Our daughter Penny was born in March 2011. Being our first baby we were beyond excited and expected nothing more than to celebrate her birth. She arrived a small, healthy bundle of love. As first time parents, we knew nothing about babies, but we knew we loved her beyond what we thought was humanly possible.
Immediately when Penny was born, we noticed a small bump between the corner of her eye and top of her nose. We were told by the nurses it was maybe a cyst but nothing to worry about. After a few hours it began to look more swollen, so we asked the nurses about it again. We were reassured that it was nothing to worry about. My husband and I were still exhilarated about becoming new parents, everything was so new, and we thought our baby was perfect in our eyes. Since no one was alarmed, we thought this little bump must happen to other newborns. The next morning when we were getting ready to be discharged from the hospital, we noticed Penny’s eye had become swollen and red. The pediatrician on call, said it was nothing more than a clogged tear duct that many babies are born with and that it should correct itself over the next few months. She suggested we use hot compresses and massage at home. She ok’d us for discharge. When we left the hospital I had this un-easy feeling because everything was not perfect about Penny, but maybe I wasn’t supposed to expect perfect? After all, the medical staff at the hospital seemed to think Penny was healthy and ready to go home.
I had been dreaming of the moment we would walk into our apartment, introduce Penny to our dog, and lay her in her crib so I could stare at her without anyone around. That moment never happened, because by the time we came home we laid her down, her eye was swollen shut, puss was coming out, and we could see red lines running through her whole face. We sent pictures to my brother who is a pediatrician in another state and he told us to get to an ER immediately. Something was really wrong. We rushed back to the emergency room at the hospital where she was born. The 2 doctors on call said they were not familiar with this (it was obvious on their faces), and they were going to “look in the book.” At the time my husband and I were un-nerved by this, but we thought this is the hospital Penny was born in, they have to be able to help us. The doctors came back and advised us “it would clear up, just use warm compresses on it.” We even contacted the discharging pediatrician and she told us the same thing over the phone, without even looking at Penny again.
Even though my husband and I are not even close to being in the medical field and we were parents for barely a day, there was something in us that didn’t trust the advice we were given. After a frantic phone call to my brother and my OB/GYN, we drove to New York-Presbyterian Hospital – Weill Cornell’s Pediatric Emergency Room, perhaps the best pediatric ER facility in NYC. We sat there stunned, but with this overwhelming sense that we had to take control and get Penny help. By this time Penny’s eye and cheek were swollen, red, puss was oozing out and she looked like she’d been punched in the face. When we arrived, it felt like someone finally took us seriously. Penny was rushed into an isolation room and countless tests were preformed on her from a spinal tap, blood draws, catheter, to IV meds. They requested a CT scan, but my husband said no to this because she was only a day old and didn’t want her exposed to radiation until absolutely necessary. The doctors were ok with this. We have more rights as parents and patients than we know. Turns out Penny had an infection in her tear duct that was in danger of spreading beyond her eye orbital into her brain. They had yet to narrow down which bacteria, so she was put on the strongest IV antibiotics for several days. It turned out to be E.Coli. In the meantime Penny had 2 procedures done to her eye to open the clogged tear duct and help release some of the infection. Everyday she clearly got better. Penny made a 100% recovery. She became a case study for the doctors who treated her.
To this day, I sometimes think about what could have happened if we trusted the first ER doctors who sent us home. My husband and I are not doctors and were parents for barely a day when this all happened, but we never felt more strongly about this gut feeling we had to seek further help. All of our parental instincts are strong and we cannot doubt them even in the face of professional medical help. We have the right to ask questions, push for answers, and to get another opinion. We cannot advocate enough for parents to trust their instincts- you know your babies better than anyone.