Friday, November 25, 2016

The Power of story telling

 My mom could go into a room full of chaos. “Once upon a time..” she would start in a steady calm voice.

It wouldn’t be long before everyone in the room was hanging on her every word; whatever they had been in a snit about a moment ago was forgotten.
She would then take her audience on a magical journey with a story that she often made up as she went. If it were a classic tale, you could count on her to take dramatic liberties. I don’t believe she told any story quite the same way twice. In her kindergarten classroom she would have her students shut their eyes as she told her tales.
"Use your imagination", she would tell them. "I am thinking of a big black dog, he has 2 floppy ears. He also has 2 tails and 3 eyes!"

One distinct recollection of a time when mom’s storytelling saved the day comes to mind. My younger daughter Alana had several friends spending the night. In one of my bigger lapses in good “mommy judgement” I had rented a movie that I thought they would all enjoy. It turned out to be fairly dark and scary (always pre-screen, don’t rely on faulty memory of what may or may not be appropriate.) One of the girls started to cry and some of the other girls started to get sad and upset. A few of them wanted to stop the movie, but of course most of the others wanted to keep watching. The situation seemed like it could go downhill quickly. Fortunately my mom was visiting. She took control, turned off the movie and started to tell stories. These weren’t toddlers; they must have been about ten. They sat raptly listening to story after story. The evening was saved.

Books are wonderful too, but in truth, they also are not quite the same as a story. A story is yours to tweak as you please. Stories are powerful mediums for working through issues. Folks who have asked me for parenting advice over the years know that using stories is a favorite tool. For as long as I can remember I have been counseling parents to create a fictional child with a similar name. Talk about what that parallel child has been going through. This tends to be a very non threatening way to talk about all sorts of issues. Once upon a time there was a little girl who had an “owie” ear. The doctor had given her some medicine to make it better, but when she tried the medicine it tasted yucky.”....

Once upon a time there was a little boy who didn’t like to stay in bed……

Once upon a time there was a little girl who didn’t want to go to school...

Once upon a time there was a little boy who liked to put pieces of cheese in his nose….

These stories are great ways to launch into a dialogue about all sorts of positive and/or negative ways that the protagonist can deal with  a variety of situations. This is an excellent problem solving technique.

When I was working on this post, I mentioned the storytelling theme to one of the wise mamas in my life. She immediately referred to these as “Annie Stories”. It turns out that back in 1988 this was quite the thing, and there was a book about how to use this method:

I use storytelling at work on a regular basis. Many of our savvy parents who know that they have a “shot phobic” patient on their hands, will make sure that they schedule the visit when Josie and I are both there. Josie is my amazing medical assistant who has been my ‘right hand’ at the office for many years.
I can’t even count how many times I have been called into an exam room where a crying, or cowering child is terrified of a “dreaded shot”.... I start my story:

“Once upon a time there was a patient who was so big. He played football for his high school. He was bigger than me, he was probably bigger than the grown up in your house, he was really big...and he was really scared of getting shots." At this point 90% of the kids are now still and listening to me talk. Yes,  they might be huddled on their parents lap, or on the floor under the chair. They are probably not making eye contact, but I have their attention.

“He wasn’t afraid of getting bumped around on the football field but he hated shots. He was so scared of them that he would try to hide. He tried to hide inside the garbage can, but he wouldn't fit..”   Now 99% are listening and some are almost laughing.

From here I am able to start a dialogue with them about why we are giving the shot. “It is magic protection so that if certain germs get inside of your body, you won’t get sick.” We talk about the fact that we wish there was a less yucky way to get the protection and that it is really normal for lots of people to be scared of shots. We talk about the fact that being brave is trying hard to hold still and it is still really okay to cry and yell if they need to. As soon as they are ready, Josie (the best shot giver in the country) has already gotten it done.

It all starts by engaging them with a story.

Not everything has to have a purpose. Sometimes stories are just for fun

If I happen to be taking a  walk outside and see something unusual such as  a pair of shoes sitting by themselves on a street corner, I can’t help to think to myself. Here is a story. How did those shoes get there? Take turns telling the same story. Families can have a wonderful time creating a collaborative tale.
Another wise Mama tells me that she used to have her kids give her three things that they wanted the story to include; perhaps a special name or a certain feeling.

Our kids these days are both blessed and cursed with the enormous choices of digital wonders. I am not opposed to limited use of regulated tech time, but it should not be in place of plain old imagination.

