Thursday, March 29, 2007

Have a heart

I don't think I've mentioned this before, but Millie has a heart condition. A small hole which means regular trips to the hospital for a check up. There's no particular reason why I haven't mentioned it; it's not a taboo subject, people have less problems, but people have more. It's not a minor issue; there are six levels of intensity with this sort of thing and Millie's is at least level four. However, it has no effect on our day to day life, so you just get on with it, don't you?

We've been quite lucky, Millie was born in the John Radcliffe in Oxford, it has a world class cardiology unit so when they heard the murmur, they referred her instantly. Quite often hospitals don't even check, a lot of babies have heart murmurs when they're young which simply go away, and most places don't have the resources to chase every case down. The referral lead to a scan, the scan lead to regular appointments with a paediatric cardiologist.

The consultant we see is brilliant; in fact, a little Google reveals he's a pioneer in the field. He was the first heart surgeon in the world to fix a heart defect without the use of major surgery (it's all done with little pipes and tubes). Aside from his obvious cleverness, one of his talents is the ability to communicate clearly, warmly and professionally all at the same time. He's evidently compassionate, but he never steps out of his professional role. Quite simply he tells you what he's looking for, what he's going to do, what he's found and what he foresees in the future based on what he's found. He never promises things he can't deliver.

He also told us that if a Health Visitor came round to lock the doors, close the windows and 'crawl around the house like a leopard on the prowl'. The man is a genius.

Each appointment follows pretty much the same process. Being as good as he is, he always has a foreign student doctor with him. On Tuesday we had Dr Woo - so close to being a time traveller, yet so far, shame. Our doctor does his bit, allows the student to examine Millie then asks a couple of questions about what they've found. The student examines, agrees that they can hear the thrill. Then the doctor asks for a diagnosis.

At this point you see the student's mind racing; is it a trick question? Surely he wouldn't be asking if there was nothing wrong? Or would he? This conundrum is mixed with the underlying ambition of the doctor; I mean, they don't get into the job to examine people with nothing wrong with them. They're praying for something big. Like an eager private in a war zone; for all the peacekeeping rhetoric, they just want to blow the bloody commie to hell.

The good doctor finally pushes for an answer; "so what would you diagnose doctor?" and the student goes for broke with a wildly inaccurate and totally over the top; something like... "immediate open heart surgery?".

No. He says blankly. And corrects them; stop looking for excuses to cut people open, look at the patient, she's growing, she's pink, she's healthy. Send her home and book another appointment for the next check-up. Which is all terribly disappointing for the student who's already sharpening her scalpel.

On Monday he told us that Millie didn't need to come back for a year. We are happy.


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