Today In Court – Friday March 11, 2016

Today was a short court day because of the late sitting the night before. Court was in session from approximately 1pm – 4:30pm.

The Crown brought forward their witness Dr. Jennifer D’Mello. Dr. D’Mello is a pediatrician with a specialty in emergency room pediatrics. Her primary role, however, is to work with the child welfare abuse assessment team. In this case, her motive in visiting Ezekiel and his parents was to assess if Ezra was in any risk. She admitted doing a general assessment of Ezekiel (having read the medical chart before), but mainly came to gather information as part of an abuse investigation. The doctor may have had a stethoscope, and introduced herself as there on a consult for another doctor, but her intention was to investigate David and Collett. While Ezekiel’s parents have nothing to hide or to be ashamed of, it’s a word of caution to parents that the doctor asking questions may be an agent of the state, an investigative authority, gathering Intel that may be used against you in criminal proceedings.

If this sounds alarming, it should. Given the way these investigative doctors work, it’s a sketchy process not to be trusted. Here’s why. The doctor comes in presenting themselves as on a consult; there for your child. They ask a few child focused questions, and then proceed to inquire regarding you, the parent. Dr. D’Mello admitted in court that she takes a kind of short-hand style of note taking. She doesn’t actually write verbatim the parent’s words. If she hears something that could require further questioning to make certain she understands, well, she doesn’t. She merely interprets. Days later, maybe 2-3 or 8-10, she expands her brief notes into a lengthy narrative. Once completed, the report may appear to others as a very comprehensive and actual word-by-word interview with the parents. This, she passes on to police.

Can you see the risk here of human error if not biases finding their way into the report? Oh, and this is important: The parents never get to read or correct the report before it is filed as true evidence. So the doctor’s other information gathering (with other doctors and social workers), and her interpretations and opinions all get rolled together several days later into something subjective, and most likely inaccurate to some degree. Remember that game where someone tells you a piece of a story and you pass it on and on, with a little more added each time? By the time it gets to its final audience (court) it does not accurately resemble the original. The same goes for Dr. D’Mello’s report. So what can the doctor recall about that evening while David and Collett clung to hope for Ezekiel? Not very much; unless she reviews her report.

However, to her credit, the doctor admits under cross-examination that while most of her time was spent with Collett, David and Collett were both very attentive to Ezekiel, and very cooperative in helping the staff to attend to their son. She also admitted that meningitis is very difficult to diagnose without invasive (spinal tap) lab reporting. She confirmed what Dr. Adeagbo testified that symptoms resemble those of many childhood diseases like flu, cold, croup etc. She also restated the waxing and waning is how those symptoms present. From her experience, the difference in clinically observing viral vs bacterial meningitis is in the presentation of fever. Ezekiel presented no serious temperature changes. Dr. D’Mello stated that the younger the patient, the harder it is to diagnose meningitis. Earlier illnesses such as croup and flu can make way for a rapid onset of an aggressive form of bacterial meningitis. She too, as Dr. Adeagbo also testified, said there is no certainty as to when Ezekiel developed the infection. There is also no certainty that had he been diagnosed days earlier could have been successfully treated. Many simply do not survive even aggressive treatment once diagnosed.