Recent studies show that books and stories started young have a real impact on brain development:

This Black Friday, as people run around to shop for all kinds of new technological marvels, don’t forget to “power down” and be thankful for the magic moments that you capture as you snuggle with your kids and simply tell a story. "Once upon a time......

Friday, November 18, 2016

When can you take your baby out into this germy world ( 2016)

The discussion with new parents about when it is safe to take the baby out and about and risk exposure to crowds comes up quite a bit. This is one of those questions that gets a lot of differing opinions from anyone you ask. The only opinion that really matters in the end is that of you and your partner. All the well meaning friends, family and healthcare professionals can only advise. It is up to you to pick a path that feels right for you.  It is an especially popular question this time of year with the holiday season looming. Many folks have celebrations and gatherings ahead. Lots of folks are considering traveling.

It is often not a black and white case and we end up trying to identify all the considerations specific to your situation. There is a vast difference between a single parent taking the baby with them to get provisions, and the choice to take a newborn out to a crowded concert.

Travel questions come up a lot. I would rather avoid having a very young baby on a full airplane but some travel is worth the risk. I would likely say "go for it"  to a baby going to see aging great-grandparents, or to a once in a lifetime family event like a wedding. I would say "are you absolutely nuts???" to a family taking an infant to a beach vacation in Mexico.

What time of year is it? Are there any active viruses circulating? We are just coming into the winter cold and flu season. I am going to be stricter in my recommendations this month. RSV is actively going around. I posted about it a few weeks ago and since that post we have had positive tests in the office. I want my newborns safe.

I have a very different standard when dispensing advice about the under two month crowd. That two month old check up and first set of vaccines is a significant milestone. If you know that you have upcoming travel, bring that up at your early doctor appointments. In our office we can accelerate some of the first vaccinations.

Any fever in a young infant gets my attention. Babies are the most vulnerable the first 6-8 weeks of life. If one of these young babies gets a fever, it is going to be taken very seriously by any doctor that they encounter. In an emergency room, a fever in a young baby will most likely trigger diagnostic testing such as blood work, a urine catheter, x-rays and even a spinal tap. If in fact that baby has a serious infection, early intervention can be life saving, so the doctors aren't kidding around. No one wants their baby to have to  go through that.

I know that many new parents get cabin fever, but whenever possible, keep your newborn away from any circumstance that may expose them to anyone who is sick. In general, crowds should be avoided. If someone is coming to the house to visit make sure they are healthy before they come in. If they feel like they may be coming down with something, they are not doing you any favors by exposing you and your newborn. If you have family staying with you I prefer that anyone who is planning on spending time with your baby be vaccinated.  Ideally they have gotten the TDaP and Flu vaccines already. It takes a week or so for immunity to take effect. Plan ahead and make sure that family members get the shot now if they haven’t yet. Send them over to a pharmacy for the shots as soon as possible if they haven't gotten around to it. As long as visitors appear healthy and are more help than hindrance, don't hesitate to take advantage of your support network even if they haven't gotten the shots yet. Good hand washing is essential. We haven’t started seeing true influenza, but it is coming.

First time parents have the luxury of protecting and isolating the baby and should take advantage. That being said, in my opinion, a walk outside on a lovely day is usually perfectly fine for even the most conservative family.

Second kids are a different story by necessity.  They are often born into the situation where they have a loving, snotty nosed older sibling that wants to kiss and handle them from the start. These babies generally get exposed to things much earlier. Anyone who has multiple kids can tell you that it is really sad watching the young babies struggling with their first illness. As I mentioned in my sibling post, tell your older child or any children who will be in close contact with the baby, that they are in charge of the “germ patrol.” It is their job to make sure that anyone who is going to touch the baby washes their hands first or uses a hand sanitizer. Good hand washing is essential but quarantining your kids from each other is not reasonable. Common sense also dictates that kids are likely contagious before you realized they were getting sick, and by the time you realize that something is up, it is already too late.

When making decisions about how much contact your infant is going to have with the outside world, it is nice to have choices. Unfortunately situations will come up when it’s not so simple. When faced with these types of decisions, recognize that things are usually not clear cut so explore your options. Sometimes they are limited so do the best you can and use your best judgement!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Antibiotic considerations

Fortunately  the majority of my patients understand that antibiotics need to be used with care. Antibiotic resistance is a reality and it is essential that we don’t exacerbate the problem by giving these important medications unless they are really needed.
Antibiotics should not be given for viral illness. Of course, sometimes a viral syndrome does morph into something bacterial. Fluid in the sinus cavities, ears, or lungs can become infected. To be certain that we are dealing with a bacterial infection, the best practice would be to do a culture prior to starting treatment. Reality sets in and considerations such as cost and invasive testing are complicating factors. In our office the doctors use their best clinical judgement when deciding whether or not antibiotic treatment is appropriate.

