This Time it’s Serious

Published June 29, 2011 by jay p laughlin

“You don’t exactly have a small head yourself,” said the neurologist, “let’s measure that first.”

Thanks Doc.

My first week as a stay-at-home dad didn’t start off perfectly. It was punctuated by multiple trips to the doctor. I know that this can be normal when raising a child but ZK has been a spectacularly healthy little girl for these first eight months. So I’m just not used to this.

Monday began innocently enough but concluded with a quick trip to the Seattle Children’s Hospital urgent-care facility. Why? Finger-nail clippers. Clipping ZK’s nails has been a near art form because she dislikes it so much. Rather than accepting her temporary nail-clipped lot in life, she fights back. Up to this point I had managed very well. Disaster struck after her bath on Monday night. While Jenni was drying ZK off and ZK was distracted I took the opportunity to clip her nails. All was well until I reached her right thumb. The first indication that something was wrong was ZK’s facial expression. It transformed from the happy, just bathed baby to the face of a little girl in pain. It was the kind of pain that warrants an initial silent cry. You know, those cries that don’t waste any energy on the start up because it needs the power for the real wail that is soon to follow in a matter of seconds. And, finger cuts being what the are, the blood spilleth-ed over.

Feeling like a complete failure as a father, Jenni and I took her to the urgent-care doctors around the corner. My consolation came in the fact that, when we were called back into the examination room, the nurse asked, “was it finger-nail clippers?”

“How did you guess?” I asked, shocked.

“Oh, we have a monitor in the back that tells us the age and chief complaint of the people coming in. We saw “eight months” and “cut on thumb” and placed bets on it being caused by finger-nail clippers.”

My sigh of relief was enormous.

“We’ve all done it before,” she added, “So I cut my son’s nails while he’s asleep.”

Great idea!

Thursday arrived and brought a much more serious issue. ZK’s anterior fontanelle (soft-spot) started to swell. First, let me say this: if this happens to your child, DO NOT try to google this on your own. You will be scared out of your mind.

Because this was the only thing we noticed that was wrong (no fever, no appetite change, no grumpiness) we thought that it was probably normal. We called our primary care doctor just to be sure.

“This is probably fine, but bring her in so that we can look at her just to be sure,” she said.

As much as I joke about how ZK inherited my big head this time things were a bit more serious. She had no other symptoms of something being wrong except for her swollen fontanelle. This, combined with her big head, made for some concern. The conclusion from the doctor, after conferring with some of the others in the practice, was that this was probably nothing. However, and this is a big HOWEVER, they wanted us to go to a pediatric neurologist for a second opinion.

I walked out of the office in shock. While it is true that their conclusion was that ZK was perfectly healthy the fact that  we were going to take her to a neurologist for a second opinion was unnerving, to say the least. Fortunately, they were able to schedule an appointment for us first thing the next morning. Good news, only one night of sickening worry.

As a parent I can imagine all kinds of things going wrong in ZK’s life. But imagining terrible things pales in comparison to things un-imagined potentially coming to fruition. (I’ll take the imagination, please). The feeling of helplessness was overwhelming but I tried not to let it show – if only to be strong for Jenni. For the first time in over eight months, I did not like being a parent. Am I allowed to say that?

The story, fortunately, ends on a positive note.

Lots of Brains

The pediatric neurologist was brilliant and great with ZK. After measuring my head and watching ZK for just a few minutes while looking over our paperwork, he said that he believed she was fine. He ran her through a battery of tests. Some of them were for rare disorders, but she passed them all. Through it all the focus of discussion was not on the swelling fontanelle but on her big head.

“Well, I think ZK has the same thing that my daughter had and still has,” he said. “Benign familial macrocephaly. Which really just means that she has inherited her father’s big brain. We’ll continue to keep an eye on it, but there is no sign that she has anything wrong.”

Your daughter has a big head too? Wait…you do have a big head don’t you doc?

My new friend!

Benign Familial Macrocephaly, folks. Learn it. Love it.


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