Daughter’s Pneumonia Gives Physician New Perspective as a Patient’s Dad

Watch Dan Guzman, M.D., taking care of a patient in the Emergency Department at Cook Children’s and he’s the model of cool under pressure. It’s his environment and he’s in control.

But when his daughter was diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted to Cook Children’s, he became every other worried parent … except with way too much knowledge of medicine for his own good.

Everything started a couple of weeks before Christmas.

Dr. Guzman was at work when he received a phone call from his wife, Abbie. She told him that Sophia Grace, their 6-year-old daughter, didn’t feel well.

Rarely do any of the Guzman children get sick. So this wasn’t normal for any of them, but especially Sophia. She is the “crazy child.” The one Dr. Guzman says will someday be the death of him because of her rambunctious nature.

When Dr. Guzman came home that evening, Sophia’s temperature was up to 104. He gave her a fever reducer that worked for a little bit, but he noticed his daughter wasn’t herself. She wasn’t running, playing or dancing like normal.

By the third day, he knew “something was weird.” Sophia wasn’t showing any other signs of being sick, except a fever and she was lethargic. She didn’t have a runny nose, congestion or cough.

“So I went into doctor mode,” Dr. Guzman said. “I looked at her ears and throat. I listened to her lungs. There was a change in there. Typically, these are the lungs of a kid with pneumonia.”

Dr. Guzman made an appointment for his daughter to see her pediatrician, Ben Worsley, M.D. Sophia was still running a fever steadily at 104, despite taking antibiotics. An X-ray confirmed what Dr. Guzman already expected. His daughter had pneumonia.

“I see kids every day,” Dr. Guzman said. “But when it is your child … Oh man … Your mind starts to go to places that are bad. I know the worst that could happen.”

Karen Schultz, M.D., the medical director of Pulmonology at Cook Children’s, took over Sophia’s care. Dr. Schultz and Dr. Guzman trained together during internship and residency in pediatrics and have known each other for more than 20 years.

Dr. Guzman admits to being a bit of a mess while his daughter was in the hospital. He continued to work in the Emergency Department for the first couple of days his daughter was at the medical center, until someone could take over his shift. He compartmentalized. In the ED, he was in complete control. But his heart was upstairs where he watched helplessly from the sidelines.

“I knew Sophia was in great hands,” Dr. Guzman said. “I knew we were in the right place and at a great institution. I trust everyone implicitly. I knew early on I needed to be just the dad and let everyone else do their jobs. I just felt helpless. I had no control of what was going on. It was so hard from a physician standpoint.”

Dr. Guzman learned his daughter shared his fear of needles. Yes, the emergency physician still has a fear of needles to this day and so did his daughter after being poked a few times during her stay. Suddenly the fun place her daddy worked became a hospital.

The night after being admitted, Sophia experienced breathing problems and her fever continued to spike. She wasn’t getting better.

John “Chip” Uffman, M.D., a surgeon at Cook Children’s, and Dr. Schultz met with Dr. Guzman and Abbie. Their little girl needed surgery to insert a tube into her chest and drain the fluid off her lungs from the pneumonia.

“I’m a wreck at this point,” Dr. Guzman said. “I know too much. It’s my job to calm parent’s fear, but I knew all the risks too. It was all going through my head and I just wasn’t thinking clearly or rationally. I knew for my wife and for my little girl, I had to keep it together.”

Dr. Guzman gathered his composure, but couldn’t help but think about the scared parents he sees as an emergency physician. He says he has become more aware of that process. He wants to be even more patient while talking to families and really make sure they understand everything he’s telling them.

But that would come later when he returned to work. For now, he focused on his daughter’s health.

The worst part for him was watching his daughter being taken away for surgery. She held out her arms to mom and dad. “That was heartbreaking,” Dr. Guzman said.

What Dr. Guzman didn’t realize was his daughter wouldn’t remember anything about the surgery.

“It was the hardest hour and a half of our lives, waiting on some news,” Dr. Guzman said. “But Sophia just says, ‘I took giggle juice.’”

The tube drained fluid from Sophia’s lungs and she continued to receive antibiotics through an IV.

Over the next couple of days, Dr. Guzman saw Cook Children’s through a patient family’s eyes. He saw the work of the therapy dogs and the music therapy program. She received a Build-A-Bear and even a visit from Santa.

“Everyone did such a great job to get her to smile and feel good,” Dr. Guzman said. “We are so blessed to have all of these things at Cook Children’s. I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. For the first time since she was in the hospital, I watched Sophia’s face just light up. It was so nice to see her happy again.”

Nearly a week after being admitted to the medical center, Dr. Guzman and Abbie were finally able to smile too. The chest tube was removed and after 18 hours of sleep that Dr. Guzman calls the “dark black spot,” Sophia woke up at 5:30 in the morning. She was ready to eat. She was ready to play. Her parents were ready to finally sleep. Their daughter was on her way to recovery.

“Now for Sophia, this has become a badge of honor. She tells her two siblings, ‘I was poked six times. I have a scar on the right side of my chest. I had a tube inserted. I was the first one in the family to have surgery,” Dr. Guzman said. “She wears this proudly. At the time, we were deathly afraid. It’s nice to see how she’s been able to cope and find so many positives about her stay. It’s just so great.”

 

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