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Star-Telegram.com

Mom angry after doctor prescribes paddling for 5-year-old

Posted Tuesday, Jul. 12, 2011

By Darren Barbee

dbarbee@star-telegram.com

Here's a prescription your tyke doesn't get from a doctor every day -- or, probably, ever: "Apply large paddle to bottom of child anytime he needs it."

Courtney Capps, 27, of Burleson was flabbergasted when an emergency department physician at Huguley Memorial Medical Center wrote the dubious direction for her 5-year-old son earlier this year. She said the doctor also asked her son about his race, which seemed to have had nothing to do with an infection on his finger.

"You can't make a racial remark to my child and then write a prescription" like this, said Capps, head of administration for an insurance company and a single mother of four boys.

Capps filed a complaint last week with the Texas Medical Board against the physician. Dr. Carl W. Gossett could not be reached for comment, though his wife said the incident was a joke taken the wrong way.

Hospital spokesman Kurt Adamie said the incident was immediately brought before the emergency room medical director. "Appropriate action was taken," he said.

Adamie added that the physician no longer practices at Huguley, but he did not comment on why.

Capps said she took her son Isaiah to the hospital for an infection caused by biting back a fingernail. A nurse told her the infection could kill a nerve in his nail.

During the examination, Capps said the doctor, who is white, asked about the child's race.

"When we were in there, my son was minding his own business," Capps said. "He asked what race my child was. First of all, that was totally out of context for him to ask me that."

Capps, who is white, told the doctor that her son was biracial -- black and white.

"My son said, 'No mommy I'm not black and white, I'm brown and white.'"

The doctor gave a grunt, she said. He then said, "What does your family think about that?"

"I just looked at him like, you've got to be kidding me," Capps said.

Capps also couldn't understand the paddling prescription. She said her son was quiet during his exam and watched a cartoon while lying on a hospital bed.

The doctor's wife, who asked not to be named, said her husband tells it differently. She said her husband told her that he and Capps were laughing and joking during the examination. Her husband works in a number of settings and has been in the medical profession for about 30 years, she said.

She said her husband asked about the boy's race because of possible genetic predisposition to certain diseases.

"It wasn't meant to be racially negative," she said.

He wrote the prescription as a lark, she said. She said her husband told her that the boy was active and moving around the room.

"He thought it was all in joking," she said. "There was no malice. He didn't feel there was any meanness to it. He had no idea" Capps was upset by it.

"I think it's really sad that we've come to" this, she said.

Dr. Charles D. Rosen, president of the Association for Medical Ethics in Manhattan Beach, Calif., said the prescription seems to be an "inappropriate, unprofessional response," especially in light of the child's young age.

"As far as the issue of writing it on a prescription [pad], I mean a prescription ... becomes part of a patient's chart and is a legal document," he said. "I don't know any legal implications for using it as kind of a joke or inappropriate advice. ... It sounds to me, maybe a little socially inappropriate, medically unnecessary."

He said the comments about the child's race seemed to have no medical bearing.

"It sounds like he was being socially inappropriate at the very least," he said. "Medically, I'm not sure how that question would relate at all to medical care. We're not talking about sickle cell disease, [where] it's important to know if one of the parents is African-American."

When Capps reported the doctor's comments to Huguley, she said the hospital offered to pay her medical bills. She declined. The offers stopped when she told them that she was going to contact an attorney. She has not filed a lawsuit but is still angry about the prescription.

Capps said she uses time-outs and takes away toys to discipline her children, though in the past she spanked them with her hands and it didn't correct their behavior.

"I would never spank my child with a belt or a paddle," she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents be encouraged to develop methods of discipline other than spanking for managing undesired behavior because of the harm spanking can cause. Spanking has been demonstrated to be no more effective than other approaches, according to the academy.

Though some advocate spanking, it is a less effective strategy than time-outs or taking away privileges. "Although spanking may immediately reduce or stop an undesired behavior, its effectiveness decreases with subsequent use. The only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking is to systematically increase the intensity with which it is delivered, which can quickly escalate into abuse," the academy said in an undated report.

Darren Barbee, 817-390-7126

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