I have been haunted ever since I read the story that Lisa Goes wrote for “Age of Autism” about Alex Spourdalakis. (If you did not hear about this story, please click here to read.) Many times I’ve tried to erase the image of the naked, fourteen-year-old, non-verbal boy with all four limbs shackled in a Chicago hospital and red splotches all over his body.
But, I can’t.
The story of this courageous mother and the battle that she and her autistic son faced for 34 days in a United States healthcare facility makes my heart hurt and leaves a sick feeling in my stomach. It also makes me long for the day that conventional medicine and biomedical converge and start collaborating together. I pray for a day when it is no longer us versus them. And when that day comes, great things will happen.
I think the great English nurse Florence Nightingale would agree with this sentiment because one of her greatest quotes is:
Earlier this month, marked the birthday of this heroine who is known for the strides she made in healthcare reform. Nightingale knew at an early age that nursing was her calling and rejected the Victorian Era notion that ladies should marry a well-to-do man and settle into a life of complacency.
She was smart and strong-willed and changed the way society viewed nurses. What I love about her story is that she essentially did it single-handedly. She didn’t adhere to traditional beliefs, she worked hard to educate herself, and she built a stellar reputation. Because of this, in 1854 when 18,000 wounded soldiers were admitted into military hospitals devoid of nurses during the Crimean War, she was called in to the rescue.
She gathered a team of 34 nurses and days later, they were on a ship to Crimea. She arrived to horrific sanitary conditions and men who were dying more from infectious diseases than from the injuries that had put them in the hospital to begin with.
What did she do?
For one, she made a name for herself … “The Lady with the Lamp.” Nightingale earned this title because she spent every waking moment tending to the soldiers and would work into the wee hours of the night, walking down the dark hallways, lamp in hand to light her way.
Nightingale’s stats during this time were impressive. She reduced the death toll by two-thirds simply because she improved the hospital’s sanitary conditions and she created several patient services that improved the quality of their stay. My favorite reform she created was the “invalid’s kitchen” where chefs cooked up unique meals for those patients who had special dietary needs.
How would this pioneer in healthcare have felt about Alex?
Let each person tell the truth from his own experience.
- Florence Nightingale
In the article that Lisa Goes wrote for “Age of Autism” she stated, “Alex’s mom explained he has many allergies. Both physicians at Gottlieb and Loyola told her that IgG and IgE food sensitivities were invalid. Dorothy was told by the attending physician to give her son milk at Loyola, not in the ER. When a possible reaction occurred she was told the bed caused his contact dermatitis.”
When I read this statement, I dove deeper into panic mode. After all, my son has multiple food allergies and intolerances, and his skin has been breaking out in hives and eczema since he was three months old. Off and on for 45 months I listened to my prior pediatrician and put steroid cream on skin that looked like this …
Obviously, the steroid cream didn’t work. Once I made diet changes and added supplements to his daily routine, his skin problems disappeared. The possibility of my son’s skin looking like Alex’s if treated as a regular patient in a hospital is very plausible.
And as naive as it may sound, I had never really thought about that before, despite the fact that I have vowed never to return to a mainstream doctor’s office again.
What if a hospital refused to believe me? What if they regarded his food sensitivities and his diet requirements as junk science? What if they ignored my claims that he has a sensitive system and that many medications could be detrimental to him? What if my son couldn’t say, “Please stop! You are hurting me!”
I spent the first hour after reading Alex’s story shaken. What would my family do if we were ever in that predicament? But, then suddenly it hit me … I don’t think my son’s MD would allow that to happen.
Tasneem Bhatia is a physician who is additionally certified in holistic medicine, nutrition, and acupuncture. She is the Contributing Editor for Prevention Magazine and the author of the new book “What Doctors Eat.” She makes regular appearances on all the top television shows and trained under Dr. Andrew Weil. The bottom line is this … She is talking and people are listening.
I may be wrong, but I think that all this phenomenal physician would have to do is march into my son’s hospital room and tell them who she is and her credentials and I am hopeful that the hospital would cooperate.
The problem across the board, however, is that medical professionals like Dr. Bhatia are few and far between. While I am a fan of naturopaths, homeopaths, acupuncturists, and all the other holistic doctors, from my experience, they are not taken seriously in the traditional medical community. There needs to be more MDs and nurses with specialized certifications and more professionals who understand the challenges that these patients face and therefore, know how to treat them.
While I am not discounting the value of the many talented doctors and nurses who save lives every day, there appears to be a gap in the system … and it needs to be filled ASAP.
This week many high school and college seniors are facing their futures. As my pastor said at my church while the graduates in our community stood behind him …
The seniors on that stage have the potential to change the planet.
I’m not one to yell “Amen!” in my Southern Baptist church, but that day I came really close to it because tears clouded my eyes as I thought about the many nurses, doctors, and specialists that have the potential to emerge from that group.
Dr. Julie A. Buckley author of “Healing Our Autistic Children” states in her book , “There is nearly a three-year waiting list for a child with autism to come see me. There are quite a few experienced specialists in my field now, and they all have the work schedules and waiting lists like mine.”
If you know of someone whose calling is to go into the medical profession, I am asking that you forward this article to them. The stats on autism, apraxia, ADHD, dyslexia, food allergies, and food intolerances are rising at an alarming rate. Simultaneously, more parents are seeking biomedical treatment because mainstream doctors do not have the answers. As far as I am concerned, we have an epidemic on our hands and the demand of special needs children far exceeds the supply of doctors to treat them.