This is a position post where I take a stand that represents no one other than myself as a mom and a pediatrician. The reason I clarify this, is that my position is a strong one. No one wants to go up against someone like the NFL, it seems. But let me say this very clearly: It if it were my child, I’d never let them play football. No way. For my boys, the risks are too large, the sentiments too cruel, and the gains simply not worth it. There are plenty of other sports teams out there to grow, exercise, form friendships, and excel. I never want my children to be a part of any institution that houses intent to harm another human being. Although direct harm may not be a tenet in pee wee football, we all know that young sports teams are built to emulate the pros. If the NFL is the inspiration, for now, count my boys out. This isn’t just about the risk of concussion…
On my way into clinic on Saturday morning, I heard the alleged tape of Gregg Williams directing players to seriously harm opposing teammates. In the tape Mr Williams, the previous defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, employed his players to inflict harm on multiple players–for example, attempt to tear the ACL of Michael Crabtree and work to re-concuss another player, Kyle Williams. Let me point out, some data finds the harms of concussions (particularly in adolescents) may be longstanding, and the risk of a second concussion may rarely be deadly.
In the tape you hear Gregg Williams repeatedly say, “Kill the head, the body will die” followed by, “We want his head sideways.” The tape goes on to capture more directives for harming additional players. It’s nauseating and provoking–got my fingers shaking during my drive. And really more than anything else, it was wholeheartedly disappointing. Particularly for me as a pediatrician. When parents now ask me about football, instead of talking about concussions as a significant risk, I’ll also be talking about ethics, sportsmanship, and integrity.
This week, Washington State declared that whooping cough (pertussis) has reached epidemic levels. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve had more than 600 documented cases in the state, a dramatic increase since last year. The increase puts our new babies at risk.
In clinic I’ve been urging new parents to cocoon their babies. That is, provide a family of protection by having every single child & adult immunized against whooping cough, influenza, and other vaccine preventable illnesses. By surrounding a baby with only immunized people, you cocoon them against serious infections.
Whooping cough is a highly infectious respiratory illness spread by sneezing and coughing that can be deadly to young infants. Getting a Tdap shot is the best way to avoid getting whooping cough. Amidst an epidemic, we worry most about newborns because they are most vulnerable to complications and lack vaccine-protection. If every child and adult that surrounds a newborn gets a Tdap shot, the likelihood of the baby getting whooping cough approaches zero.
Most newborns get whooping cough from their family or adults around them. That’s where an email comes to play.
You’re going to have to be fairly Mama-Papa-Bear about this. You’ll have to show some strength to create a very safe home, even when it feels somewhat over-the-top. As I said to a number of families in clinic today, “It only seems entirely over-the-top-nuts until we lose another newborn to pertussis.” Being smart now will save lives.
Make a new rule: no visits with a newborn until all visitors have had the Tdap shot. Even Grandparents.
Write an email to family and friends to explain.
A sample email for you to use/copy/share –written today by a friend of mine–mother to that darling baby girl born last week: Read full post »
I’ve been mentioning the cinnamon challenge in clinic with my teen patients after I learned about it earlier this month. Read this nice summary. The challenge is to swallow a teaspoon of cinnamon in less time than it takes me to explain what it is (60 seconds). Reality is, my patients tend to know about the challenge, but their parents don’t. I usually talk about it along with a whole list of other topics while their parents are out of the room (bullying-the choking game-sex-drugs-violence-texting & driving or other threats to their safety). Recently, a patient was able to explain the challenge to her mom with me in the room right after her mom returned and joined us. We discussed the reasons the cinnamon challenge can be life threatening and stupid. Teens don’t want to get hurt, but they really do want to be strong, and ohhhh, competition is seductive. Teens (like most grown-ups) love to preserve that feeling of invincibility. Precisely why the challenge has caught on.
The cinnamon challenge has its own website and has gone viral with the help of social media. The topic has been viewed online more than 60 million times with some pages boasting over 10,000 “likes.” The reason? The challenge itself is so visual and so inexpensive to replicate, teens are capturing videos of the challenge and putting them on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and on their phones. Pretty funny, right?
This is the part where I sound like a doctor. The dangers from the cinnamon challenge are real; multiple children have been hospitalized. Some children have had serious complications including loss of consciousness, collapsing lungs, ICU care, and days on a ventilator. Cinnamon is easily aerosolized but not easily dissolved. Once it lodges into tissue, it can cause great havoc and remain there. Coughing while gasping and/or choking on cinnamon can cause it to be easily inhaled or aspirated or swallowed leading into tissues in our bodies. We worry most about it collecting in the lungs.
