Life in Holland Day 4: Picking Doctors

It’s Day 4 of the 31 Day Blogging Challenge I’m participating in, and I’d just like to let you know–in case you were wondering about my level of organization around here–that I’m just writing what comes to me each day.  I figured it was the only way I’d survive this and keep going, if I gave myself the right to write about whatever happened to be on my mind about Life in Holland on that particular day, instead of being all disciplined and orderly about it.  This isn’t going to be like your Modern World Civilizations class in college, where if you skipped a day or two you’d be left in the dust wondering exactly what happened at Waterloo and Napoleon Who?  I’m pretty sure we’ll all be able to keep up, but let me know if you have any questions, mmmkay?

31 Days Logo Banner day 4

So, let’s get off and running with today’s topic:  Picking Doctors.

So by now we’ve established that I don’t actually live in Holland and that the place I call Holland is one that requires medical intervention.  (Find out more about Iraqi children who need special medical care over HERE.)  I’m saying Holland has doctors–lots and lots and lots of doctors.  And nurses and therapists and nutritionists and pharmacists and dozens of other medical team members, but today I want to talk about the doctors.  You may have noticed that a couple of days ago, when I interviewed Superkid, she talked about some of her doctors.  We have some favorites.

One thing that’s unique about doctors?  More often than not, you get to pick them.  Not always–when you go to the ER, for instance, you’ll get the doctor that happens to be there.  But eventually, when it comes to follow up care and primary care, you get to pick your doctors.  Many of the other people on your medical team you won’t get to pick, because they are assigned to you during your shift or they work for the doctor you’ve picked.

Apple trees with red apples

Here’s the thing.  Selecting doctors can be a lot like picking apples.  Generally speaking, you have to reach a little for the best ones.  Climb a little, poke around in the tree a bit, and you’ll see one that’s bright and shiny and unblemished.  The ones that don’t require effort to find…the ones that have already fallen from the tree…are, you know, mushy.  Not all that great.

Apples -

“Wait a minute!” you’re saying.  “That’s not fair!  Are you saying the only good doctors are the ones that aren’t accepting new patients, don’t accept my insurance, and teach at prestigious medical schools?  That general practitioners or the doctor at the walk-in clinic aren’t any good?

To that I say a resounding NO.  Absolutely no!  I’ve been the beneficiary of absolutely wonderful, competent doctors at walk-in clinics, small town hospitals, and family practices.  A doctor doesn’t need a swanky practice or media recognition to be good at his job.  What I am saying is that it’s fantastic if the first doctor you see is one that you feel great about.  It’s also lucky.  So I’m saying that if you aren’t lucky on the first draw, it’s perfectly acceptable to climb the ladder and start looking for the doctor that is going to be great for you.  Pick your doctors carefully, because they literally hold your life (or your child’s life) in their hands.

hand picking apples

I lost count of the number of doctors that we’ve encountered long ago.  I definitely don’t remember all their names.  Most were fine.  A few were terrible.  And then we had some that were truly wonderful.  If your child (or your sibling, elderly parent, spouse, etc.) has extraordinary medical needs, you want to gather a team of truly wonderful physicians to support your caregiving.  If you are a friend, neighbor, or spouse to a caregiver of someone with extraordinary medical needs, then it’s acceptable and appropriate for you to offer support to that caregiver as they search for the doctors they want on their team.

Here’s a list of qualities that I look for when selecting a doctor:

