Doctors know best, right? Even in today's Google-centric world, where medical information about every known condition is literally a click away, we still – and rightly so – listen to our doctors.
But when it comes to my children, it's been my experience ... well, let's just call this column “Always get a second opinion when it comes to your kids because, in many cases, the doctor is just making an educated guess.”
I'll tell my story in a moment, but first, I know a doctor, a specialist. I don't want to give any more details, but trust me: You find out what this person does for a living, your brain goes “whoa.” Smart doc, is my point. At any rate, this doctor has a child with a serious diagnosed genetic disorder. But when the child was young, they couldn't nail down what the issue was.
This doctor, this member of the medical community, stared me in the eyes and told me the following. “Jeff, these doctors who work with kids ... so many times they just don't know (bleep). You have to follow your own parental feelings.”
Now understand: This doctor was not telling me to forgo the medical establishment. He was just saying ... be careful. Be wary. Follow your gut. After all, one glaring fact cannot be ignored: Kids can't always tell you what's wrong. And before they can speak, they can't tell you anything.
So here's my story.
Our daughter is now 3 years old. Happy, healthy, perfect. A little behind the curve with her motor skills and language, but right there. Goes to school, plays with friends, does whatever a 3-year-old should do.
But from birth, my wife thought something was wrong. Doctors poo-poo'd my wife, insisting our daughter was OK. Around five months old, though, she wasn't hitting any milestones. Our doctor had noted early on her eyes were crossed (known as “strabismus”) and her muscle tone wasn't great. Then a head measurement revealed some too-quick growth, and that's what finally turned things into a Code Red.
That afternoon, we started about 18 months of craziness. Started with a CT scan ordered by a neurologist, who, weeks later, told us our daughter would need lifelong care. (The scan didn't show anything horrible, for the record.)
We went to see another neurologist, who said it was too early to tell.
A third neurologist said she probably wouldn't be a great soccer player, but other than that, she'd be fine.
(I could stop the column here to demonstrate the need for second – and third opinions – but it gets better.)
We were sent to specialists up and down the corridors of Children's Hospital in Philadelphia. Nobody could pinpoint anything.
Then we saw an eye doctor. She said our daughter's eyes weren't great, and there wasn't much to do about it. Our daughter had trouble doing basic baby things, like grabbing a rattle. She seemed like she couldn't see things right. She rarely turned her head to see the world around her. She reminded me of a punch-drunk boxer. The doctor said glasses wouldn't help, surgery wouldn't help, nothing would help.
We went for a second opinion. This doctor wasn't so fast to label her eyes a lost cause. (To be clear, my daughter is about nine months old at this point.)
“Let's try glasses and see what happens. Can't hurt.”
Those words above courtesy of Dr. Barry Wasserman, a pediatric ophthalmologist and surgeon based in Princeton, N.J.
Let me tell you this: My lowest point came the day we picked up my daughter's glasses. I didn't think they'd help, didn't think anything was going to help.
Let me also tell you this: They helped. Like water on a fire.
We got home, sat outside. Our dog, being a dog and thinking every time we left the house we wouldn't come back, was overjoyed to see us, running back and forth and acting all-dog like.
And my daughter swiveled her head back and forth to watch the dog run.
She never moved her head like that before.
And she laughed, a deep, full laugh.
She never did that before.
From that point forward, she was a different baby.
At around a year old, Dr. Wasserman recommended surgery to correct her eyes.
It was another great success, to the point of the following: I'm at Walmart, maybe a half-year after her surgery. She's with me, sitting in the kid seat in the cart. I'm on line, and she's making goo-goo faces at somebody behind me. I turn around, and it's ... well, it's a scary dude. Rough looking. Heavily tattoo'd in places only scary, rough dudes get tattoos.
“Your daughter has beautiful eyes, man,” he said to me.
“Thanks,” I said, refusing to cry in front of the scary, rough dude.
So my girl: From cross-eyed and barely seeing to having a stranger get all mushy over her goo-goo eyes, a stranger with facial tattoos that may or may not have been commemorating a murder he committed.
But remember: One doctor said nothing would help. Nothing.
“Bottom line: You always have to be comfortable and confident in the doctors taking care of your children,” Wasserman told me. “And I do not believe that being a 'big surgeon' means we (as docs) don't have to make people comfortable. So if there's any second thoughts, get another opinion.”
And if we didn't get that other opinion? My daughter's eyes?
“It's likely she would have crossed eyes without the surgery, and possible that she'd have poor or no vision in one of them,” he said.
So take this one to the bank, folks. Not only for you, but especially for your children, especially for your children who don't yet have the ability to tell you they're seeing triple: Get a second opinion.