her bad ear.”

I wiped a few tears from my face while I reached in to hold my baby’s face. her first ear elicited no response, she just sat and let them look. They flipped her over, I reached down and in again and instant explosion the second she moved the earlobe to insert the instrument. I winced seeing how far she was going in her ear, too. Poor Baby V wailed and wailed.

This confirms it, I said to myself. This HAS to confirm it now, right?

The doctor stood watch as I picked her up and consoled her. I bopped her around, patting her back, kissing her head, shh-shh-shhing her, whispering in her ear that it was okay. She watched as I got her somewhat calmed down, then began asking me a barrage of questions about her fever, pain level, is she eating well, all while she observed V looking up at the lights once more. The doctor questioned why she was arching her head that way while we talked. “She’s comfortable like this,” I said. “She must like the lights.”

She left and returned moments later to announce she was admitting my daughter for more tests. “I’ve tested her for all that I could, here, and I believe she needs additional testing. I’m still not convinced it’s just an ear infection, not in an unvaccinated patient this young. I’d like to transfer her to the hospital to do more tests.”

I sat in shock, mouth agape. “Admit her for a suspected ear infection?”

“Well, like I said, I’m not convinced it’s just the ear. Many other doctors would submit it as a mere ear infection, but in an unvaccinated infant, it could be anything. I’d like more tests done.”

I imagined ultrasounds and the like, things they didn’t have at the clinic. I reluctantly agreed while she dismissed herself to her office to call the hospital. At 9:01am, I texted my husband, “She’s going to admit her.”

“What? As in, admit her here at the clinic for observation or treatment?” He replied.

“And baby is crying again, did ear check. Won’t just ‘blame it on the ear’ this young.” I continued, “Hospital. She wants additional tests. Concerned for pain level, arching of back when we came in.”

Arching of the back, as in, looking at the lights and things on the wall, such as babies do. Things she doesn’t understand, as she has no children and seemingly has no knowledge of typical baby behavior. She even questioned why I continued dancing around with her, bopping and swaying and patting her butt. “You’re actively trying to calm her, see?”

When you have a baby, you ROCK them. It’s just what you do! I shook my head in disbelief.

We texted back and forth furiously for about fifteen minutes while I nursed her after being moved back to the treatment room once more. The doctor stepped in at one point, startling me, interrupting my seeking solace from my husband to say that she confirmed the transfer to the hospital, and that she was giving her a shot of antibiotic right then. She said it wouldn’t affect any further testing or treatments, but that she didn’t want to delay antibiotics any further.

After the injection and my poor Baby V began wailing again, as I rocked her to console her, she confessed to me that they were transferring her to do a lumbar puncture. That was about the time I lost my mind. More stupid ramblings about my “unvaccinated infant” and “meningitis” and “can’t be too careful” and I wanted to choke the bias out of her.

“Babe, I don’t want this,” I texted after she left. “She is talking about further workup as in lumbar puncture for meningitis. WTF? I thought sonogram for the belly or something.”

The nurse saw me visibly upset, and asked if I wanted my husband in the waiting room. “YES PLEASE!”

My husband and toddlers joined me, and I put on my brave face for them while I secretly held back tears in discussing this with him. “Babe, what is all of this? There is NOTHING to indicate meningitis. What is it that she sees that we don’t?”

I began to get angry, and demanded the doctor explain herself. When she finally arrived, at my request, she introduced herself to my husband and gave him the “formal” rundown of events, to include her need to have this lumbar puncture done to rule out meningitis. “Ma’am, I don’t understand,” I began, “What is it that you think you see that indicates the need for this test?”

“You want to see?” she said, rudely.

“Uh, see? Yes please. I don’t understand what makes you think she needs to be tested for this. What symptoms is she showing? What are the symptoms of meningitis, anyway?”

She didn’t answer my questions, almost as though she couldn’t. She merely dismissed herself from us to go back to her office, only to return with a well-worn black book with very fine bible-like paper and many sticky notes decorating its pages. She had it already opened to an infant section. “See? The baby had this fever..” she showed me, penciled in was 100.4 at the top of the page, “and she exhibits this, but not this,” and shows me this page, with a freaking FLOW CHART of  ”Yes” and “No” and arrows pointing to actions to be taken. Basically, what she was showing us was a medical bible, a veritable “What to do if you have no clue what to do” kind-of book for the inexperienced.

Holy crap!

I demanded the patient advocates. Not only was I seething that she had no experience and was merely referring to a book to guide her, not trusting what was IN FRONT OF HER FACE (ear infection), it was about this time the nurses confessed that they planned to transport us to the hospital BY AMBULANCE.

This just kept getting better. Laughable, even.

“I want the patient advocate. NOW.”

They promised me they were “tracking her down” but it seemed awfully fishy to me that I was suddenly being ignored as nurses sped up their step as they approached my room, whizzing by us in the hallway. I shared on Facebook at 9:59am that I asked for a patient advocate, that something was fishy and I wanted to know my options.

