By Elizabeth Briggs
We’ve all been there. We’ve all gotten the eye-roll, the muttered comment, the unsolicited advice that goes completely against everything we stand for, but when it comes to our child’s pediatrician, we expect something more. We expect a higher standard. We expect that at least this one person will understand and respect our choices.
But oftentimes she doesn’t.
I need to be able to build a working relationship with my child’s pediatrician. I say “working relationship,” because I really believe that we don’t need to be friends. We don’t even need to like each other. But we do need to be able to work together for the best interests of my children.
I went straight from nursing school into a pediatric primary care office. I worked with an amazing pediatrician, and I learned something new from her, or from our patients, every day.
One morning, a mom came in with her 11-year-old son for a well-child check-up. The kid’s chart was upstairs in storage; he had not been seen in the office in more than two years. I asked the mom if her son had been seen for a check-up or vaccines anywhere else, and she started to cry. The mom told me that her son had ADHD and Asperger Syndrome and that she had taken him to an alternative practitioner. She told me that she was crying because she was afraid I was going to laugh at her or tell her that was stupid.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. I hugged her and told her she was doing a great job of caring for her son. Inside, I wept for her: Asperger’s and ADHD. Two diagnoses that mainstream medicine has little help for. I assured her that all of us were on the same side – we all wanted to see a positive outcome for her son, regardless of which road we were going to take to get there. And then I stepped outside the room and gently but firmly warned the doctor not to be a jerk.
Working in a pediatric office gave me a huge insight into both sides of the pediatrician-vs-hippie conundrum. I gave 17 bazillion vaccines in that office, and I also saw my first real-live cloth diaper. I learned to respect and admire everyone’s approach, and then when I found myself turning into a crunchy mom, I was glad to have the knowledge and skills I needed to interact in a positive way with my own children’s pediatrician.
I am big on mnemonics, so I use the fingers of my hand to conceptualize the five things I do at an office visit.
I’ll start with the pinky: When I was a little kidlet, my mom always told me to tie a string around my finger to remember things, so my pinky reminds me to write a list of questions and concerns to bring to the visit. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the doctor’s responses, which are often completely the opposite of my opinion, or what I think logic would dictate. If I get thrown off at the beginning it’s helpful to have a list of everything else I meant to discuss, so I can say “Wait, don’t go! I have this list…”
Next up is the ring finger. The ring finger reminds me of relationships, and that reminds me to show respect for the doctor. Even when she says things that I perceive as being totally insane, I take a breath and remember that she went to medical school, and I didn’t, and she’s been in practice for 30 years, and I haven’t. She’s seen almost everything there is to see, and her perspective is valuable, even when it differs from my own.
Next we have the middle finger. The largest finger reminds me of where I spend a large amount of my time: research. I have developed the opinions I have through a huge amount of time spent reading everything I can get my hands on. I value knowledge, and the pursuit of it claims a fair amount of my time. I need to continue this research, reading everything I can, both in support of and against my opinion, so that I will be prepared to answer the doctor’s questions. I should anticipate her concerns before she states them. I should know that her first concern about co-sleeping will be SIDS and that the second will be tooth decay from sleeping with a mouthful of milk. I should be prepared to answer these questions and more, and to participate in an open and non-judgmental dialogue.
Next is the index finger. The index finger makes me think of scolding, and reminds me to avoid black-and-white thinking. I can’t approach the doctor with the assumption that everything I’m doing is right, and everything she’s doing is wrong. It sounds like a no-brainer, but this sort of thinking creeps into our interactions with healthcare providers. My child’s pediatrician might see 30+ kids in a day, some of whom don’t have the opportunity to be breastfed, whose parents are not knowledgeable or not capable or for whatever reason are doing things differently than what I would choose. The pediatrician may herself be a mother in the throes of making the best decisions she can for her own children. I need to remember to be sensitive about the words I choose and how I view others’ advice and parenting decisions. Everyone has input that is of value, whether I choose to integrate it into my life or not.
Last is the thumb, which reminds me of “thumbs up!” I like to show appreciation for all the staff, because I know that it would be easy for them to perceive me and my children as a difficult family. I respect them, and I understand that sometimes my choices mean more work for them. I give my office staff a “thumbs up” by smiling and being courteous to everyone I come in contact with, but also by bringing them treats! I try to bring them things they will like, but that also follow my ideals about food, which generally means a large, seasonal fruit basket. It has the added benefit of not feeling like a “healthy” version of something they would have preferred in its original sugar-and-preservative-laden form.
These five tips have helped me to foster a positive and productive working relationship between myself and my child’s pediatrician. I hope they will be a benefit in your life as well.
Elizabeth Briggs is a nurse and fairy storyteller living outside of Orlando, Florida. In her free time, she enjoys tap dancing and writing down the hilarious things her kids say.