If a bacterial infection is suspected and treatment is started, here are some factors to consider:

Many antibiotics come in different concentrations. Some conditions will warrant higher dosing and longer courses. Some doctors also will also have individual dosing habits and practices. Dr Schwanke has his own favorite way of using Zithromax. When he first started ordering it his way, it was routine for me to get calls from the pharmacies saying ??????     Parents, please don’t hesitate to check with your doctor/nurse if you have any question about the dosage.
Read the directions on the bottle to see if refrigeration is necessary.

I suggest keeping a checklist with the bottle. Check off each dose when you give it. This will help you keep track of the doses. It is not unusual for me to get  calls about double dosing when both parents realize that they had each given the scheduled dose. (Usually not a big deal, aside from possible GI upset, but keeping track is a worthwhile habit.)

Some antibiotics like Septra can make you more sensitive to the sun. It is a good idea to be especially cautious about exposure if you or your child is on any medication.

Antibiotics usually are better absorbed on an empty stomach, but medications like Augmentin can be tough on the tummy and taking them with food helps make them easier to tolerate. Ask the pharmacist if there are any food interactions to pay attention to. Some antibiotics don’t interact well with very acidic foods such as grapefruit juice.

Some naturopathic doctors suggest that green tea is a positive thing to drink when taking medications.

Warning to women on birth control pills - while this is not universal, some antibiotics do interact with, and minimize the effectiveness of, the pill. Unplanned pregnancies have happened.

Sometimes parents report a miraculous improvement after the first dose, but that isn’t typical. Although folks are considered to no longer be contagious after 24 hours of treatment, It can take several days before the patient starts feeling better. If 3 or 4 days has passed with no change, it is worth checking in with your doctor to make sure you are on the right medication.

The goal of the treatment is to knock out the bacteria. Stopping the medicine mid course may allow the hardier bacteria to develop resistance to future treatment.
If you start the treatment and can’t complete the course, confirm with the doctor that the infection you are treating has cleared up prior to stopping.

The job of the antibiotic is to kill bacteria. Our body has a host of necessary good bacteria that might be caught in the crossfire. If this balance gets out of whack, issues like indigestion and yeast can occur. I think that taking a good probiotic while taking antibiotics is a good move. Do not take them at the same time as the antibiotic, but space them out.  If the antibiotic is twice daily, give the probiotic mid day.

Most antibiotic liquids are loaded with sweetener to make them more palatable (I wish that the sweetness was magic, many are still pretty nasty.) You can also ask the pharmacy to add a flavoring to help with compliance. It is essential to brush teeth after every dose. I have seen teeth get discolored when this isn’t done.

As my favorite allergist says, “not all drug rashes are created equal.” Anything that seems drug related and involves blisters should be seen immediately. These can indicators of serious complications.

If the patient gets hives, that is a sign  of a classic drug allergy. With hives or blisters no further doses of that medication should be given. Less serious rashes are more common, but are still worthy of attention.

Some patients develop a rash once they have been on the medication for several days (8 seems to be the magic number for some reasonand Amoxicilin seems like a frequent culprit for this.) This might be a T-cell mediated hypersensitivity. Some physicians feel comfortable completing the treatment as long as the patient seems comfortable, but anytime a patient develops a rash when they are on medication it is worth having them seen. Remember, they were on medications for a reason. We don’t want to simply stop a partially treated infection.The doctor can make the decision if the condition still needs treatment, in which case we will likely swap to a different medication.

If you child has any type of rash, their chart should be flagged with an allergy alert. If this was a hive reaction, that medication should not be given again. If it was a non hive rash, it is possible that it can be tried again cautiously in the future. There does seem to be some family tendencies toward allergies but no firm rules. 

It is important that parents keep track of allergies, and don’t count on a notation in their child's records. With multiple children in the family, many parents actually have a hard time keeping track of who is allergic to what. If you are traveling, you should know what your child should not be treated with. The travel doctor most likely won’t have access to your child’s history.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Respiratory Syncytial Virus/RSV 2016

November is often considered the start of RSV season. It has yet to arrive with a vengeance, but I know it is coming. The local emergency rooms may have started to see some cases. Here is the RSV post, updated for the 2016/17 season.

