We can all do better…

People who have to submit their new baby to the Operating Room staff almost all say this was the hardest thing they’ve ever had to do, and the most stressful time they can remember.

Most were totally unprepared for it. Some express great appreciation for their pediatrician, the anesthetist, or the ER or ward staff, but sadly, many report great frustration and annoyance (to put it mildly) at the way they were fobbed off or even condescended to.
They’d experienced a condition such as pyloric stenosis themselves or in their immediate family, and/or they’d had three other children, but they were repeatedly told their baby was vomiting himself to death because they (the mother) was too excitable or did not know how to breastfeed properly. “Take this prescription and see if it helps!”

How can we do this better?

I believe both parents and the medical world can do much better.


Before I buy a new camera or computer I talk to people and read some online reviews. Before I decide on structural changes to my house I listen to different tradespeople and friends who have done building work (or had it done) recently.

When my eyes started to do unusual things a few years ago, I raked through the web and talked to my family and soon learnt I was in for a retina detachment and what the warning signs were. When it happened I was well-informed and able to get a good specialist so that today (with God’s help too) my eyesight is almost perfect again! About the same time an older friend went through the same crisis: he was unprepared, and lost most of his sight in the affected eye. He was fobbed off and didn’t realise it until too late.

As someone familiar with pyloric stenosis (PS), I can say: it can kill a baby by starvation and dehydration, but never overnight. PS typically takes several weeks to run its course from excessive regurgitation to treatment.

There is plenty of time to check out the symptoms of PS, which are easy for anyone to recognise. Many websites tell us about medical tests (blood, imaging etc) which usually only make the diagnosis “scientific” – and add to the income of several health professionals.

The unmistakable signs of PS are usually quite obvious: the forceful vomiting of all food with visible muscle movement across the abdomen and without a trace of green bile, loss of weight and wellness, reduced or no urine and solid outputs, and (often) being able to feel the “pyloric olive” (the enlarged pylorus).

The Scottish surgeon William Rankin included this graphic help to the diagnosis of Pyloric Stenosis in his ground-breaking book, Lessons on the Surgical Diseases of Childhood, published in 1933.

My point is: the more we each know about what may be troubling our baby or ourselves, the better placed we are to get prompt and satisfactory treatment. In this age of available communication, there is no excuse for a sick baby or my pain being brushed off.

Find a website or three, read your baby or family health manual, talk to a better informed relative or friend or somebody who will do some research for you, find and stick with a doctor who shows you respect (as many do).  And ask your doctor to refer you to the specialist they’d choose for their sick baby or troubled child.

Parents who have sick children need to become well-informed so they can do this – and if their medico doesn’t like informed questions, go quickly to find another who will engage with you.

The Medical Profession

As a retired professional myself, I know that education and experience do not always go together with respect, kindness and care for those we work with. I also know that professionals like anyone can be overworked, stressed, complacent or lazy. Most medical students are selected by their exam grades, but only some are chosen because of their overall aptitude and suitability.
As in every kind of work, the complacent and power-addicted members of the medical profession need to be challenged to change – by their training, by their peers and by their clients. The web is full of sad and bad stories that cry out for our attention.

We all, those working in pediatrics and associated care, parents, and affected adults, must be helped and challenged to do what we each can to raise the awareness of the trauma sometimes resulting from infant surgery.

Then we must address this trauma as it –
a) affects new parents at a very vulnerable time of crisis;
b) continues to affect a few parents who are still affected by a traumatic time of their lives; and
c) still traumatized some of us affected by the way infant surgery was commonly done until a few decades ago.

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