When your kids emerge intact after infancy, you pretty much stop obsessing over every little bonk and bruise. Your child cuts himself on a rock at the beach. You fret over it briefly, then move on to consider whether you should pick up cod or haddock for dinner.
But wait. That cut may spiral out of control until you find yourself in the ER; then suddenly your child’s minor ailment turns fatal. Here, tucked in the back of the A section of The New York Times, is yet another painful reminder about the perils of parenthood (and medicine for that matter). Written by Jim Dwyer and backed by damning medical records and anguished details, it’s the story of Rory Staunton, a 12-year-old boy from Queens, who went from a cut on his arm to a sick stomach to death in a matter of days. The signs of his raging infection were there, apparently, but various medical professionals failed to connect the dots fast enough to save Rory’s life.
Here, in a few paragraphs, is every parent’s worst nightmare. Dwyer writes:
“Your son is seriously ill,” the doctor said.
“How seriously?” Rory’s mother, Orlaith Staunton, asked.
The doctor paused.
“Gravely ill,” he said.
How could that be?
Two days earlier, diving for a basketball at his school gym, Rory had cut his arm. He arrived at his pediatrician’s office the next day, Thursday, March 29, vomiting, feverish and with pain in his leg. He was sent to the emergency room at NYU Langone Medical Center. The doctors agreed: He was suffering from an upset stomach and dehydration. He was given fluids, told to take Tylenol, and sent home.
Partially camouflaged by ordinary childhood woes, Rory’s condition was, in fact, already dire. Bacteria had gotten into his blood, probably through the cut on his arm. He was sliding into a septic crisis, an avalanche of immune responses to infection from which he would not escape. On April 1, three nights after he was sent home from the emergency room, he died in the intensive care unit. The cause was severe septic shock brought on by the infection, hospital records say.
What’s the moral? Trust your parental instincts, be demanding of your doctors when you know your kid is really sick, keep the Neosporin close and hope, hope and pray that the nightmare never comes.