Here it is, Friday, and I’m tired and cranky because my husband and I STILL have not adjusted to the time change, and I’m playing the age-old game of Should I Take Carla to the Doctor?
She seems FINE. She’s happy and energetic and eating in quantities that make me fear bare wrists and ankles are in our near future. But she is also… warm. Not feverish, but warm. (Not that I’d be able to tell if she were feverish; we have owned no fewer than SIX thermometers in her short life and not one of them has ever been accurate. We now have the instant-read kind that you stick in the ear and press a little button, and it’s always – ALWAYS – at least a degree or two high.) And she is also a little more snuggly than normal. And she woke up with some crust in her eyes. “Symptoms” which make me wonder whether she has an ear infection.
Carla has had many ear infections in her not-quite-four years. Not so many that she requires tubes. But enough that I think we may have been to her pediatrician once or twice for other things. Ever. (Not counting well visits, I guess.)
Her brand of ear infections doesn’t come with pain, though. I mean, thank GOODNESS, right? But it does make it a little difficult to evaluate. Sometimes – rarely – she’ll have a brief fever. Usually, she wakes up with crusty eyes. When she was really young, I would have to take her to the doctor just for that, since no respectable daycare was going to let her in looking like she had a severe case of pink eye. But it was always, always an ear infection.
Now that she’s older, the eye crust looks more like what my mom used to call “sleepy dirt” than Crazy Case of Conjunctivitis. So sometimes the only way we know she’s got an ear infection is that she cries out in the middle of the night. That has happened… twice, I think. And, now that she’s older, it seems that the doctors prefer not to medicate her. We used to get antibiotics every time; now the doctor shrugs and says, it’ll probably go away in a few days. Come back if not.
So if I have a not-in-pain child, who may or may not have an ear infection, and who will likely not even get antibiotics if she does have an ear infection, what’s the point in taking her in, right?
WELL LET ME TELL YOU.
I am deathly afraid of missing something. And having her pediatrician scold me. (And also, you know, having her be sick. That’s really the most important thing, of course.)
Last fall, my family was sick pretty much straight through from mid November, but by early January my husband was finally on the upswing of his lengthy cold, and Carla was still sniffly and coughing but otherwise seemed fine. I was the only one who seemed to be getting actively worse, so I finally decided to go to the doctor. It was just after Christmas and I still had a house full of guests and I just Couldn’t Handle Things anymore, so off I went. I got my diagnosis and my antibiotics and went home.
The next week, Carla had the telltale eye crust that means she had an ear infection, so I took her to HER doctor. And while there, I told him that we’d all been sick a long time, blah de blah, she’d been coughing and having a runny nose for a while, and now I think she has an ear infection. Normal stuff, right?
Defensive Interlude: I mean, we’ve ALL had a cold right? And we ALL know that a doctor can do NOTHING for a cold, right? So we wait it out. Eventually, it gets better, and we congratulate ourselves on knowing that it was a cold and on not wasting a copay or our own time. OR it gets worse, in which case we DO go to the doctor and hopefully s/he can do something about it.
Well, Carla had a cold! Cough, runny nose! No fever! No pain! No loss of appetite! No personality changes! Nothing! The only way we even realized she had an ear infection is that she woke up one morning and her eyes were all pink and goopy. She’d also spent the previous day saying, “What?” a lot, which she does a lot normally, but it was an extra lot. So I was pretty confident: ear infection.
So: to recap: I didn’t take her to the doctor when I thought it was a cold, even though it was a lengthy cold, because I was pretty sure he would shrug and say, wait it out. But when she showed symptoms of an ear infection, which can be treated by antibiotics if necessary (although, as I mentioned earlier, as she’s gotten older, the antibiotics have been replaced by a prescription for wait it out), I took her to the doctor.
But he chided me! He said, “Six weeks is way too long for a child of this age to have a cough like that.” And he said her ear infection was SEVERE and BILATERAL and that she probably couldn’t hear a damn thing (the memory of his chiding may be more strongly worded than it was in real time) and wrote me a prescription and sent us on our way.
Well, I felt TERRIBLE. Really. I mean, what mother wants to put her child’s health at risk? What mother wants to misjudge a situation so badly that the doctor scolds you? NO MOTHER, is the answer.
Poor Carla. She had an ear infection for a whole month after that, because the first course of antibiotics didn’t work. (And even though I could TELL it wasn’t working, we still had to finish the entire ten days before the pediatrician could see me again. That is another huff-fest entirely.) She was having SUCH a hard time hearing, and I was panicking about her somehow suffering longterm hearing loss.
So I think it is perfectly reasonable that now I am feeling a little jumpy about missing something.
And yet I’m dithering.
I really, really dislike going to the doctor for nothing. And the two visits since the Great Ear Infection of 2017 have both been false alarms. (One: Her preschool had me pick her up because she was complaining of a stiff neck, which is code for We Think Your Child Has Meningitis; she did not have meningitis. Two: She and I both had a stomach bug a few weeks ago, and hers presented as belly pain and complete loss of appetite. I tried to give the child a bowl of ice cream for dinner, just to get SOME calories in her, and she refused it. So I took her to the doctor. There was nothing he could do; just wait it out.)
Okay, I am still glad I took her in, both false alarm times, a) because you don’t want to mess around with meningitis. And b) because my husband and I were both googling “toddler belly pain” and had become convinced that Carla had appendicitis. Sometimes it is totally worth a trip to the doctor and a copay to find out that your fears are unfounded. (With the latter, though, the pediatrician seemed a little… miffed as to why I’d brought her in. I DID call the nurse advice line in advance! The nurse was who clinched my decision to come in!)
And of course, to add to the whole issue is that it’s FRIDAY. She wasn’t sick enough to keep home from school, but that means I will have to do a quick eval when she gets home, and then hope there’s a spot at the pediatrician… OR wait and see whether she wakes up crying in the middle of the night, and then take her to urgent care.
But none of the above makes me DITHER any less. Especially when the illness in question is just another ear infection.
Hey, at least the urgent care doc is unlikely to chide me, right?