The Girl who Giggled

The Girl who Giggled

A third-year student talks about pediatrics rotation

It was early in my 3rd year during my pediatrics rotation: I had the most adorable little patient. She was a 4 year old little girl, tiny, even for her age, with big round glasses…like the little boy from Jerry McGuire. I often saw her sitting alone in her big hospital bed watching TV. She had spent as many nights in a hospital bed as her own bed at home. After multiple abdominal surgeries she required a feeding tube for adequate nutrition.

She had nausea and vomiting that we could not control. Every morning I would walk into her room to examine her. Each day she would stare listlessly at me through her big glasses. No matter what cute voice I tried or how many Sponge Bob references I made, she would not talk. She would let me listen to her lungs and belly but didn’t respond when I asked her questions. Her parents were very kind. They knew I was trying my best and always encouraged their little child to “cooperate with the nice doctor”.

Needless to say, this routine grew tiresome very quickly. It was frustrating that this child refused to talk to me day after day. It was even more frustrating that we could do nothing to help her.

One morning just before rounds I was walking by her room and noticed that the attending physician, a pediatric gastroenterologist, was in the room. I had spoken with him but had never seen him with our patient. I snuck into the room to watch and listen. I was shocked. She was sitting in the bed as always, but she was making eye contact with the doctor, smiling, giggling, talking like you would expect from a four year old. It was the first time I had seen her smile in nearly two weeks.

Later that day, I went back to visit her. This time I had a game plan. I tried to follow the example set by the gastroenterologist that morning. I didn’t let her shyness get to me. Instead I sat on the end of the bed and talked to her. If she didn’t answer, I asked another question. Then I stopped asking her about her condition and instead talked to her about things that would concern a four year old. Instead of examining the feeding tube in her stomach, I give her a big tickle.

Within two minutes, she was smiling and talking. I noticed that her parents weren’t there, and she told me there wasn’t anything good on TV. I spent the next 30 minutes sitting with her reading Dr. Seuss books. That day was a turning point. It was still frustrating to take care of her because she had a very difficult medical condition. From that day on, however, I actually looked forward to seeing her every morning.