Although I am not a pediatric specialist, I see children on a daily basis in my office. I am also a parent. My wife and I have two little boys. The older is almost 6 years old, and our younger is just over 2 years old. As you may guess, my passion for pediatric exams is personal.
One of my best friends since elementary school called me to say his youngest son Christopher, age 2, seemed to have some swelling at his temporal canthus. I asked him to text me pictures. Obviously, I couldn't diagnose anything specific through a cell phone photo, but it was enough to get me worried.
At this point, I had been out of optometry school for only a few years. Although I felt prepared for all things optometric, nothing prepared me for needing to tell one of my best friends that the pictures looked suspicious and potentially serious and he should have his son evaluated as soon as possible.
I don't remember much of the conversation because my mind was racing through random memories of pediatric ocular conditions I could recall from optometry school. What do you say? How much of what you are thinking do you divulge? You don't want to unduly frighten the parents, but you must convey the potential seriousness of the situation.
The child was promptly examined, and the diagnosis came back: neuroblastoma.
My mind was spinning with so many questions. How did the condition progress to this point? Why didn't someone find it sooner? I had seen my friend and his family not that long ago. Should I have discussed comprehensive pediatric eye exams for his two children?
Following diagnosis, Christopher received the best care possible from the best doctors available. His cancer had already spread to other parts of his body. He underwent multiple surgeries, treatments, and medications to attempt to defeat the disease.
I kept in closer touch with my friend during this time just trying to be there as a friend but also as a doctor if needed. It turns out he needed a friend more than another doctor.
About a year and a half into the child’s treatments, my wife and I welcomed our firstborn son into our family. Early one morning, I got a text message asking me to call my friend. I called back immediately and got the news that Christopher had passed away during the night.
I had no words. Not only did this hit me hard as a friend and a doctor, but I felt it even more so as a new father. I was hurting so much that I had no idea how he and his wife could bear their pain and grief.
Dr. Sikes is a past president for the South Eastern District of the North Carolina State Optometric Society and has served as the Education Trustee for the North Carolina Optometric Society. He enjoys spending time with his family, woodworking, and playing soccer. He tries to get to the beach as much as possible. Dr. Sikes is in private practice in Chapel Hill, NC.