Towards good doctors and grateful patients

My previous blog was a sad and lengthy list of the grievances of parents of sick babies about their doctor’s attitude to their problem.  Although I wrote about people with a pyloric stenosis baby, the web shows that other serious conditions of infancy all too often get the same insensible attitude.  Do check out my previous blog if you’d like more details.

But I described not only what has upset many new parents; I also offered some explanations and canvassed some possible improvements.

Why return to this subject?  I want to suggest some things which many parents of a seriously sick infant can do to improve the outcome of their case.

  1. Remember that doctors are busy people, are just as human as their patients, and see lots of different people and cases.
  2. Realise that although many mothers’ innate feelings often prove to be correct, we only know this for sure with the benefit of hindsight.  It’s a very stressful time, but try to avoid being over-emotional or appearing irrational.
  3. Do your homework.  List the things that worry you about your infant, google to find what might be the matter, and go to your doctor with as clear and strong a list of symptoms as possible.
  4. Be observant and give details of what you observe.  Babies with an abdominal condition that is life threatening will show this by their symptoms: examples may be reduced or no bowel and bladder movements, unusual stools and vomiting, loss of weight and condition, etc.  Some conditions show additional tell-tale signs: pyloric stenosis usually comes with projectile vomits of one or more metres, with muscular movements across the belly, and with the development of a “pyloric olive” which can be felt (see my previous blog or the internet to learn how to find this).
  5. Don’t expect a doctor to necessarily regard your baby’s condition as serious if the signs don’t make this clear.  Tests cost somebody time and money.  Who wants unnecessary surgery?
  6. If it’s the first consultation and the symptoms are not clear but you believe something may be significantly wrong, be prepared to try your doctor’s advice or a prescription.
  7. If the symptoms are clear and indicate that something may be seriously wrong, ask and even insist on further medical testing.
  8. If your doctor or the hospital has given you mere condescension or a brush-off, and this doesn’t do justice to what you have reported, consider finding another doctor.
  9. Alternatively, discuss your case with a suitable person who can back you or help keep you reasonable.  Consider asking them to go with you to support or even present your concern (you should inform your doctor you’ll need somebody to come with you).
  10. As I mentioned last blog, if you can get your baby to “perform” for your doctor or in the ER, that will often decide your case!
  11. Try to be aware of the various alternative diagnoses (if any) which may fit your baby’s symptoms.  It will help you to think along with or challenge the doctor.  Doctors are trained to be scientists: to work by collecting evidence in order to come to a correct conclusion.
  12. Sadly, some doctors are so benighted as to resent patients who have done some homework and who expect an appropriately reasoned and caring response to the symptoms they have listed.  Patients (however anxious and well-informed) must show due regard to their doctor, both as a person and a trained and experienced professional.  Patients should also weigh up whether they should continue to see a doctor with an attitude which they on reflection and after consultation find unacceptable.

Two good news items to finish…

First, infant mortality is at very, very low levels in most developed countries.  Modern medical treatment is constantly improving.  Misdiagnosis, incompetence, and mistakes are inevitably part of our human condition, but the medical knowledge, skills and treatments available to many of us today make the medical world of just 25 or 50 years ago look rather crude.  Despite having sometimes stressed parents and some dopey doctors, very few babies don’t make it when they should have.

Second, reports of the web are near-unanimous in their absence of complaints about the care parents and their new baby received after a definite diagnosis and during their infant’s hospitalisation.  In fact, many parents mention both the trauma of their little one’s sickness and surgery, but also their very warm feelings towards the staff of the children’s hospital.

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