The Tallest Kid in the Room

They always have Highlights for Children. It’s a common staple of any Pediatrician’s office, but it never seemed that they made the magazine available for home delivery. I always wanted a subscription to Highlights, because I enjoyed all the puzzle pages. But that was then. Times have changed, and now I’d rather have a subscription to a good baseball magazine. Most children aren’t that interested in baseball, so I need to bring my own.

I walk into the doctor’s office and I can feel the eyes boring into my back. I can’t see them, but I know that everyone is looking at me. When someone my age comes into a pediatrician’s office without a child, everyone stares. What’s he doing here? If they are wondering now, just wait until the nurse checks me in and tells me to have a seat.

Usually all of the adult chairs are occupied. It’s impolite to stand in the waiting room – there’s no rule against it, but I’ve never seen it done unless every seat is taken – so I sit in one of the children’s chairs. That’s an adventure unto itself. You sit down as you normally do, but you just keep going down until your bottom hits the chair with a bone jarring THUMP and your knees are level with your eyes. Now I look stupid, so I stretch out my legs. Not only am I blocking the walkway, but now I really look stupid, so I pull my legs back in. Hopefully this won’t be as bad as the time that I had pneumonia: my doctor admitted me to the hospital, and after a 4 hour wait in the ER I learned the only available bed was on the Children’s wing. It was a loooooooooong way from my rear end to the child sized toilet, and I was too far down to stand up! I literally had to roll off the seat and then get to my feet. But there was no room in the inn, you take what you can get, and beggars can’t be choosers.

Until I was 30 years old I saw my local pediatrician for non-emergencies. It works the same way for kids with heart problems. “Adult” Cardiologists can’t deal with us – they are trained to deal with heart attacks, clogged arteries, and all the problems that your heart develops as you age. They usually don’t have experience dealing with Congenital Heart Defects (CHD). A friend of mine – also a Cardiologist – once said that if you chose to specialize in Adult Cardiology, you received about two hours of training in CHDs. Basically just enough to know that they exist. So no matter our age, Cardiac Kids are still patients of a children’s doctor.
But now there’s a new specialty, known as an Adult Congenital Heart Defect doctor. Adult Congenital Defect care is not taught at any medical school (yet); many of the ACHD docs are really Pediatric Cardiologists. Since their patients stay with them practically all their life, these “children’s doctors” found themselves dealing with questions about work, pregnancy, dating, insurance… questions that Adult Cardiologists usually have to answer. And so the field of ACHD Cardiology was born.

You won’t find one on every corner, but ACHD care can be found. Usually, you’ll need to go to a major medical center. I live in rural South Carolina; the ACHD centers in the South include Duke University, Emory University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Other major centers include The Mayo Clinic, Stanford, the Philadelphia Adult Congenital Heart Center and Children’s Hospital of Boston. There are other clinics, of course, but those are the ones that spring immediately to mind. And now, the waiting rooms have people who are more in my own age range.

I miss the visits to the Pediatric Cardiologist, though. While I’m sitting there trying to get comfortable, absorbing all the stares, the kids don’t pay a bit of attention to me. Kids are kids, they are usually congregated in the play area, getting along famously and having a great time. For once, they aren’t being left behind on the playground – everyone is moving at about the same pace.

The parents are the ones sitting there with the worried look on their face, with good reason. I always hope that one of the parents will speak to me, perhaps ask if my child is sick. If they do, I’ll tell them that no, I’m the one with the heart defect. My parents were in the same boat you were. I’m 41 now, and still going strong. And hopefully someone will come to believe that with good medical care and a little good fortune, their child will do well.

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2 Responses to “The Tallest Kid in the Room”

  1. vawterski Says:

    Steve,

    Thank you for the comment on our blog, and Thanks for sharing your story. As a parent of a “heart kid,” it’s nice to hear that you are doing so well as an adult. Also good to hear that there is a field of medicine developing to care for adult CHD patients. By the time Matthew needs them, there will probably be a lot more specialists! Thanks for the encouraging story. (The “dark, stormy night” sounds very familiar, as we have made a couple trips like that with Matthew!)

    Amy
    babymatthew.wordpress.com

  2. shoofly Says:

    Steve,
    I enjoyed your blog. It all sounds familiar to this TAer! Let’s keep on plugging away!

    Enjoy!

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