Thursday 27 December 2012

Actions speak louder...

I'm sure you've heard the phrase "Actions speak louder than words."  Truer words have seldom been spoken.

Or have they?  Perhaps words are sometimes all you really need.

I'm going to deviate from my usual posts (obnoxious, angry ranting and raving), shut my big, fat, stupid mouth, and let someone else do most of the talking for this update.  I get emails from readers with some frequency, many of them asking medically-related questions.  Most of them have nothing to do with trauma - they come from people who are simply desperate for help or answers and don't know where else to turn.  I received this email from Kira (not her real name) about three weeks ago:

I've been told by my doc I have bronchitis but lately I've been coughing up blood and hacking my brains out. I've also been very sore in my entire stomach and lung area. I can't hardly breath and my parents won't listen. They just make fun of how I sound or when I'm in pain. Please help me.

Well I think anyone with more than 7 brain cells can tell that this certainly doesn't sound good.  The only thing I told her was that coughing up blood is not normal, and that she needed medical attention.  NOW.  She responded immediately:

I can't get to the hospital they won't take me.
Shit.  Won't take her?  What?!?  At that point I advised her that if she really is having trouble breathing, she needed to either A) call a taxi or emergency services or somehow get to her doctor without her parents, or B) somehow convince her parents that this is actually something serious.  Coughing up blood (aka haemoptysis) can be a sign of bronchitis, lung cancer, or more serious lung infections like tuberculosis, but it is never, ever normal.
I'll try, doc. Thanks. Ill let you know how I'm doing tomorrow.
And then I got nothing for three weeks.  Was I simply blowing it out of proportion?  Was it not as bad as it sounded?  Was she dead?

I sat next to the computer wringing my hands the entire time, wondering, hoping, worrying...ok, that's a complete lie, but I was mildly concerned.  And then three weeks later, I got this:
Hey doc, I just wanted to let you know I'm finally feeling normal again. It turns out I had a severe case of pertussis (whooping cough). If I had not gone in when you sent me that message back that convinced my parents to take me in, I probably would not be writing this. In fact I would probably be in the ICU. But thanks to you I am now well and happy (if a little short of breath occasionally). I just want to share I also found out because of you I have damaged lungs from where I grew up as a child. If you hadn't convinced me to go in I would have never found this out and been able to learn more about it. If you can please tell your readers don't take second hand smoke lightly. I grew up in a place that was constantly filled with smoke and because of that I'm way more susceptible to bronchitis, pneumonia and all other respiratory issues. Anyway I just wanted to thank you for giving me the best gift of all. My life back. 
Thanks doc!

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not taking credit for anything here other than trying to alert some oblivious parents to take their child's complaint seriously.  My daughter makes mountains out of molehills all the time (Daddy, it's bleeding!!  It's just a papercut, dear.  YEAH, BUT IT'S BLEEDING!!!).  But as a parent you have to be able to detect the difference between exaggeration and reality.  That can be very difficult to do sometimes, especially when you have no medical training.  But when it comes to your children and their health, I feel it's better to err on the side of caution.  It's much easier to bring your child to the doctor and be reassured than the alternative.  Fortunately my email caused Kira's parents to reconsider and spurred them to do the right thing.

See what I mean?  Sometimes words really do speak louder than actions.


  1. I would've been dying to know what happened! This kind of thing happened to a radio station I listen to, a man with a terminal illnes asked for concert tickets. (he did not die either)

    You must cope with stress well to be a trauma surgeon. Are there any methods you use or do you just do what comes naturally?

  2. I know how "Kira" feels, I had RSV as an infant(3months) then walking Pneumonia(17yrs) and now I can't even get a common cold without hacking my lungs up.

  3. Terrifying for a young woman to be going through that and without the support of her family, especially her parents. I loved that she talked about second hand smoke and how very dangerous it is. I feel that my lungs were also damanged when I was younger because of second hand smoke and I have had pnuemonia or bronchitis every year for YEARS now. I hope that people are paying more attention to the dangers to themselves AND to those people/children who are near them.

  4. The fact that you offer medical advice, despite the fact that you have a very busy life, is admirable and very generous. However, I feel that this patient put you in a very bad position, and depending on the outcome, could have made you feel responsible or liable in some way. I hope that people realize its inappropriate to take advantage of someone's kindness and to see your blog for what it is, entertainment and education.


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