A cute little 6 year old boy was brought from home. He had autism and didn’t communicate much.
His mother stated that he would occasionally just stop eating and drinking. Then he would get dehydrated. Then he’d get constipated. Then it would be a big problem to attempt to get him un-constipated. He had to be hospitalized for dehydration a couple of times and he had to be manually disimpacted once. The mom estimated that he had gotten significantly dehydrated 4-5 times in the past few years. So the patient’s pediatrician sent him to the emergency department to get some IV fluids in order to attempt to avoid the progression of events.
I examined the boy and he did seem behind on his fluids. He hadn’t urinated since he had woken that morning and his mucous membranes were tacky.
I asked him “Won’t you drink some juice for me?”
He said “Dehydrated. Need fluids.”
OK. Interesting vocabulary for a six year old.
“I know you need fluids. Could you drink some fluids to make you feel better?”
“No. Dehydrated. Need fluids.”
The nurse brought him some juice. He turned his head away and got upset when it was offered to him.
“Dehydrated. Need fluids.”
“We’ll have to stick you with a needle to give you fluids if you won’t drink.”
“Dehydrated. Need fluids.”
His mom interjected. “He’s really good about IVs.”
Difficult situation. On one hand, the kid did seem dehydrated. But the source of his dehydration seemed entirely psychogenic. It was almost as if he wanted an IV. On the other hand, if he did have some underlying desire to get IV fluids, would giving him IV fluids just encourage him to stop eating and drinking on a more regular basis?
Then you weigh the upsides and the downsides.
Potential Upsides: IV fluids seemed to be what the primary care physician, the mother, and the patient wanted. Little harm. Hopefully a quick disposition after receiving the fluids.
Potential Downsides: Probably overkill. Would be the first point of contention if the kid kept refusing oral fluids and required hospitalization. There’s no guarantee that the kid would start drinking again after he was “tanked up.” Probably would result in unmet expectations if wasn’t done, which would likely result in complaints to the administration and possibly negative Press Ganey scores.
As an aside, this situation perfectly demonstrates the perverse notion of HCAHPS and patient satisfaction ratings. If you don’t give the patient a desired treatment that is of questionable medical benefit, you get bad reviews from the patient and the government or hospital penalizes you. If you do give the patient a desired treatment that is of questionable medical benefit, you get accused of providing “unnecessary care” and the government or hospital penalizes you. You’re put in a no-win situation where you’re guilty of some misconduct regardless of what path you choose. But that’s another story.
In the end, the potential downsides won out. The kid got an IV.
So they sat there watching TV as he got a few fluid boluses. The patient sat there intently watching the shows and even more intently watching the commercials.
“He LOVES watching TV commercials,” his mom said.
He finally urinated which was my cue that his tank was full.
The mom asked if I was planning on doing any blood tests.
“Not really. They aren’t likely to change our treatment course. Besides, kids are pretty resilient.”
Then the patient chimed in. “High cholesterol. See your doctor.”
“Wow. You did see your doctor today,” I quipped.
“High cholesterol. See your doctor.”
So I asked him “What would your doctor give you for high cholesterol?”
Without missing a beat, he said “CRESTOR!”
I looked at the mom. She shrugged and smiled.
“Well, it’s time for you to go home and drink some Gatorade.”
His eyes opened wide “Yeahhhh. The THIRST Quencher.”
“Yeahhhh,” I echoed.
Now why didn’t I think of that before we started the IV?
This and all posts about patients may be fictional, may be my experiences, may be submitted by readers for publication here, or may be any combination of the above. Factual statements may or may not be accurate. If you would like to have a patient story published on WhiteCoat’s Call Room, please e-mail me.