My Poor Sick Pooky

Many doctor-moms tend to be laid-back about sickness and injuries.  If not laid-back, then at least, non-alarmist. After all, what is medical school and residency but learning to recognize sick vs not sick.

Sick is real, acute illness, and actually, isn’t that common. Not sick is most patients.  Not sick is the worried well, chronic slow-moving diseases, anything that time will heal, and most viruses.

Early in training, you don’t know what’s what, and so, everyone looks sick. There’s alot of panic.

As the years go on, you get a bit jaded. You’ve seen alot of really sick folks, and you don’t worry as much about the rest.

Of course, this lax attitude can lead to missed diagnoses. Hubby will never forget his 2007 sore throat:

“It’s a virus,” I kept telling him. “It’s going around. Gargle.”

Hubby is non-medical, and surprisingly stoic about his own suffering. For a guy.

I didn’t know him well enough at that point to know that if he said his throat really hurt, it must REALLY hurt.

A few days into that illness, he phoned me from the broadcast booth, where he was getting ready to call a minor league baseball game. I was driving home from work. The connection wasn’t great.

“My throat really hurts,” he said.

“Do you have some tea with lemon and honey there? That might help.”

“Well, I would, but I haven’t been able to swallow.”


“Yeah, I have to spit into a cup. Nothing will go down.”

“Excuse me?”

“I can’t swallow. Will this get better?”

I realized that his voice wasn’t weird and muffly because of the poor connection. It was Hot Potato voice. This is when swelling and inflammation and pain cause the voice to change.

Later on, a quick exam revealed a massively swollen and red left tonsil, pushing the uvula to the side.

Oh God, this might be a tonsillar abscess, I thought. I cringed: I’m such an asshole. My mind ran: How can we get a CT scan tonight? An ENT consult?

But Hubby would have none of that. He had to travel with the team. He hadn’t missed one game in twenty years of broadcasting, and he wasn’t about to start. We compromised: Augmentin, and massive amounts of NSAIDS. He got better, and I try to take him seriously when he says he’s got pain.

Regardless, it’s become a running joke that I tend to minimize my family’s illnesses. (Honestly, it IS usually is just a virus.)

So when Babygirl came down with fevers and vomiting last Friday, I didn’t stress. Babyboy had just had a cold and cough. This was probably her manifestation of the same thing. A virus.

“Oh, my poor pooky,” I comforted, and we let her do what Babyboy had done: watch endless Curious George.

But Friday, Saturday, then into Sunday morning, she had high fevers and vomiting. No stuffy nose, no cough, no diarrhea. She wasn’t eating at all, she was only drinking some cold juice here and there.

Febrile Babygirl napping on the couch
Febrile Babygirl napping on the couch


Still, it didn’t dawn on me. Not until she looked up at me and said,

“Mommy, my throat hurts,” and she did that thing where she swallowed and grimaced. I realized that she’d probably been doing that for awhile.

Oh, no. I thought. I’m screwing up again…

I ran and got a flashlight. As I bent down really close, I got a whiff of her breath: that unmistakable bacteria stench.

And her throat, here it is:

There’s some exudate back there, didn’t show in the photo. Angry tonsils!


I texted the photo to my mother and Hubby, and after some conferencing, I decided to take her to the pediatrician.

Our kids have the BEST pediatrician. Their office has urgent hours on Saturdays AND Sundays. They put my clinic to shame. I called, and within a half an hour we were in the office.

The pedi took a swab. The rapid strep was positive.

“Strep can often present as fevers and vomiting in little kids,” she explained.

Oh, I felt bad.  We went straight home. I stroked Babygirl’s head, tried to tempt her with sugar water (she likes that). Hero Nana picked up the Amoxicillin. Our awesome neighbor brought over popsicles. It’s Wednesday and Babygirl is much better, but still has barely eaten any solids. She’s lost a bit of weight.

Didn’t I do a pediatrics residency? Um, yup. Many years ago. In my own defense, it was basically an inpatient residency. There was very little exposure to basic outpatient stuff. But still. It’s embarrassing.

My poor sick pooky.

7 thoughts on “My Poor Sick Pooky”

  • Been there. I missed a bilateral ear infection in my 14 month old. Um hello? I’m a family physician who sees kids all.the.time! I felt like a tool.

  • I also missed a bilateral ear infection, even when PUS WAS DRAINING onto his face. I thought it was (hang head in shame) baby rice cereal that was crusted on his cheek. I thought he just had a cold/fever.
    I also waited way way too long for strep in my 2 year old the first time he had it. again, thought it was a virus (it usually is!) for 3 full days before I finally took him in since the fever kept getting higher without URI signs.
    Yes I completed a med-peds residency and still see kids (albeit in a subspecialty that does not require ever looking at throats or ears anymore)
    Here is the thing, 95% of the time it IS a virus. So do you go to the Doctor immediately 19 times for the 20th time that its something that needs antibiotics? That seems wrong, too. I think its fine to “watch and wait” with the kids. But take your husband more seriously—-your marriage is at stake! (joke)

  • I dosed my four-year-old daughter with Tylenol and took her to my parents’ 50th anniversary party – and the next day she had a temp of 103 and angry, exudative tonsils.

    I had recurrent otitis media all through HS. When I was 16, my father (who was a general internist and cardiologist and didn’t really believe in ear infections) looked in my ears and said “not so bad. It’s a holiday weekend. We’re not calling the ENT”. It was July 4th – the Bicentennial July 4th. The pain got worse and I couldn’t hear out of one ear. Dad shrugged. Then I woke up with blood on my pillow – because I’d ruptured an eardrum. I saw the doctor that afternoon.

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