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Effective communication with your child's physician is of prime importance. Many parents forget that communication is a two way street, and involves effort on both parties' part. Doctors are supposed to be able to communicate effectively with their patients; patients need to reflect sometimes on their need to do the same. In life, things don't always go the theoretically smooth way.
- first and foremost, don't be afraid to say what is on your mind - don't be intimidated
- speak plainly using common, everyday English - do not attempt to use medicalese you don't really understand and that will create certain obligations of response for your doctor1; for example:
- lethargic - implies sepsis, hospital, lab tests, IV's - do you really mean that sick?
- projectile vomiting implies vomiting of great force - pyloric stenosis in an infant - not baby spitting or stomache flu type vomiting in the older child
- fever or high fever - 99-100° rectal is normal in a young child
- bring your doctor up to speed - remind him or her of what is going on with your child if this is an ongoing problem - don't just assume he or she remembers everything about the case (although he or she might, of course)
- don't apologize for not knowing, or for being a new mother, or whatever - it is not necessary, and implies that somehow you are troubling us by your very presence - no, you are the very reason that we are here
- for goodness sake, listen to what your doctor tells you:
- make sure you understand the language he or she uses - ask for definition of any term that is not crystal clear to you - some of us doctors are bad about throwing out medicalese and assuming that everybody knows what we are talking about
- repeat back your understanding of what the doctor just told you in your own words (don't just parrot the medicalese!)
- do not finish the conversation until you are comfortable with your understanding of what is going on with your child and what you are to do
- it would be nice if you could remember that doctors have spouses, children, mortgages, car accidents, teenagers - the whole grownup thing, and can it ever be distracting. And a stressful job on top of that. We can have a bad day and forget to keep our minds on effective communication. Remind us gently but firmly if we forget - "Doctor, I don't think I am getting my worries across to you very well - let me go over it again."
I am asked sometimes what to do when your doctor - whom you may love dearly - does not quite seem to be listening and responding to to your concerns. Remember then also what Jesus explained in the parable of the widow and the judge:
In one city there was a judge who did not fear God or care for the opinions of any man. A widow came to him and asked, "Please hear my case against my adversaries." The judge kept putting her off and delaying her case; but she, insisting on her right to justice, came again and again. Finally the judge said, "Although I do not fear God or regard the opinions of men, because this widow troubles me incessantly, I will see that she is avenged, lest by her coming day and night she weary me to death."
If even an unjust judge did so, will not God in His grace relieve the anguish and frustrations that you recount continually to Him in prayer? I tell you He will relieve you speedily.
And if you are gracious but persistent with your doctor, whose calling it is to help you and your child, how can he not help you?
1 To put it bluntly, putting him or her in a legal bind, where once you have said the magic words, he or she will have to do things "strictly by the book" to avoid malpractice risk. Your doctor has judgement and should be allowed to use it in your child's best interest. Subjecting your child to a bunch of unnecessary lab work or a hospitalization because of poor communication is not good.