Helen Martin: Hear a parent’s point, doctors

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MY heart went out to the parents of five-month-old Leah ­Carroll who died of meningitis hours after she was sent home from St John’s Hospital, Livingston with Calpol and Ibuprofen.

I remember a similar, though not fatal, thank God, incident when my own son was a toddler . . . similar because what it seems both both had in common was that the doctors involved either didn’t bother to question, or listen to, the mother or take account of her maternal intuition. In Leah’s case her mother knew she was in a dangerous condition and could have told them Leah had already had suspected meningitis at ten weeks.

My regular GP abided by the ­mantra that when it came to small children, no-one, including their ­doctor, knew them better or had ­better instinct than mum.

Unfortunately when I asked for a home visit for the Young Master who, despite Calpol, had been running a high temperature for three days, it wasn’t my own GP but a new ­member of the practice who arrived.

She had no concern about his temperature and advised continuing with Calpol even though it had achieved nothing. She was far more interested in his asthma history. I, on the other hand, knew that febrile convulsions (the result of a sustained high temperature) ran in the other side of the family. My fears were dismissed out of hand.

Five minutes after she left, the convulsion took hold. A panic-stricken and expletive-ridden phone call to the surgery resulted in my own GP arriving on the doorstep ten minutes later giving emergency Diazepam to break the fit and driving us both to the Sick Kids rather than waste time waiting for an ambulance.

Believe me, the experience of hearing your toddler son babble in a language you cannot quite understand – which turned out to be nursery rhymes recited backwards – is ­terrifying.

It took the hospital a day to bring his temperature down with cool bed baths and electric fans but he did make a full recovery as most children do from this frightening, but not usually dangerous, ­experience.

Later, the practice apologised . . . and the doctor responsible had disappeared. I didn’t question the ­precise circumstances in which she left. I couldn’t care less.

But for months I felt that if I accidentally met her in the street I’d have to be dragged off her.

I assume taking a full medical background, listening to the patient, or in the case of a small child, the patient’s mother, is taught as part of the diagnostic process. Perhaps it is acquired or at least underlined, with experience which is why, generally speaking, older doctors seem better at it.

With a family of doctors, I am well aware that medicine is not – however much we would like it to be – an exact science. Humans vary. Disease is not always predictable. Mistakes ­happen. Bad luck happens even with best treatment. So does good luck.

But whatever the conclusion of any investigation, I can only imagine the misery of a doctor who has to live with the knowledge that if they had only listened more closely to the “unqualified” mother, her child might have lived.

Safety’s being taken too far

I’M SURE the cartoon “bobble hats” which have been removed from sale by Trading Standards officers pose some risk otherwise they wouldn’t have taken such action. Apparently, as one tier passes through a loop on the other and with bobbles on the end “there is no mechanism for the tiers to disconnect meaning there is a potential for strangulation”.

Actually it is exactly the same design I was forced to make in primary 6 knitting class with a loop and big pom-poms on the ends. In the days when mums up and down the country designed and knitted their own kids’ hats we were probably dicing with death every day.

Only the boys, dressed like mini terrorists in pom-pomless khaki balaclavas could have been safe.

Then again, when it comes to a potential for strangulation, even the common scarf must be suspect. Fortunately, Trading Standards are there to protect us.


If, like Himself, you don’t understand ITV’s Splash!, you’re probably a sports fan expecting a diving show. It’s about swim suits, celebrities, MPs in bikinis, abs, waterproof make-up, belly flops, and surprises; nothing at all to do with sport.

O’Brien as a totem an insult to gay people

FORMER Irish President Mary McAleese says Cardinal Keith O’Brien should tell his life story to help gay people who feel they must pretend to be heterosexual.

However the Cardinal’s sin was not that he was homosexual and ashamed of it, that he was hypocritical about homosexuality in public or that he practised homosexuality in private.

It was that, rather than having a genuine relationship with someone of his own status, he preyed upon younger priests, some straight, who he knew were already struggling with celibacy and their own sexuality, who were naively flattered and grateful for the apparent “friendship” of such a senior cleric, and who would find it difficult, especially in their comparatively cloistered world, to tell him where to get off.

He abused them and his position. It would be an insult to every decent gay person to suggest a man like that would be any sort of help to them whatsoever.