What is severe RSV disease?
Respiratory syncytial (sin-SI-shul) virus, or RSV, is a common, seasonal, and easily spread virus. In fact, nearly all children will get their first RSV infection by age 2. Like most viruses it ranges in its severity from case to case.

Severe RSV disease is the number one reason babies under 12 months old have to be admitted to hospitals in the US. You know the wretched colds that knock you flat and stand out in your memory? These are the colds that come with runny noses, sniffling and sneezing, harsh cough and fever. That illness might well be RSV. I actually can almost diagnose it over the phone when I hear the patients coughing. The cough sounds like it hurts. Generally the first signs are runny hose and decreased appetite. The cough follows a few days later.

There is a test that we can do in the office (a swab to the nose) to see if it is RSV or not, but unless your child is looking really sick we might not bother. It doesn't necessarily change the approach. We often do nebulizer treatments for our wheezers, but with RSV they don't always help all that much. This is a virus and antibiotics would not be appropriate.

Time usually fixes this and all that we can offer is often the same symptomatic treatment and supportive care that we would do for any bad cold and cough. Treat the fever as needed   
To clear the nose, squirt some saline or breast milk in each nostril and then suck it back out with either a  Nose Frida/ aspirator or the Neil Med Naspira. I think those are much easier to use than the standard bulb aspirators.
Another available product that some parents like is the Oogie bear. This is a safe little scoop that can safely get into the nostril and removed the more stubborn boogies.

If your child is having trouble eating because of all the congestion, try doing some clearing about ten minutes before a feeding. It is also helpful to keep their heads elevated. They may need to spend the night in a safe infant seat or you can try to raise the mattress a bit. For older kids, add an extra pillow. Let them sit in a steamy bathroom, and use a humidifier at night. Increase fluids during the day.

RSV can cause ear infections and pneumonia. In fact some studies show that somewhere between 25-40% of young infants with the RSV virus will have bronchiolitis or pneumonia. Severe RSV disease symptoms include:

  • Coughing or wheezing that does not stop
  • Fast or troubled breathing
  • A bluish color around the mouth or fingernails
  • Spread-out nostrils and/or a caved-in chest when trying to breathe
  • Gasping for breath

If your child is having trouble breathing, or significant trouble feeding, they may need to be hospitalized for a night or two for fluids, oxygen and observation. I would say that we have several kids routinely hospitalized for this every year (not just young babies.) There is no other real treatment for RSV other that close observation, but for certain high risk patients, there is a medication that is given monthly that significantly protects them. This medication is called Synagis.

If your child was premature, or has cardiac or pulmonary issues, they may qualify. Talk to your doctor's office ASAP to find out if your child fits into the guidelines. Alas the guidelines are quite restrictive. Much to the dismay of most sensible practitioners, they became even tougher last year. We used to be able to get it for preemies who were born before 35 weeks. The new rules moved that to 30 weeks. So far I don’t have any candidates this season. I hope it stays that way. In California the official RSV season starts on November 1st. (I don't think that RSV knows that it has a season, but that is when the insurance companies will start shipping the medication.)

Since most of our children can not get protected with Synagis, please take precautions to prevent the spread of this nasty virus, especially for the youngest most vulnerable babies.

Wash your hands before touching your child. Make sure others wash up, too. Clean toys, crib rails, and any other surfaces your baby might touch. Try to keep your baby away from crowds. Avoid anyone with a cold or fever. Don't let anyone smoke near your baby. Tobacco smoke exposure can increase the risk of severe RSV disease.

Sadly it takes multiple exposures before you develop immunity. Most folks get RSV about 8 times until they finally seem to be not as vulnerable! It spikes again in older folks when the immunity tends to wane and it can sweep through retirement communities, so be cautious for the older adults in your life as well.

If your child is unfortunate enough to get a nasty case of RSV during the season it takes a long time for the lungs to calm down. In my experience it is not uncommon for these kids to have a tough winter. Every new cold seems to re-trigger the wheeze. This does NOT necessarily mean they have asthma. For repeat wheezers, if the nebulized medications bring relief it might be worth owning a machine. We rent them out of the office for $5/ day, but you can purchase them for less than $100 from Walgreen's. Having a nebulizer safely tucked away in the bottom of the closet may save you from a nighttime or weekend trip to the emergency room.