The resident, Dr. Jason Hoaglund, came in to check on Annie early that morning. He sat in the chair next to her and asked her, with a twinkle in his eye, “What day is today?”
“My birthday!” she grinned. “Sing, please!”
“Well!” he said. “I guess we’ll have to!” Tom, Dr. Hoaglund and I sang “Happy Birthday” while Annie conducted us from her bed. When we were finished, she clapped, looking mightily pleased with her five year-old self.
“Good fun!” Dr. Hoagland commented as he began examining her. He asked us questions and then said that an attending physician would be visiting us soon.
In the meantime, I called my sister. As a nurse, she has always been our family’s source of medical advice. In fact, we often call her before ever consulting a doctor! She listened to the events of the previous day, and asked a few questions. “Katie,” she said, her tone direct and insistent, “you need to request a consult from a pediatric neurologist before you leave the hospital.”
When an attending physician came in to check on Annie, he told us that we could go home after lunch. The discharge orders had been signed. “We’d like to have a neurologist look at her,” I said.
The physician rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to get a neurologist in here on a Sunday. It’s a weekend.”
Tom stood up. “It’s the weekend for us, too,” he said. “We want that doctor paged.” Tom’s voice was serious and assertive, and his dark eyes flickered with determination.
“Why do you want to see a neurologist?” asked the doctor.
“Well,” I responded, “yesterday while she was having the seizure, she couldn’t move on her right side. I’m afraid she’s had a stroke.
He shook his head, and gave me a smug grin. “Children don’t have strokes.” He left the room.
I watched him walk away, and then went to the nurse’s station, where Dr. Hoaglund sat, writing in a patient’s chart. He looked up at me. I could see the weariness on his face, and imagined that he had been up most of the night. Still, his kind eyes regarded me and he smiled.
“We would like a neurologist to see Annie before we go home.”
He looked at me for a moment, and I found it impossible to gauge his thoughts. Then he nodded. “I’ll see what I can do.”
More waiting. We went to the playroom with Annie and then had some lunch. Early in the afternoon, Dr. Hoaglund came back into the room. “I spoke with the neurologist on call,” he said, “She’s going to stop by in a little bit. Remember, though, you’re on ‘hospital time’ now,” he smiled wryly, “a ‘little bit’ can be a long time!”
Later that afternoon, a smiling, curly-haired doctor walked in. “I’m Nancy Bass,” she said. “I’m the child neurologist on call.” She then glanced at Annie. “Happy Birthday, old woman!” Annie giggled, and I could see an instant connection form between my child and this new doctor. Dr. Bass examined Annie, noting the residual weakness on her right side and her slight difficulty with speech. She then sat down with Tom and me as Annie resumed playing with some toys on her bed.
“So,” she said, “Has anyone explained seizures to you?” We shook our heads, and she dove into an explanation of normal and abnormal electrical activity in the brain. At one point, she tried to explain the different areas of the brain. Seeing my puzzled look, she smiled. “Let me show you.” Her
hand flew to her ear and she took off her earring. “These really come in handy!” she chuckled. I glanced down to see her earring: a colorful model of the human brain, about the size of a grape. My heart felt measurably calmer as she talked. Once she was finished with her explanation, we chatted about other things for a while. We learned that she had just moved to Cleveland, and this was, in fact, her first on-call weekend at the hospital.
Dr. Bass ordered a CAT scan, and said that if this was clear, we could go home! She instructed us to make an appointment with her nurse for a more thorough evaluation once we were discharged, and then she left. Just before the nurses came to transfer Annie to radiology, she sat up in bed and looked at me. Wordlessly, she moved her mouth slightly to the left, the right side drooping appreciably. She sighed and then lay back in her bed, instantly asleep. “I think something’s wrong, Tom,” I said. He came over and looked at her. We decided that she must be just tired. Yet when they transferred her to the gurney, she didn’t respond, and she continued sleeping for the entire CAT scan, never flinching at the banging and whirring of the machines.
Tom and I stood with by her side during the scan. The lead apron was heavy against my shoulders as I watched my daughter, pale and motionless, on the table. The sound of the machine whispered against the fear that roared in my ears.