The challenge is real. The side effects even more so.
As a parent and pediatrician, any mention of sudden cardiac death leaves me feeling uneasy. The stories of young athletes dying or falling on the field are agonizing. All of us here on earth would like to do something to prevent these deaths.
Researchers and cardiologists are working tirelessly to understand predictors for sudden cardiac death in children alongside techniques to improve screening and prevention for young athletes. Dr Nicolas Madsen talked with me about recent work here in Washington State. There’s a video at the end of this post from the interview. I’m lucky, I met Dr Madsen when he was a medical student and now he’s an old friend. He’s one of those bright lights: a compassionate physician and father of three who just gets it and wants to solve big problems. He’s about to finish his fellowship here in Seattle and while completing his training, he’s uncovered some holes in the system. He’s helped me understand how to screen children better. As a parent, there are some simple things you can do to improve the screening your child receives prior to athletic participation.
“Sudden Cardiac Death is a needle in a haystack, but a very sharp one.” Read full post »
Some of my best friends are about to have a baby, the due date only a few weeks away. I’m teary thinking about it as my excitement for her arrival exceeds the speed limit. They asked my opinion this week for getting their extended family immunized in light of the recent Whooping Cough (pertussis) outbreak in our area. I advised them that all teens and adults (including grandparents) need a Tdap shot before they are with the baby. Even pregnant women are getting immunized after 20 weeks gestation to protect their newborns at and after birth.
Ideally, everyone should have the Tdap shot at least 2 weeks before the baby arrives.
My friends advised their parents. But both grandmas were turned away–one here in the US and one abroad. Each were told by a physician that they didn’t need the Tdap shot because they were over 65 years of age.
That physician was wrong. Whooping Cough (pertussis) knows no age. And immunization recommendations for pertussis protection have changed this past year because of rising rates of infection and infant deaths.
The best way to protect a newborn baby from getting Whooping Cough is to cocoon them with family and friends who are immunized against it.
All grandparents, all adults, and all teens need a Tdap shot before holding a newborn baby.
Ask questions, please. And one more thing, can you suggest girl names? My friend is beside herself that they don’t have one picked out…I’ll buy you coffee if you suggest the name she chooses (hint: use a real email)
Parents, pediatricians, and nurses have been using growth charts since the late 1970’s to track growth in their infants and children. The charts were revised back in the year 2000 as the data for the first charts (from a small study in Ohio) that didn’t accurately reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of our communities.
The hallmark of a well child check is the review of a child’s growth. Growth can be a reflection of a child’s overall health, nutrition, and/or tolerance of possible underlying medical conditions. So understanding what your doctor or nurse practitioner says about your child’s growth should be a priority.
Watch the video to learn more about interpreting growth charts.
If your doc doesn’t have a computer in the room, ask to see the chart (on paper) or on a computer in their office. It will not only inform you, I suspect it will delight you to see what your child has done since the last time they have been seen.
The human body really is a fine-tuned machine and growth is simply astounding if you really stop to think of it.
If you have a challenge understanding how your child is growing or how the growth chart is presented, demand clarification. It’s okay if you don’t understand the presentation of facts on these grids; have confidence to speak up and ask for the doctor or nurse practitioner to explain it.
I had a great trip to the grocery store today with the boys. Life has been so hectic these past few weeks, we haven’t had weekend time for a leisurely trip to the aisles of fruit and fondue. Today, we had the luxury of time, a list, and a proper plan. They weren’t hungry (and neither was I) so our stomachs didn’t drive the cart and the boys were uniquely engaged. We perused the produce area. We made peanut butter in the machine that crushes raw peanuts. We talked about some of the beginnings of the food we bought (the avocado came from Mexico, the mini-oranges from California). But I thought most about how pleased I am when I end up at checkout with more fresh food in the cart than food stuffed into packages. Today I think I came close.
And that’s the lesson. One thing I say over and over again in clinic is, “If at all possible, for every single meal you offer your child at home, make sure 1/2 the plate is covered in fresh fruit and veggies.”
So if that’s the goal, the cart should always look the very same way.
