Zoe,* a 35-year-old law student, often missed and rescheduled appointments for her toddler Elias.* I have supervised Elias’ visits with the residents since his first newborn visit 2 years ago. Although I have only seen them with the residents, Zoe identifies me as their primary care physician and has always scheduled Elias’ visits during my teaching clinics. I have examined this cute little guy at every visit and thought I knew this family well.
I knew that Zoe and Elias were struggling because of the issues we discussed at every visit: finishing law school 90 miles away, struggling to maintain her breast milk, and single motherhood. Zoe’s tired face showed determination despite her challenges. Little Elias, in a loose diaper, always clung to Zoe’s tiny frame, a fact that initially made me think he was simply on the small side. Despite multiple no-shows, we gathered enough data to construct a disappointing growth trajectory. Was it failure to thrive or constitutional small stature? Medical advice typically consisted of dietary counseling aimed at boosting calories and more frequent follow-up.
Recently, I recognized Elias’ name on a resident’s schedule. Anticipating their typical tardiness, I asked the front desk to register Elias regardless of arrival time. When they came a little late, they were quickly ushered into to an exam room. The resident reported that although Elias had normal development, his weight remained below the first percentile.