I’m sitting here at 5:30 pm, letting my son nap later than I should, eating some chocolate and writing. It has just been one of those days. Actually, it has just been one of those past 24 hours.
When I arrived home from work last night I knew right away something was going on with Gavin. He kept pointing at his foot saying, “booboo,” then putting his fingers in his ears and whining, and did not want me to put him down. We played outside as usual, he ate about as much as he normally does for dinner, but at 7:30 he started laying on me asking for a bath. It’s never a good sign when my son wants to start heading toward bed. Sure enough 30 minutes later he had a fever of 103.2. We have done this many times before. As a pediatrician I know it’s normal for a kid to have an illness as often as 10 times in 1 year, but as a mother I’m basically over it.
We just had a 48-hour viral illness causing 103 fevers one month ago. It was our first illness since last Winter – when our lives were ruled by ear infections, viral gastroenteritis, and the common cold almost every month. I guess it is that time of year again. I don’t really enjoy the Winter as a pediatrician, with 12-hour days of runny noses and exasperated parents wishing I could take their child’s cold away. I’m also learning not to enjoy it as a mother. I want Gavin to be out in the world practicing valuable social skills, but I hate the germs he brings home from that experience.
My biggest dilemma as a working mother so far has been what to do about work when my child is ill. My son is very attached to his mother, which I choose to perceive as a good sign. But when he is sick it is, simply put, exhausting. He screams for me only, he is completely mean to his father, and he doesn’t want me to as much as go to the bathroom without bringing him along to snuggle on my shoulder. He goes as far as to demand that mommy brings his juice, mommy changes all diapers, and mommy sits with him while he lays on her to watch TV. Cody and I died laughing this morning, recalling how Gavin was so upset that Cody brought his blanket to bed instead of me last night. For 5 minutes Gavin cried over and over again, “I want mommy and me to get my blanket” despite the fact that the blanket was already there. I think he wanted me to get up with him and re-enact the process of retrieving his blanket from the living room. Poor Dadda!
Unfortunately for Gavin, his fever never went below 101 from 7:30 last night until 11 am this morning. I alternated Tylenol and Motrin every 3 hours (as I would tell my patient to do in such a circumstance), gave him 2 tepid baths, and kept him undressed all night. If this were happening to one of my patients, I would advise them to go the emergency room to be seen by a doctor. Since I am a doctor, I was fortunate enough to know when to get worried and head to the ER. He showed none of those signs last night (lethargy, altered mental status, dehydration), so I just stayed with him waiting for it to break. With a snotty nose and diarrhea, I felt confident this was either a virus or the flu.
When 7:00 am rolled around and his temperature was still at 102, I obviously did not feel comfortable leaving my child with our Nanny to go to work. She is the best Nanny I could ask for by teaching me all kinds of things about toddlers, loving him like he is her own, and honestly being part of our family. But when your kid is this sick, as both a Pediatrician and a mother, I want to be there to make sure he doesn’t need to go to the hospital and to comfort him like no one else can.
I’ve made this decision many times, whether to go to work when he is sick or not. Most of the time I decide he is ok to be without me. I think I’ve stayed home twice in two years when he is sick, having cancelled clinic twice. I feel horrible the whole day knowing how much I have inconvenienced my patients. I know many of them have taken off from their work to bring their child in for a check up. And I know many parents want their pediatrician to see them when their child is sick. I do my best to meet those needs, but in good conscience (as a mother) I just can’t always do that.
Making the decision to stay home with my sick child has cost me some patients. I know I lost two patients today, choosing to see another pediatrician because of my sudden absence. I do feel bad that I have upset some patients enough to leave me as a pediatrician. But I also know the reality of my situation. I am a working mom with a working husband and a young toddler. I’m also pregnant with another one on the way. I do the best I can to be there for my patients, but I can’t sacrifice the health and emotional well-being of my child to make everyone happy all the time. This, at least, is the mantra I tell myself when making that difficult decision the mornings that Gavin is sick. If they want a pediatrician who doesn’t have such demands, I am not the one for them.
So to all working moms out there, when I see one of you in my office with a sick child, my heart really does go out to you. It’s a very tough struggle, to decide when to stay home, decide when to call the pediatrician, decide when to let others down so you can be there for your child. Not only are you scared for your child, literally aching for their pain, but you are also juggling the many demands placed on you. I hope we all get through this winter!!!!