Kids and the Frightful Things They Do


Halloween is approaching which, for me, brings to mind kids and scary things, sometimes in the same package. The world of medicine attracts some unusual personalities, some amusing, others not so.  But then again, there are those few memorable patients one can never forget.  For instance…

A 2-year-old little girl was referred to us who was pronouncing nary a single intelligible word, per her mother.  We had to test her hearing, since good hearing in a kid is vital for proper speech development.  Unfortunately, her ears were full of wax, so we had to first clean them out.  We do this under a microscope, lying the child on her back in order to view and safely remove the wax, and like many 2 year-olds, she was not very cooperative and thus needed to be restrained, where a nurse gently but firmly secures the head to prevent movement, while another (usually the parent) holds down the body.  As we were doing the procedure, we were all startled by the colorful language that spewed forth from her little mouth:

“You f*#krs!  You mother f*#kers!”

We were all shocked.  Mother was shocked.  “She’s never said that before!” her mother exclaimed through hands covering her mouth.  Looking in horror she then turned to my nurse, “I have no idea where she learned that!”

To which my nurse replied, “Well, she didn’t get it from me!”

I half-expected the child’s body to rise in the air, head rotating 360 degrees and then projectile-vomit a jet of green puke, just like it happened to the little girl possessed by Satan in “The Exorcist,” the scariest movie ever made.  Without thinking, as we continued with our task amidst her loud swearing, I merely added:

“At least she has three words in her vocabulary.”

* * *

A three-year-old boy came with his mother for reasons I’ve forgotten, a nice, polite child who sat in the exam chair quietly.  He was very cooperative and I examined him without a problem.  I stood up and turned to check something on the computer while still talking to both of them.  My backside was towards the patient and mother, when suddenly I felt (and heard) a sharp slap on my butt. 

I turned around and saw the child still sitting in the chair, hands folded on his lap with a little smirk on his face, and his mom standing there, hands over her mouth, looking horrified.

I looked to the kid and then to the mom and said to her, “I’m going to assume that wasn’t you.”

Still a bit embarrassed, she tried to explain it was common in her family--something they just do—to slap each other’s behind, and he must have automatically got it into his innocent little mind that it was O.K. to let one fly on the doc, as if he were just another dude in the fam.

A few weeks later, I was called to one of our local ERs for a patient with a bad nosebleed.  After we controlled the bleeding, the patient and I chatted a bit, and he said he knew someone I knew; he happened to be the grandfather of the little Butt-Slapper (a fictitious name to avoid HIPPA violations).

A few weeks after that I arrived at the OR (operating room) of another hospital for surgery, when one of the nurses came up to me, introduced himself as the uncle of Butt-Slapper.  Of course, I had to retell the story to the 6 or 7 people around the OR front-desk who burst into uproarious laughter, all at my expense, making me literally the “butt” of the joke.

A few months later, a patient came to see me stating she too heard about the incident, as she was another family member of Butt-Slapper.  They had quite a large extended family and my name had spread through the clan.  This did wonders for my reputation.

* * *

Sometimes a child does something so frightful, so spine chilling, it gives one to pause and wish he were somewhere else far, far away, in another universe, engaged in an occupation much less stressful that medicine.  It forces the doctor into an awful soul-sucking circumstance--a dreadful place all docs want to avoid. 

One evening I was called to another ER, where a 6-year-old swallowed a large piece of tortilla, getting it stuck in the back of his throat.  For an ENT doc, any object that gets stuck in the upper airway, especially in a child, raises the anxiety-level to a 10 on a scale of 1-10, and provokes premature graying, since the foreign object can ever so slightly tip over the edge into complete airway obstruction which, if not remedied immediately, leads to suffocation and death.

I looked at the child, sitting forward and drooling (the infamous “tripod” position to maintain an open airway) and could see a hint of the white tortilla just below the back of his tongue; it only came into view when he gagged or said “ahhh.”  Naturally, the foreign bodyàairway obstructionàsuffocationàdeath scenario immediately came to mind as it does with any ENT doc in this type of situation.  The quandary was how to remove it without it falling into his airway.  We couldn’t do this under anesthesia--we could not intubate him to secure his airway given the mass of tortilla was in the way, and simply sedating him and lying him down could cause the object to slip and obstruct his airway.  The child appeared quite cooperative though, and I explained to him and his parents we should try to remove the foreign body there in the ER rather than trying to do this in the OR.  They agreed.  I visualized his throat with a headlight, and as I pressed his tongue down with a tongue depressor in one hand, I asked him to say a long and loud “ahhh” which lifted the FB upwards.  I quickly placed a long, curved hemostat over and behind the wad and rolled it forward.  It landed in the front of his mouth and we all screamed--me, Mom, Dad, the nurses in the room--“Spit it out! Spit it out!” which he famously did and the entire mass expelled forward onto his lap.  To our surprise, this was much larger than expected—a huge wad of flour tortilla rolled tightly into a cylinder nearly an inch in diameter and over 1 ½ inches long! 

My body and mind immediately decompressed as the stress and anxiety washed away, yet couldn’t afford to pull out all the accumulated gray hairs for I would go bald.

Just a few incidents with kids and the sometimes-frightful things they do.  Which is the reason God created beer.


©Randall S. Fong, M.D.

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