The Ella Tannous Case: When Every Lebanese Suddenly Becomes A Doctor

Ella Tannous

I just wasted 7 years of my life in medical school.

Naturally, when you live in the country with the likes of professor Marcel Ghanem, Dr. Joe Maalouf, Tony Khalifeh and their friends, is there a point for you to remotely try to get an education? They will tell you what you need to know, give you medicine crash courses and guide public opinion on the matter.

Clearly, they’re the ones who know everything and those doctors are just backward-minded folks who only care about money.

Ella Tannous is a young 9 months old whose pediatrician is now in jail. Why is he in jail? Because we live in a corrupt country where security forces get carried away by the sensational reporting of Kalam Ennas and other similar shows to ruin the life of a man simply because of the science of Marcel Ghanem’s report and that dramatic Lord of the Rings music in the background and the tears of the child’s mother as she whispers: why can’t my little girl play with barbies?

Again, what would I know. I’m sure that policeman in between his Malek el Tawou2 sandwiches was busy reading medical textbooks. Give me the differential of a crying baby, kind sir. Oh, you have cramps from all the garlic consumption? Excuse me.

According to her parents, Ella had a high grade fever for which they contacted her pediatrician, Dr. Issam Maalouf, who ran some tests that revealed Ella most likely had a viral illness and prescribed medications to lower her fever.

However, Ella’s fever did not subside and upon contacting the doctor again, he told them not to worry and to use cold towels to try and drop her temperature.

When the parents saw that their child’s situation did not improve they took her to the hospital. It was a Sunday. The pediatrician did not see Ella that day and instead saw her the following day when she had already deteriorated.

He got her transferred to AUBMC where further treatment was done. Ella, however, was in shock and in a state called DIC (Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation) and had gangrene in her limbs, which had to be amputated to save her life.

This is what happened with Ella Tannous according to her parents:

*cue in dramatic music.*

What happened to their child is surely devastating to them and Ella’s parents have every right to be sad and heartbroken over what happened to their daughter.

But just because someone’s daughter had complications does not make that person a doctor who can go on air and pretend they know what makes sense scientifically and what doesn’t. It also does not give Marcel Ghanem or any Lebanese media, who were quick to jump on this very delicious scoop, the right to become full blown medical professionals who spent their times doing night duties in pediatrics.

So let’s go with what we know one by one:

1) Ella’s blood tests revealed a viral illness. Viruses are not treated with antibiotics as Ella’s father was alluding should have happened. In fact, the side effects of those antibiotics and possible increasing resistance to them make their use in viral illness not recommended. How do you treat a viral illness, scientifically? You provide symptomatic relief. A patient has fever? You give anti fever medication. A patient has a sore throat? You provide pain relief, etc.

2) Ella’s fever persisted. Viral illnesses can have fevers that persist. You still give anti-fever medications and monitor. This is what you do, unless LBC or Annahar have new guidelines that we need to be aware of, in which case enlight us please.

3) Ella deteriorated and they contacted her physician as they took her to the hospital. He didn’t recognize them at first. Well, bring the guillotines. A pediatrician could not recognize over the phone a patient out of the hundreds that he has. He must be incompetent. Issam Maalouf’s mistake? He did not go see Ella that day at the hospital. However, that hospital is a university hospital and they should have been reporting back to him every single that happened with Ella as she would’ve been admitted under his care.

4) Ella’s fever continues and she starts experiencing decreasing urine output and becomes lethargic. These are signs of dehydration and deterioration. Dehydration can lead to kidney damage because blood flow to the kidney is decreased which causes something that is called acute kidney injury. This is not what probably happened to Ella, however.

5) Because of her decreasing immunity fighting the virus, Ella contracted another bacteria called Group A Strep (GAS). This bacteria is virulent and has been known to cause a wide array of complications when not recognized and treated early. To recognize and treat it early, you need to maintain a very high level of suspicion which in the setting of a clear viral illness, such as Ella’s case, was not the case.

Due to her low immunity, Ella had a dissemination of GAS. This led her to go into septic shock and full blown DIC. Septic shock is an extremely lethal condition whereby the body cannot adequately find the overwhelming infection. DIC is a complication of septic shock that leads to the depletion of the body’s ability to coagulate the blood through the formation of little clots that block blood vessels across many organs and vessels. The condition is extremely lethal.

In fact, the combination of septic shock and DIC is usually unescapable. Ella is lucky to be alive. Do you know why she’s lucky to be alive? Because her pediatrician saw the signs early enough to transfer her to a hospital that can manage her well.

 

Bring The Pitchforks, Why Don’t You:

After all that they’ve done, I can’t believe the Lebanese populace still trusts Lebanese media blindly when it comes to medical issues just because they’re sensationalized enough for their liking.