The patient advocate and head of the clinic came in to greet me and my husband, and heard all our complaints. I included that I was not going to let them use their bias to use my daughter as a pin cushion to teach us a lesson. I wanted to know if I had the right to a second opinion, and they assured me I had EVERY right, explaining that nothing was set in stone, that we were merely being referred to the hospital for further treatment, and that our treatment there didn’t have to go as directed by this doctor. This assured me that someone gave a crap about us and what we wanted, because up until now, nothing we said meant a damn.

We ended up waiting over an hour and a half for the stupid needless ambulance. We could have driven ourselves, gladly, to get that second opinion at the hospital, but they insisted bullied us into going with the ambulance. After five more minutes waiting, I walked out to tell them we were leaving on our own.

“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.

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. So pointless.

It wasn’t necessary for my toddlers to see mommy and their baby sister plopped onto a gurney and wheeled out by EMTs. I will never forget the look on their faces, seeing mommy carted away like that, the fear in their eyes. Baby Dude ran after us, chasing us out to the parking lot. They didn’t understand why I wasn’t going with them in the van.

“It’s okay, babies. Daddy will take you in the van and I’ll see you at the hospital, okay?”

But it wasn’t okay. Nothing about this whole ordeal was okay. I didn’t want this ambulance, this ignorance. What the hell had I done so wrong to deserve this poor treatment?

These poor EMTs had no idea what we’d been through already. They saw a mother clutching her infant, afraid for anyone to come near. I was so angry, and hurt, I could barely look at them, but I knew they weren’t the enemy, so I broke the silence.

“I bet this is the first ambulance ride you’ve ever had for a patient who only has an ear infection, huh?”

“Wait, what?” The EMT gripped his clipboard and pen tightly. “We were called for possible sepsis and meningitis.”

“WHAT? What the hell is sepsis?!?” I yelled while gritting my teeth. “We were told we were being transported for more tests and a possible lumbar puncture. For crying out loud, she only has a DAMN EAR INFECTION!!!”

I apologized to him a moment later. I didn’t mean to yell, it wasn’t his fault we were in this predicament. He came to sit by me, placing his gown and face mask down. “Guess we won’t be needing these now, huh?”

He confessed he had no idea what to “call it in as” now. His chart said “rule out sepsis and meningitis” with no mention of an ear infection at all. Lovely. Convenient, even.

He went over my daughter’s chart with me, because I asked him to. I didn’t know what sepsis was, and I wanted an explanation, that word was NEVER mentioned, not ever, to me while we were at that clinic.

I thank God for that EMT that horrible day. He was sympathetic, listened intently to every word and betrayal I muttered, and sat in shock with me, all while my sweet Baby V laid sleeping peacefully on my chest. “You will be heard, ma’am, I promise you. They’re good folks. They’ll take care of you.”

We had a room in the ER by the ambulance bay door straight away, as promised, wheeled right into pediatric room where I noticed all the baby-sized tools in the glass cabinets along the walls. The EMT began to explain to the nurse that he was quite confused over the situation, and encouraged me to speak up to the nurses before beginning what he had been instructed.

While they listened to me, they attached the pulse ox, listened to her chest, and almost immediately I had a peds doctor by my side, listening to me intently, listening to our ordeal.

That Captain had called into question my daughter looking at the lights, as babies do.

She called into question my patting her, rocking with her, as parents to newborns often do.

She called everything she shouldn’t have into question, but ignored what was staring her in the face: her aggravated ear.

I explained that the only right thing the Captain had done that day was check her good ear before her bad ear. The peds doc decided to do it that way, too. “Oh yes,” he noted as she wailed when he got to her left, “yes, that IS most certainly angry, huh?”

Three different pediatric doctors weighed in, just to be sure they were all correct in their diagnoses. And I was thankfully heard, I got three different doctors to confirm what I had suspected all along – she merely had an ear infection.

I even confessed to the sweet-as-pie last doctor that she held and examined my daughter more than the Captain had. “You’ve examined her spine, her neck everything that a real, true doctor who suspected meningitis would’ve done. She never even held my baby.”

After a little more time under observation and a marathon nap by V, by 2pm, we were sprung from the ER, not admitted, no more forced testing. We were in our minivan, V happily smiling at her toys hung from her car seat, and on our way home.

I didn’t know if I wanted to go home to stuff my face from starvation, or cry.

Baby V was already back to her old self by the time we’d gotten home. No fever, no irritability since. My little twelve-pound butterball was happy and trying so desperately to talk back to us with oohs and coos and everything in between. Made me heart sing to see her better again.

Little did I know that, on our first official day home the next day (Friday) with no clinic, no doctors, no hospital, that I’d ending up getting sick myself, only to visit Urgent Care that Saturday. Apparently, fate wasn’t done with doctor’s offices for us yet.

Praying this week is a better one.

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