When a Child Can’t Say Where it Hurts, Intuitive Doctors are a Godsend

14 Sep

This article was originally published in the Dallas Morning News in 2008.

For me, the hardest part of having a child with autism is constantly guessing about her health.

Paige, who recently turned 12, cannot tell us when or where something hurts. After a tumble several years ago, she never pointed to the arm she fractured when she fell.  Today, her difficulty communicating how she feels no longer surprises me.  But it still robs me of sleep.

The situation also makes me grateful for intuitive medical professionals.  Last summer, the family dentist talked with me about having deep cleaning and preventive maintenance done on Paige’s teeth.  Although she had checkups every six months, no one could get a good look at her molars.  X-rays were a pipe dream, too.

Dr. Ronald Lowe didn’t do the type of sedation he knew Paige needed, so he offered to help us find someone who would.  One of my friends has a teenage son with seizure disorder, and she recommended a pediatric dentist in Fort Worth.

At our initial consultation, Dr. Stan Preece proposed a two-hour appointment at Cook Children’s Medical Center, during which Paige would be under general sedation.  Our treatment plan included having a thorough cleaning, applying a sealer to her teeth and filling cavities.

I should have prepared myself for drama when the woman at the front desk groaned as I handed over my insurance cards.  She said that our dental coverage was fine but that our health insurance rarely approved anesthesia or hospitalization in cases such as ours.  As our provider had never given us problems, I expected everything would work out for the best.  It did, but not in the way I’d initially hoped.

Six weeks later, after we were turned down on our first appeal, I asked Dr. Lowe and our pediatrician to submit letters to support our case.  I felt certain that the insurance company would understand that anesthesia wasn’t optional for Paige.  In the last week of October, I received four denials.  One form letter essentially stated that nothing about Paige’s teeth was covered unless they were all knocked out in a car wreck.

Fortunately, Dr. Preece offered us Plan B.  Paige could have the same services done in his office if we brought in the anesthesiologist he often partnered with on these kinds of cases.  We scheduled the cleaning for December.  When the appointment arrived, we paid $1,000 for the anesthesia and hoped for the best.

The day went smoothly.  We waited less than five minutes before they ushered us into the treatment room.  Paige didn’t seem to suffer any side effects from the anesthesia.  Dr. Preece, meanwhile, found eight areas of decay, including one cavity that, he said, was deep enough to cause serious pain.

For weeks afterward, we marveled at the improvement in Paige’s behavior and demeanor.  She giggled and grinned and had a wonderful holiday season.

That Christmas, you can be sure I gave special thanks for our dentists and doctors.  The best among them are gifts we treasure year-round.

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