The risks of ignoring mother's intuition

After her son gets pneumonia, Susan Goldberg wonders why she hesitated in taking him to the doctor.

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Photo: iStockphoto

Thunder Bay, Ont. writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences.

What do you think of when you see the word pneumonia? I don’t know about you, but I tend to think of someone lying pale and still in bed, with barely enough energy to do anything but nap between fits of coughing.

What I don’t tend to think of is a nine-year-old boy with energy to burn, kicking whatever he can fashion into an impromptu soccer ball around the house and asking for the umpteenth time if he can invite a friend over, or maybe go bowling—all the while, admittedly, coughing like a barking seal. For days on end.

So maybe I can be at least somewhat excused for taking a few days to clue into the fact that we needed to take Rowan to the doctor. It was over the winter break, and Rachel had taken him tobogganing. He came home chipper and flushed—and exhausted. “I had to lie down at the bottom of the hill because my chest hurt!” he announced to me happily. Cough, cough, cough.

I, too, was curled up in bed, reading my own book—I had a headache and my sinuses were clogged. But I couldn’t quite focus. Something—cough, cough, cough—kept getting in the way of the words. He said his chest hurt, said a little voice in my subconscious. That’s unusual, don’t you think?

Cough, cough, cough.

That cough sounds pretty deep, the little voice continued.

Cough, cough, cough.

That’s interesting, isn’t it, that he had to lie down to catch his breath? said the voice, perhaps a bit more pointedly. Maybe you should…

And then, finally, the penny dropped. I picked up the phone, suddenly eternally grateful that our family doctor works on Saturdays. She was fully booked, but I managed to sweet-talk the harried receptionist into squeezing us in. A few hours later, we were home, antibiotics and inhaler in hand, with a requisition for a chest x-ray if things didn’t improve.

And while I was proud of myself for—finally—cluing into the fact that this was no garden-variety cough, the whole experience left me shaking my head. Why did it take so long for me to really hear that my kid was sick?

Read more: The working parents’ guide to dealing with sick kids > 

This isn’t a new pattern. Back in the fall, Rachel and I remained blissfully unconcerned for good week about a rash on Isaac’s face—even when it began to spread. At one point, I joked out loud that maybe he had leprosy. Actually? It was impetigo, diagnosed casually by a physician friend of ours with kids in the same class. There was that memorable winter a few years ago where the kids were fine but Rachel and I dragged ourselves to the doctor only after weeks of illness to find out that I had a massive double ear infection while she actually had pneumonia. We just thought that we were run down, that we’d get better on our own, and who really had time, anyway, for the hassle of getting to the doctor? We were busy parents, after all, with stuff to do. In any case, we were still (barely) functional.

But after Rowan’s pneumonia diagnosis, I settled on a New Year’s resolution: I will listen to that little voice in my head the minute it pipes up, and call the doctor’s office—even if it’s not convenient, even if it means taking time out of my workday or taking the kids out of school, or sitting in that waiting room for two hours.

And then I went to a walk-in clinic the day before New Year’s to get antibiotics for what turned out to be a double-ear/sinus infection. And I started to feel much better.

And then last week, when Rowan begin to bark like a seal again, I phoned the doctor the very next day. And when we didn’t hear back about the chest x-ray and he was still coughing, I phoned again. And now he’s just finished his second round of antibiotics for a second round of pneumonia, and he seems just fine. And I’m crossing my fingers that he stays that way. But if anything comes up, you can bet I’ll be on the phone again. I mean, I’m lucky enough to have excellent, government-provided healthcare. I’m lucky enough to have a family doctor—one who works on Saturdays to boot. Shouldn’t I be smart enough to avail myself of that healthcare when I need it?

Yes, I should.

Do you go into denial when your kids get sick? What about when it comes to your own health? Tweet me @MamaNonGrata.

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