Article – Vicki and Kevin Whiting (authors of In Pain We Trust) | Dale Rodebaugh, The Durango Herald
Article about Vicki and Kevin Whiting (authors of In Pain We Trust) by Dale Rodebaugh, The Durango Herald, on 1/15/2012.
Patients must not allow themselves to be put off when they hurt, and medical practitioners must learn to listen to their complaints.
Vicki Whiting and her son Kevin, who turns 18 years old today, tell their story with In Pain We Trust, published by Blooming Twig Books.
Kevin was the victim of a rare, congenital affliction, Wilkes Syndrome, which occurs when the superior mesenteric artery lies on top of the small intestine instead of behind it. The results can be a flattening of the intestine and the blockage of food and bodily liquids.
Vicki Whiting, a business professor at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, was reared in Durango and is a graduate of Durango High School. She is the daughter of Reg and Bev Graham of Durango and the sister of former City Councilor Scott Graham.
“Doctors are well-intentioned, but they’re trapped in a system that doesn’t allow them to take time with patients,” said Vicki Whiting last week from Utah in a telephone interview. “On one occasion, a specialist spent six minutes with Kevin.”
In early 2007, Kevin, then 13, began to exhibit symptoms that were written off as the flu. But by September he was in pain, which at times was unmanageable, his mother said.
“They didn’t believe me,” Kevin said in a telephone call. “I knew my body and they didn’t.”
A feeding tube was inserted into Kevin’s abdomen beyond the blockage to keep him alive. But he continued to lose weight, and over time dropped from 90 to 63 pounds.
The family physician, Dr. Brian Rush, sent Kevin to specialists who diagnosed anorexia and put Kevin on antidepressents and antianxiety medication, which pushed him to the brink of suicide.
“We went to Australia at the end of the year because we’d heard about medicines that might help Kevin,” Whiting said. “The trip also was to get away from the predetermined notion that he was suffering from anorexia.”
Back in the United States, Kevin attended school irregularly and was hospitalized three times with pain so severe that morphine didn’t totally override it, Vicki Whiting said.
A re-examination led to a correct diagnosis of Kevin’s ailment, and he had an operation in September 2008 in which surgeons severed an intestine and put it in front of the mesenteric artery.
Intestinal damage, however, required Kevin to be fed by a catheter for seven months although he began to take food by mouth. In the ensuing months he grew nine inches and put 40 pounds on his frame.
In spite of sporadic seat time at school over two years, tutoring and summer classes will allow Kevin to graduate this year with his peers at Park City (Utah) High School. He wants to study at Pepperdine College and become a pediatric surgeon.
Shelly Braun, who teaches medical anthropology at Westminster College, participates in the Utah Health Policy Project, a nonprofit that tackles problems of rising health-care costs and the uninsured.
The delivery of medical treatment must be patient-oriented, she said in a telephone conversation.
“We need to improve clinical medical care,” Braun said. “Doctors don’t put listening to patients at the top of the list. One side effect of electronic systems is that doctors will be looking at a computer for medical records while talking to a patient.”
Patients become identified by an impersonal medical condition rather than as a person, Braun said. The extra work doctors must do in this computer age results in errors, less care for patients and higher costs.
Vicki Whiting recalled that in Australia, a gastroenterologist spent 45 minutes with Kevin and then ran the case before a board of six colleagues. The total cost: $40.
Rush, the Whiting family doctor, agrees that changes are needed in the delivery of health care in various areas.
The majority of doctors would like to spend more time with patients, he said by telephone. But their ministerial duties and time alloted to individual patients – dictated by large hospitals – preclude long consultations.
But it’s not unusual that diagnoses aren’t made instantly, he said.
“No matter how skilled the diagnostician, sometimes it takes a couple rounds to come up with the answer,” Rush said.
The medical community has paid attention to In Pain We Trust, Whiting said. She and Kevin told their story to 200 Hospital Corporation of America executives on Thursday in Salt Lake City and are scheduled to speak in April at the American Hospital Association conference in Austin, Texas.
The book is a good way to share Kevin’s story and examine drawbacks in how medicine is practiced, Whiting said.
“It was painful to relive the experiences when we were writing, but it’s important to get doctors to listen to patients,” Whiting said.
“Doctors are trapped in a system that takes time away from their patients. They’re not allowed to be doctors.”
- Dale Rodebaugh, The Durango Herald