It was early fall but it had already been a long school year for my daughter. Kate was a good student with a lot of friends but had begun to dread going to school. At the same time, she was also noticeably tired, angry and very worried. An initial physical exam showed nothing but good health. Yet always an outgoing and fun-loving kid, she was changing before my eyes, and I had no clue why.
My husband and I spent countless conversations debating what was wrong. Maybe I was being a pushover, my husband suggested, and “letting” her get away with not wanting to go to school. It was true that I had let her miss a few days when she was extremely upset. Was I being too lenient? If I was, it surely didn’t explain the purple circles under her eyes and her lack of appetite. I took her to the doctor who tested her for everything from Lyme disease to West Nile and they all came back normal.
Her teacher said she didn’t notice any odd behavior and her grades were still good. She wasn’t being bullied or left out, her teacher assured me, but increasingly Kate did not want to go to school or do much of anything really.
After another exhausting day of almost dragging her into the school building, I couldn’t take it anymore and asked my husband to take her so he could see exactly how bad mornings had become and what she and I were going through. The outcome was worse. While I had grown accustomed to mustering up loads of patience and good will during morning drop-off, his approach was matter-of-fact, as in: you’re going to school, end of story. It backfired. He got angry, and she was in more tears than usual. So I resumed the morning ritual, but nothing improved.
She complained of severe headaches and stomachaches. She was always tired. My husband thought that all these symptoms were a combination of her worrying about going to school, which caused her to lose sleep and not eat right, which accounted for her feeling sick.
But I thought it was more than that.
I knew my child instinctively, and I knew something was wrong beyond not wanting to go to school.
I had to take her to another doctor until I found out what was going on. In the back of my mind though, I heard my husband saying I was being a pushover, I was too lenient, and I was giving in. It quickly became a sore spot as I chose to focus on my child’s worsening condition over his belief that she was physically fine. It’s true she had always been very close to me and had some separation anxiety, but it had to be more than that.
I also knew that my husband had always had a hard time acknowledging when the kids were sick. His most famous line is probably, “They’ll be fine,” not out of lack of concern but simply because he cannot stand to see them sick and hurting. I began to wonder if this was the case, and he was wishing reality away with tough love thinking.
Still, we had no concrete evidence or diagnosis that she was sick either.
Against my husband’s wishes, we went to another doctor who ordered more blood work. While waiting for the tests to come back, Kate started having panic attacks, at school and at home. She felt like she couldn’t breathe and had heart palpitations, which made her believe she was going to die.
It was heart breaking and probably the most worried and confused I had ever been as a parent. She had already been to two doctors prior to that who both said she was fine, but she was getting worse. Was I so out of touch that I had added to her fear and turned her into an emotional mess?
The next afternoon the new doctor called me and said Kate’s thyroid levels were completely off. She had to be hospitalized and have more tests done. She assured me that her diagnosis was not life threatening and could be handled with medication as soon as they found out the extent to which her thyroid was functioning. Her official diagnosis was Hashimoto’s disease with fluctuated high and low thyroid levels, which accounted for the panic attacks. The compromised thyroid was responsible for the headaches, listlessness, joint pain, and a host of other symptoms she was experiencing. After a few days, Kate started on medication and over the next few months, she slowly improved and our old, bubbly, crazy Kate came back to us.
When you know something is not right in your child, you have to explore it. Nothing is as on target as a mother’s gut feelings. Trust them, every single time.