Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Snake Oil Redux
Our youngest daughter, who recently turned three, has been suffering from the same flu that I had gotten just a few weeks ago. She seemed to get it about a day after Son of Atomic Spud did, but it hit her a lot harder. After a few days her cough and fever seemed to get a little better just before getting worse again. And for several days she had woken up repeatedly during the night and complained of headaches. These seemed to be worse at night and in the morning but got a little better during the day, although she would continue to complain about them occasionally. Of course, since she's only three she can't really describe what's wrong with her.
previous post, and ended up getting a call from my very distraught wife. It seems that the utterly unthinking PA had actually said to my wife that the nighttime headaches concerned her because they can be a symptom of a brain tumor and that, had there not been signs of an ear infection (the probable cause of the headaches), she would have recommended that our daughter have a cranial CT scan. She further said that if the headaches didn't go away with antibiotics within a couple days that she should still have the scan. However, she gave the option of having the scan done as soon as possible.
Honestly, what in the world would possess this woman to actually say such a thing to a child's mother? What possible outcome other than panic could she have possibly expected? Why didn't she simply say "if the headaches aren't gone in a couple days, give us a call"? Why would she even utter aloud the absolute scariest thing a parent can hear, even if she did amend it with, 'but it's probably an infection'? Why would she make such a thoughtless and terrifying statement to a toddler's parent?
Since I've lived with headaches all my life, I've done more research on the topic than the average person. Thus, I know that nighttime headaches can have a variety of causes, the majority of headaches do not indicate a tumor, and headaches are usually not the first or only symptom of a brain tumor. Additionally, the probability that a tumor-related headache would start at exactly the same time as a flu and a secondary infection must be vanishingly remote. Several websites suggested that a sinus infection in toddlers might cause them to wake up with headaches because sinus pressure increases when one is lying down. Given our daughter's symptoms, why would "brain tumor" pop into the PA's head before "sinus infection"?
Fortunately for our sanity, they were able to make a 3 PM appointment for our daughter. Apparently she became upset upon arriving in the radiology office because it was not the kid-friendly place she was used to, but a sweet grandmotherly woman helped to calm her down. They were able to do the scan right away and our little three year old held still enough for them to complete it in a single pass. My worry was that she would panic and squirm and they would have to expose her to X-rays again and again to get the images. I'm not afraid of the amount of radiation produced by a typical medical procedure, but I do respect it.
So in the end we irradiated our daughter's brain to eliminate the possibility that her headaches were caused by something serious. Approximately 150 millirem later (which is about 15 times as much radiation as I've received during the past five years working as an engineer in the nuclear industry) and hundreds of dollars later, we found that there is absolutely nothing wrong with her head. I'm still not sure if my relief outweighs my anger that our family was put through this ordeal. And I take an extremely dim view of people who make my wife cry.