Thoughts on Life as a Spiritual Journey
Doctors Can Be Pharisees Too
Last Thursday night was the worst night of my life. Mary was attending a small group, and I was home watching the kids by myself. I got the two older kids to bed, and I was taking care of our youngest, Daniel, who is four months old. He’s had bad eczema for the last couple of months, and we were told that it was an internal allergy, something that Mary was eating was being passed into her milk and irritating him. So, I thought, while she is away I’ll just feed him some formula — give him a break from her milk. I had fed him formula once or twice before more than a month previously.
He ate about 3 ounces of formula and fell asleep while feeding. I woke him up to burp him, and after that he became extremely irritated. I tried to feed him some more formula, but he resisted. I tried to give him a pacifier but he wasn’t interested. He got more and more fussy, and I noticed that his breathing started to get raspy. He was sort of wheezing and coughing at the same time. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but it was clear that he wasn’t going to go back to sleep. So I left his dark bedroom and went into our kitchen. As soon as we were in the light I realized his face was puffy, swollen, and splotchy red. His breathing was sounding worse, and it was then that I first thought, “crap, my son is having an allergic reaction!”
Our older son has peanut allergies, so I recognized the splotchy redness as allergies. I grabbed an individual packet of Benadryl and squirted some in his mouth. I remember thinking, I need to get this in him now before his throat closes and I can’t get it in him any more. He threw it up, and I gave him some more. His breathing continued to get worse, and he was struggling to even cry at this point. I decided to rush him to the ER.
Once we got there, he was starting to get better. He was crying again, though it was faint at first. As soon as they saw me enter the ER they sent me straight back (I was crying and he had throw up all over himself, so we looked awful). They hooked up an O2 Stat machine to his toe to measure the oxygenation of his blood, and started blowing the pure oxygen over his face. The O2 stats read something in the 6os, and they said it’s supposed to be above 97%. His feet were dark purple by this point. About 5-10 minutes later when he was finally crying pretty loud and seemed to be doing better they took this temperature. It was 94.8. They thought, that must be wrong so they took it again…still 94.8. Then they used a different thermometer because they thought something must be wrong with that one, and it was still 94.8.
I was pretty emotional, and I was having a hard time communicating with the doctors what had happened. I told them that I thought it was an allergic reaction, and I told them I had given him Benadryl. I also told them that I had been feeding him formula. The first doctor that came into the room checked him over and was asking me questions. I couldn’t really answer them well because I was emotional. After watching him for about 3 minutes she suggested that all the machines were wrong, and that he just had the hiccups! Thankfully she wasn’t the ER doctor assigned to us, and she soon left. The next doctor came in and he was better at listening to what happened. He suggested that he was probably just choking on spit up and maybe some got in his lungs. They did an X-ray and his lungs were fine. He thought that he might have had an allergic reaction and offered to give him some prednisone, which we turned down because Mary had it once and reacted poorly.
Finally we left the ER about an hour later, and I was feeling a little confused. I wasn’t sure if my son had almost just died and I had saved his life by giving him Benadryl or if he had just choked on spit up. This is our third kid and I’ve seen our kids choke before so I didn’t think that was what had happened.
The next morning I took Daniel to children’s hospital for allergy tests. We received the results last night, and we discovered that he has a highly elevated reaction to dairy, which is what formula comes from. He also happens to be allergic to egg whites, peanuts and wheat. It seems like our Thursday night scare mostly like was an allergic reaction to the dairy in the formula.
What I found frustrating was the way the ER doctors and other doctors we’ve talked to treated us. It was particularly frustrating to have the first ER doctor suggest that all he had was the hiccups. I’m sure it’s hard being a doctor. I get that they see patients who are hypochondriacs and also see patients who are rude to them. But making a comment about a child having hiccups is just rude. In fact, it’s intentionally rude. It’s a statement designed to insult far more than it is to enlighten. And that got me thinking, why would she do that?
Why would she make that comment? Why has our pediatrician been incredulous about our encounter from the beginning? Why do we feel like we are being dismissed and put down by most doctors we talk too about this? So what if he had only been choking. I thought he was dying and I was scared. Why not be sensitive to your patients? Why do some doctors feel the need to make their patients feel stupid?
I think it’s because they are a lot like Pharisees. They can be Pharisees just as much as religious leaders can be Pharisees, because a Pharisee is anyone who uses their knowledge and position of power to put another person down. Religious Pharisees are dangerous because they use manipulative language about the soul and about our relationship with God in order to make themselves feel superior to others. Doctors do something similar when they use their knowledge of medicine and their interactions with patients to feel superior. Practicing medicine is no longer about helping people, it’s a pathway for them to secure a sense of self — a self defined by their superiority over others.
Anyone who is an expert can do this. Programers and anyone who works in I/T can do this when they are helping a friend with their computer. Veteran mothers can do this when they interact with new moms. Business leaders can do this whenever the topic of leadership comes up around their friends. Whatever your expertise you can use it to promote your sense of power and superiority. You too can be a Pharisee.
Right now, I’m just bitter that doctors can be Pharisees too. They meet people in some of their most vulnerable moments, and they can use that to exploit them for their own personal gain. I know I need to listen and learn from doctors, but I’m really struggling to trust them. With my personal medical history, doctors have been wrong about what is going on in me far more than they’ve been right. Maybe that’s why they can be jerks….maybe, like religious Pharisees, their arrogance is bourn out of their uncertainty. They really aren’t sure what’s going on, but they don’t want anyone to know. They want everyone to think they have things figured out because that’s their identity — they’re supposed to be medical know-it-alls and no one wants to hear a doctor say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”
Either way, we begin a new chapter in our life. We now know that Daniel has some major allergy issues, and we need to figure out how to care for him well. We will need our doctors to help us. I hope we can find some good ones who care about us as people and don’t use us as a means for defining themselves.