Ah, the doctor-patient relationship.
I explored it a lot in Life Disrupted, but it is frequent fodder for this blog, too: seeing doctors as our advocates, knowing the importance of speaking up, and realizing I can just say no, for example. I’ve compared finding the right doctor to dating, and will tell anyone who cares enough to listen how wonderful my lung doctor is.
All of this is to say, by now I know what to look for, and I know what I will and will not tolerate. And then I had a baby, and I became the mother of a patient, and became her voice when it comes to health problems and doctor appointments.
Before she arrived, I did my due diligence. I researched pediatricians, ran some interview questions by my best friend, who is a pediatric nurse practitioner. I liked this pediatrician’s experience, and when I met with him before my daughter’s birth, I liked his approach. Our talk went well, and I left feeling reassured she would be in good hands.
Since she had jaundice and had trouble feeding because of it, we saw him a lot her first couple of weeks. I appreciate his close monitoring of her bilirubin levels and getting us to a lactation consultant, but even in those first early days we began to see signs Things Weren’t Quite Right with this relationship. And as her first days turned into first few weeks and more health problems emerged for my little girl, the evidence mounted:
No appointment, from a jaundice check to her 2-month check up (shots included), lasted more than five minutes. Five minutes. I am not exaggerating. Just enough time to weigh her, give a cursory listen to her lungs, and answer the one question I managed to spit out in time with “yes” or “no.”
I would mention discomfiting symptoms to him and he would brush them aside (real, legitimate symptoms—I won’t get too specific here to respect my daughter’s privacy, but trust me, legit) or, dash off a prescription.
When I would call to discuss her lack of improvement and ask for advice, we didn’t get anywhere. No investigation into what else could be causing the problems, no wanting to examine her when her symptoms got even worse, nothing.
Never once did he engage with my daughter aside from the perfunctory weight check; never once did he ask me how she was doing (or sleeping, or eating, or interacting, etc). Never once did he ask me how I was doing as a first-time parent, or if I had any concerns, etc. Developmental milestones? What, are those something you’re supposed to discuss with your doctor, ever?
Lastly, he said family medical history wouldn’t matter for a long time and would not discuss it, (like, walked away when my husband tried to discuss it). Um, hello? My family’s medical history is as complicated and lengthy as my own, and given some of her symptoms, very relevant.
One day, as I was about to call his office because she had gotten much worse, I stopped mid-dial. I was sick of hitting the same brick wall, and fighting to get him to pay attention to my daughter’s symptoms. She deserved a lot more than that.
I’d wanted this to work out because I’d invested time and energy into selecting him, had really liked him during our interview, and I kept hoping the doctor I thought he was would show up. I gave him the benefit of the doubt at first because I was the new parent and he was the seasoned doctor, but I know my kid. And I know when Things Aren’t Quite Right with her.
She is the most precious thing in the world to me, and I entrusted him to do right by her. Enough.
So that same day, I called a different practice. They worked us in that afternoon. In fact, their words were, “An infant with XXX? Bring her in right away!” With those words, I officially dumped her former pediatrician.
Her new practice took down her medical history, her family’s history, spent a long time discussing various possibilities and plans of actions with me, and got her in for necessary testing the very next day. From day one they were proactive in getting her the help she needed, and have been wonderful about answering my questions, following up on her specialist consults, etc. Together, we’re getting to the bottom of a few different issues.
I have been angry with doctors many times before, but never as angry as I was with her former pediatrician when her new team figured out some of what’s wrong with her, things he would have and should have found if he’d cared enough to listen and act...you know, do his job.
Rest assured she is a thriving, happy, smiley little baby but we are very, very lucky we did not have a much bigger crisis on our hands due to his apathy.
I am so grateful she has such amazing doctors working with us now, and that’s what is important. But I forgot how crummy it feels to be so disappointed in a doctor.
I have long said that communication is central to a good working relationship. Since I'm her advocate in the exam room, if I don’t feel I can speak with my daughter’s doctor about her health, then that is obviously not a tenable situation. I don’t need my hand held, I don’t need excessively long conversations, and I don’t call unless there is something significant going on, but I do need someone who listens, who asks appropriate questions, and who cares enough to look for answers.