Bad Parenting and A Trip to Anchorage

Whew. This weekend was a whirlwind of busyness. I’m sure everyone feels like that on their weekend, especially after moving and with a young child. There is so much to do that you attempt to pack it all into about 48 hours, and, more often than not, it just cannot be done.

We spent half of Sunday and all day Monday in Anchorage, Alaska for my son’s appointment with his new orthopaedic doctor. My son, now 7.5 months old (and cute as a button, I might add), was born with one of the mildest cases of club feet our doctor had ever seen. Club feet is when the feet turn in at the ankles so that if he were to stand upright, he’d actually only be able to stand on his ankles. (Side note: we were originally in Washington State, and our son saw Dr. Mosca at Seattle Children’s Hospital for the first four months of his life. We had a great experience with Dr. Mosca, and the Children’s Hospital overall–even though we felt we were there far too often!)

Club feet are treated through a series of corrective casts from hip to toe, which often includes surgery where the Achilles’ tendons are cut in order to release the ligaments and further allow the feet to straighten. Post casting and surgery is then followed by 23-hour-a-day wearing of what is termed a “Ponsetti bar” after the doctor who developed it, along with specialized boots. The 23 hour wear lasts for about 3 months after the casts are removed, and then the child goes down to wearing the boots and bar at night only, or about 10-12 hours. This contraption is to be worn for 2-4 years at night.

Thankfully, my son’s case was so mild that he is in the 10% that did not require corrective surgery. Instead, he endured 3 sets of weekly casts, from age 2 weeks to 5 weeks, 3 months of 23 hour wear of the boots and bar, and is now in the 2 years of wearing them only at night.

But we’ve been bad parents lately. And, thankfully, the doctor can’t tell just how bad.

Our son is a side and stomach sleeper. Now let me explain. When the bar is on, he cannot roll over. His legs are spread shoulder-width apart, with the toes pointing outward 60 degrees and knees bent. How comfortable can that be?! Our son is not the greatest sleeper to begin with, and we live in a chronic state of fatigue exhaustion. Like most parents of an infant, we’d do pretty much anything to get a few hours more sleep every night.

So, since he has had a cold the past 2 weeks, he hasn’t worn his boots or bar for that time. He has already been so uncomfortable that he ends up being held half the night, upright, so he can breathe and sleep. Oh, and he hadn’t worn his bar for about 2 months before that.

That’s really bad parenting. We all want to do the best thing for our children, myself included. But when there is such a divide between sleep so that you can be a good parent during the day and these formative months, and a treatment which is to prevent recurrence (which may or may not happen with a case as mild as his), it is far too easy to rationalize forgoing the treatment.

But yesterday, we were mildly chastised for our behavior when we admitted how little our son has worn his bar lately. “There’s always an excuse,” our new doctor said.

This was a bit convicting to me. Even though our son’s feet checked out great (nothing to even be concerned about, but merely to keep trucking along with the prescribed treatment), there is the very real concern that his club feet could return. If left untreated, 80% of children’s club feet return within the first two years of their life. There’s a reason doctors prescribe what they prescribe. Even though I think I may know best for my child, doctors make a living out of this. Even if I am right this time, is it worth the risk? There’s a 20% chance that our son may not have his club feet return if he doesn’t wear his boots and bar, but an 80% chance that they will.

I’m not a gambler. I don’t like to lose, so I don’t like to gamble because I’m not good enough to always win. In this case, I shouldn’t be gambling with my son’s health, even if it is treatable (again).

So, lesson learned. Follow your doctor’s advice.

And, because this is a blog on Alaska and Denali, I have to attach some pictures I took from the airplane on the flight down. What a view, no?

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