Are Your Kids Being Treated Like an Invisible Patient?
Back in the last century (remember, before the millennium?) when I was a teenager, I had to get my wisdom teeth pulled and my mom brought me to a highly recommended oral surgeon. I did not like the guy at all. He never spoke to me during the appointment. He only spoke to my mother. I felt like the invisible patient. At a certain point during the consultation, I said to him, “I don’t feel comfortable with you. We are leaving.” Obviously, as a 17 year old, I was pretty ballsy.
The stunned man looked at my me, then at my mother. She said, “Looks like we are going! It was nice meeting you.” We left and found a much nicer surgeon. One who actually treated me like a person.
My 10 year old daughter recently had a similar experience. She needs braces and was very nervous about the pain. A couple of assistants brought us in and started doing the prep work. They took photos of her teeth. They sat her down in a chair. They began fitting her for a mold. The orthodontist even whizzed by a couple times. But no one said hello to her. Or really talked to her at all. And my daughter began to cry.
I said to a few of the assistants, “If you could just say hello to her and explain what you are going to do, she will be much calmer.” They were dumbfounded. The orthodontist came out and said, “We find that kids do much better if their parents leave.” The idea of me leaving made my daughter cry harder.
“Do you want to do this another day?” somebody asked.
“No, that will only add to her anxiety. If you could just explain the procedure, that would be great.”
In the end, one of the orthodontist’s assistants went through each step of the braces process and my daughter started breathing again. This same assistant even apologized for not explaining things earlier. It wasn’t that they were trying to be rude. They were busy, on auto pilot and not taking the time to do one of the most important things in patient care – talking to the patient.
No matter how old the age of the child, they deserve respect and kindness from practitioners. And as a parent it’s my job to make sure that is happening. I don’t expect every doctor to be warm and fuzzy but I do expect them to speak directly to my children.
Of course, lots of doctors are very good at this. My pediatrician is a master. And just the other day, I took that same 10 year old daughter to the allergist. This doctor communicated compassionately and patiently with her. She answered all of my daughter’s questions and I could watch my child becoming more relaxed as they spoke.
The truth is, with limited health plans, HMOs and visits to urgent care, sometimes we don’t get to pick the ideal doctor for our children. But we can speak up when we don’t think they are being served well. It’s really our duty as parents.