This is the same media that wanted to convince you we had a Guillain-Barré virus.

This is the same media that, a few years ago, ruined an OBGYN’s life by pretending they know medicine and accused him of killing one of his patients who was giving birth. That patient had an amniotic fluid embolism that is a lethal and extremely rare complication of giving birth. That doctor’s future was ruined anyway. He was also thrown in jail for something out of his hands before the courts realized that he was thrown in jail simply because of Tony Khalifeh’s report at the time.

Issam Maalouf joins the growing list of doctors whose entire career rests upon the whims of a reporter who understands nothing and who goes by what the parents or family of a patient are saying as if they know what’s happening, as if they know the medicine behind diseases. A devastated parent is not a doctor.

This is the same media that now has you convinced a competent doctor is now where he belongs, behind bars, and has you changing your display pictures to “Justice for Ella” snapshots.

When faced with a report from the Lebanese Order of Physicians about what actually happened, that same media downplays the report as inaccurate. Because clearly, the Order of Physicians does not know the medicine behind what’s going on. Those physicians did not go to med school for years and then did residency and fellowship programs for more years only to be ridiculed on air for being imbeciles.

Complications in medical scenarios happen. Not every single complication, despite how deliciously journalistic it looks, is a headline story.

With all due respect to a patient’s family, the esteemed reporters across the Lebanese republic and the people holding the pitchforks in Ella’s defense: You really have no freaking clue what you’re saying. Stop suggesting treatment modalities. Stop suggesting scientific explanations. Stop ruining people’s lives just because it makes for fancy headlines.

And then you get the Ministry of Health pretending they suddenly understand medicine to bring their pitchforks too. You know, that same ministry who turned Lebanon’s food safety issue into a Star Academy-like nominee-every-week report fashion.

There is a reason we go to medical school for endless years. There is a reason we do residency for another batch of endless years. Only doctors can know when medical errors occur. Only doctors can judge another doctor who does a medical error. Only doctors know how to treat patients and diagnose them. Only doctors know how to manage complications.

This is not elitism. This is common sense. This extends to other professions as well. I can’t judge the work of an architect, but an architect can. I can’t judge the work of an electrical engineer, but another electrical engineer can, etc.

The bottom line is: I just wasted 7 years of my life in medical school, that much is clear. Because clearly, Marcel Ghanem and his friends know better than me and all my colleagues.

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Would You Wait for a Miracle?

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I have a two month old patient, whose bed is way too big for and who hasn’t cried in my presence once. She has blue eyes, which I could barely see through her constantly dilated pupils. Her skin is whiter than snow and colder than ice. She’s not responsive. She has more peripherals connected to her body than a body of that size should handle.

My two month old patient, precious and young as she is, is brain dead.

For a while, my friends and I lamented her young life. She is a person who will never live. She will never utter the words mom, she will never walk, she will never ride a bike. She will never even have solid food. Why was she being kept alive? Why  was she being put in such pain?

The medical aspect in us couldn’t understand the point of keeping life tethered to that girl. It didn’t make any sense. There’s no way she will wake up again. There’s no way she will recover. For all matters and purposes, that girl who has lived for two months exists no more.

But still, her parents kept her alive adorning her bed with rosaries and religious icons as they prayed by her bedside.

“I know it’s over,” I overheard her mom say while crying. “But I’m hoping He’d look down at her and see how such a precious creature she is and help her.”

And the mother would ask us: what will happen if things worked out with her? What will you see? Isn’t she snoring? What is that sound?

We’d answer in a way to stay true to the medicine without squashing her hopes. Hope, in this case, is a double-edged sword.

They were waiting for a miracle. My friends would even chuckle at the thought. But even though I also thought it was absurd, I just felt terribly, terribly sorry for what that mother had to go through, seeing her daughter’s shell in front of her: alive but not.

I’ve been thinking about miracles ever since I was allocated that little girl. While they round on other patients and they reach her case, I often find myself thinking about the miracle she is waiting for. I don’t get miracles. I don’t know if I believe in them. I think I don’t. But if there’s anything about miracles that I’m sure of, it’s that they are unjust.

Then I thought about what I’d do if I had been the father whose daughter was in my patient’s bed, with tubes going out of her in order to keep her alive. My answer would have surely been a resounding: turn it off. Purely medical. Pure electrolytes. Pure CT scans. Pure EEGs. Pure data. Or so I thought.

Today, as I saw that woman crying over her daughter, I didn’t pity her. I was utterly shocked that what she was doing didn’t feel odd. It didn’t feel weak. It didn’t feel like something I would remotely try to ridicule, like many people I’ve encountered would. Because the shocking revelation was that I’m not so sure I can turn it off, in spite of al the data.

Would you?