As an adult, receiving the right medical care can be as simple as making an appointment with your physician or asking for a referral. But for children, it can often be much more complicated.
Kids may have trouble describing the pain they’re experiencing or not even realize that something’s wrong. On top of this, their growing and developing bodies require the attention of doctors who have received specialized medical training. Pediatricians have to be able to look out for different conditions that adults may not experience, and also must be able to assess kids who may be scared, shy, or unable to communicate.
As a Pediatric Hospitalist, Crystal Carney has a unique perspective on serious illnesses that kids face here locally as she follows their progress after being admitted to Memorial Hospital. Understandably, going to an emergency room or potentially being hospitalized can be scary events for adults, let alone young children. With this in mind, plans are already underway for Memorial Hospital to open up their pediatric emergency room. The Robert A. Grimm Children’s Emergency Pavilion will allow kids to stay here if they are faced with a need for emergency care. In her experience, “kids are more forthcoming, they feel a lot more comfortable in that environment, than when they’re in the adult ER. And that goes the same for parents. I think it’s very difficult for a parent, any time you take your kid to the ER, it’s the worst day of your life, hands down. And to be in an environment surrounded by a lot of sick adults can be pretty scary. I think it’s a more calm environment for parents and kids to be in a solely pediatric area.” The center is scheduled to open later this year and marks the first time that there has been an emergency room just for kids in all of Kern County!
She mentioned that while local children experience a lot of the same medical concerns that kids experience all over the US, there are a few things that we see more of than other places, including asthma. “Some of the symptoms would be a dry cough, especially after any type of exercising, so if your kid has any kind of exercise intolerance, so they’re coughing when running around, then that would be a sign that they could have asthma.” Additionally, if a child is waking up in the middle of the night coughing even if they aren’t sick, or if they get tired easily, these could be signs that it’s time for a trip to the doctor. It’s important for parents to take note of these symptoms because most of the time kids won’t be wheezing or short of breath when they get to an appointment.
Here in Bakersfield, we have a disproportionate amount of kids that are diagnosed with Valley Fever versus other places in the US, since the fungus (coccidioidomycosis) which causes the illness can only be found in the soil of parts of California, Arizona, and Mexico. She called the disease “the great mimicker,” because symptoms tend to point to different things and can even come and go. “Most kids will get diagnosed with pneumonia and then what will happen is they’ll have a fever, and a cough, and maybe a little bit of difficulty breathing.” From there they will be prescribed antibiotics and it may even seem like their symptoms are improving, since they tend to come and go. But the hallmark of Valley Fever is that it will then come back. It’s then that doctors will often test for cocci, and prescribe the appropriate treatment.
Interestingly enough, she also shared that appendicitis seems to affect a larger amount of children in Kern County, which she theorized may be caused by our dry air. Symptoms to look out for include “pain around the belly button and then migrates down to the right lower side.” While at first it may resemble the stomach flu, it will not improve after 24-48 hours. She recommends that any time your child mentions pain in their lower right side, to have it checked out.
While pediatricians can track the progress of your son or daughter’s growing bodies, and even diagnose and treat different conditions, naturally, they can’t know everything there is to know about every part of the body in complete detail. This is where medical specialists come in, picking up the baton and using their in depth training for a specific organ, system, or illness, and keeping up with research specific to their field so that your child receives the targeted care that they need.
“Someone should see a specialist if they need a specific procedure or test, if their primary care doctor needs help managing or diagnosing a condition, or if you have specific questions about how you are feeling,” shared local Pulmonologist Dr. Amy Mehta. Specializing in diagnosing and treating lung conditions, she underwent six more years of training after medical school, which provided her with a deep understanding of the respiratory system. “As a pulmonologist I treat conditions of the lung. This includes many different diseases but some of the more common things I see include asthma, COPD, lung nodules, chronic cough, and diagnosis of lung cancer. If you have an issue of the lungs some symptoms you can present with include shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing.”
With how complex the human body is, it’s no surprise that it can be difficult to find specialists for everything in every city. Further compounding this is that children’s growing bodies require pediatric expertise different from that of adults. Lucky for us, Bakersfield is uniquely positioned near enough to other major cities with children’s hospitals that we have access to specialized care, though it can sometimes mean a few hours’ drive for parents and their children. But local hospitals are acutely aware of these problems, and have been working for years to increase local parent’s access to the care their children need. Valley Children’s Specialty Medical Group President Michael Goldring listed off the variety of specialists that already serve Bakersfield, such as pediatric cardiologists, endocrinologists, neurologists, otorhinolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat), and gastroenterologists to name a few.
They have several locations in town, including the 34th Street Specialty Care Clinic, but have recently announced the opening of the large Eagle Oaks Specialty Care center, which will allow them to bring even more pediatric physicians to Bakersfield, even while their other clinic stays open. Eagle Oaks will initially provide Valley Children’s with close to 50,000 feet of space, with the ability to double that as soon as it’s fully built out. Until now, this level of specialty care seemed hard to envision. “It takes over a million children to really justify an acute children’s hospital, so that’s kind of where your pediatric specialists aggregate [and] that’s why smaller markets sometimes have issues. But we look at the valley as a whole and because of these specialty centers, you are able to distribute these specialists around the valley.” This allows much greater access for families to receive the medical services that they need.
Children are our future which is why it’s of the utmost importance that they have access to the care that their growing bodies need. Thankfully, our medical community is filled with doctors who are well aware of this and have already taken steps to increase access to specialty care. Not only are we getting a pediatric emergency room and an expanded care network, but our community is also bringing in more and more physicians with extensive, specialized training to care for our children. We can’t help but get excited about these awesome developments in our local medical community!