Like the makings of a Hollywood movie, I learned this week that there were an estimated 200,000 people in Super Bowl Village this past weekend in Indiana. Amongst them on February 4th, was one (or maybe two) child with infectious measles. Fortunately, the child didn’t attend the game. Yet, measles is highly contagious. The period of infectivity starts before symptoms in some cases and usually 4-5 days before the typical rash, when many think they have just a bad cold. Measles is spread by the respiratory droplets infected people share when breathing, coughing, or sneezing. And the virus can survive for about 2 hours on surfaces or in the air after a person leaves the room. Measles has a wild history and although most children/adults do well after recovering from the illness, measles can result in severe complications like pneumonia or encephalitis. Fortunately, the majority of those in attendance last weekend who may have walked by or been near the infected person were protected by the measles vaccine.
The incubation period (the time it takes to get sick after being exposed) is about 10 days with measles. So if unprotected people contracted measles last weekend, they may get sick this weekend or early next week. Hopefully, we’ll hear of no one.
Measles spreads easily. There are reports of measles infecting every single unvaccinated person at a picnic. The public health department, even here in Seattle, sent an advisory email last night with instructions for what we doctors should do if we suspect measles in someone who was in Indiana last weekend.
But this is a global thing not just a US national sport thing. Starting in 2009, the number of cases of measles rose sharply in Europe. In 2010 for example, there were over 30,000 cases of confirmed, reported measles and in 2011 (through October), there were over 25,000 cases, with over 14,000 cases in France alone. Fifty percent of those with reported measles were children, less than 14 years of age. Immunization rates for measles have declined in Europe and public health officials point to waning vaccination as one reason for the surge. Read full post »
Stop what you’re doing to read this The New England Journal of Medicine perspective by Dr Doug Diekema. It’s about vaccines, opportunities for health, and physician obligation. Written for physicians, it also speaks loudly to parents and includes a few very essential points. The whole time I read the article, my thoughts kept leaping to our imminent opportunities. Today, in 2012, we can harness the tools of social media and technology to solve many of these problems. It’s time. HPV vaccine? Varicella vaccine? Remember your yearly flu shot? I really think there could an app for that.
Let me explain.
Dr Diekema opens describing a scene very typical in Seattle.
Recently, the mother of a young child confessed to me that she didn’t know any parents who were following the recommended immunization schedule for their children. She said that when she told her pediatrician she’d like to follow an alternative schedule, the physician had simply acquiesced, leading her to assume that the recommended schedule had no advantage over the one she suggested.
Yes, the physician obliged her desired schedule for many reasons, I suspect: time restraints/desiring a partnership/a hope for future opportunities to provide education and update immunizations for the child. In a state (Washington) that leads the nation in vaccine exemptions, we encounter patients daily who prefer a delayed or personal schedule. I’ve written about parents and alternative schedules and physicians’ conditional comfort with alternative vaccine schedules. But when Dr Diekema mentions this family, he highlights what many pediatricians and family physicians realize: families may be clustered together in vaccine-hesitancy. Friends of friends instruct each about vaccine schedules and share beliefs about safety. We know that 40% of parents who use an alternative schedule create it themselves.
Family members persuade my patients not to get immunized. Even in the midst of a pertussis outbreak in the county in which I practice, grandparents and relatives of newborns refuse the Tdap vaccine. My patients are bombarded with advice and naysayers. Who we love (friends and family) and who we trust (friends and family) certainly affect what we do. My patients get confused. And most of health (care) conversations happen outside the exam room. Therefore, hesitancy clusters in neighborhoods naturally and poses regional risk. What if we had real time information about our schools? About our neighborhood? What if Google mapped our rates of protection from vaccinations? What if we had a smart phone app that provided us yearly data on school immunization/exemption rates when we selected a kindergarten? Why not an app for that? Read full post »
So what about kids and chores? My take is that it’s personal. But also I’ll hint that I think chores are a great opportunity to build community and citizenship. Research has found great lifelong reward from doing childhood chores (think: less drug use, higher self-esteem, more sound relationships, beginning a career path, less anxiety, etc). I mean with those findings, sign me up! But it’s possible not everyone agrees and research may not be what sways you. It may be a need to get things done around the house. A popular poll (done way back in 2001) found that 75% of people feel children do fewer chores today than 10 or 15 years ago. I don’t know if that’s just recall bias or pessimism or favorable historians talking. But…
Seattle Children’s provides healthcare for the special needs of children regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex (gender), sexual orientation or disability. Financial assistance for medically necessary services is based on family income and hospital resources and is provided to children under age 21 whose primary residence is in Washington, Alaska, Montana or Idaho.