  • A medical degree from an accredited institution.  I kid!  That pretty much goes without saying, but I thought I should throw it in there to cover all my bases!
  • An ability to relate to his/her patient.  You would think that anyone who went into pediatric practice would enjoy being around kids.  You would think, but that’s definitely not always the case.  I’ve met a few.  Honestly, I’ve met many, many more who do enjoy being around fun-sized patients, but I’m saying there are pediatric specialists out there who don’t give the impression that they enjoy children or have any interest in them beyond making a diagnosis.  You don’t want a doctor like that.  You want a doctor like our dear Dr. E, who would come in to each appointment, eager to see Superkid and find out about her latest adventures.  Who understood why the tools on the wall were fascinating and would show her how to work all the gadgets.  Or one like Dr. B, who remembered from visit to visit how much Superkid loved Pediasure, and would escort her to the office sample closet to find a bottle or two.  Our newest friend, Dr. M, provides Superkid with a running commentary while he performs her echocardiograms, explaining what he’s looking and and how each part of her heart helps her.  People who are able to form a relationship with your child are the ones you want on your team when you are making care plans and discussing quality of life.  Because they will go to bat for your child.
  • An ability to effectively communicate with his/her patient and their caregivers.  I’ll be honest, I don’t love it when a doctor comes into a room, barely acknowledges my child, and spends all their time talking to me.  This one is definitely related to the quality of being able to relate to patients, but there is a distinct difference:  along with relating to and interacting positively with the patient, a good doctor should be able to listen, listen, pinpoint areas of concern, and address those areas in a way everyone in the room can understand.  This takes some talent, and not everyone excels at it!  We have one doctor, Dr. H, who is simply brilliant.  He’s genuinely concerned about his patients, but his area of specialty is sooooo complicated that even other doctors get intimidated by what he tells them, and he’s not great about dumbing down his language.  So you know what this doctor does?  He compensates for the difficulty he has in explaining in lay mans terms his diagnosis and instructions by having a trained team that joins him in appointments.  He answers as many questions as he can, and then he turns the time over to his team (a nurse and a social worker) to interpret for him.  What I’m telling you is that here is a doctor that doesn’t have great communication skills, but is intuitive enough to see how important they are and find an effective way to compensate for what he likes.
  • Competent Staff.  Once you establish care, you are going to spend way more time interacting with a doctor’s staff than you are the doctor.  They are going to handle setting up appointments, fielding the questions that you call in, relaying messages to your doctor, sending out bills, and a zillion other things.  It’s so good to be able to know that your calls and questions will be addressed in a timely fashion, that someone with some training in your doctor’s specialty is going to be answering your questions, and that the person making appointments is going to be willing to try to work with your schedule and needs.  Incompetent staffing can make a good doctor look really bad.  No one is perfect, and a doctor that you love might not, for some reason, have a lot of say in who’s running the desk.  But my experience is that water seeks it’s own, and good doctors have a vested interest in making sure that their support staff do their job well.  If you encounter someone who is making the doctors look bad, tell the doctors!
  • Willingness to Consult Other Doctors.  This is important even if you don’t have a child with extraordinary medical needs, because you just never know when you might need the help of another specialist.  I’ve noticed that specialized doctors are pretty comfortable bringing other specialists to the table, because generally they work in a fairly collaborative environment.  Sometimes general practitioners are a little nervous about referring you to a specialist, unless it’s very evident that you need their care.  I think maybe, since they are usually in the less collaborative environment of private practice, some gp’s worry that they’ll be wasting the specialist’s time if it’s not obvious that you need that specialist.  Our pediatrician in Indiana, Dr. B, was always really great about working with the various specialists on our team.  There were quite a few times when, after looking at Superkid or Lily, she’d say, “I’m just going to run this by Dr. E or Dr. S at the children’s hospital,” then she’d have us wait in the exam room while she phoned in and consulted.  There was more than one occasion when her willingness to consult with someone else kept us out of the hospital or kept us from imminent disaster.  It’s really, really important to pick doctors who recognize their own limitations and aren’t too proud to ask for the help of other physicians.

I find it pretty interesting that pediatric patients quickly pick up on many of these same qualities.  Remember Superkid’s response when I asked her about what makes a good doctor?

He or she getting to know the patient.  Knowing what medical problem they have and coming in to check on the kids if it looks like anything is weird with their oxygen or something else.  For instance, when I was in the hospital–Riley Hospital–I found out that if I panted like a dog, the weird squiggly lines on a computer that the doctor used to watch my oxygen would change.  And it would turn into big squiggly lines and little squiggly lines.  This was fun, because whenever I got bored, I could just pant like a dog and the doctors would come in to talk to me.  That was when I was five or four.  {Nothing Sariah enjoys more than visitors!  She played that trick a lot.}

Also, a good doctor is someone who you can know and trust.  Like, I can trust my doctors that they know what is wrong with me, and I trust them that they can do something to make it better.

Exactly.  The bottom line is that it might take some time, but you deserve to have a doctor that you can “know and trust.”  Everyone does.  Be an advocate for your child (or anyone else you help to care for) and do what it takes to find the good ones.  Don’t be afraid to leave the bad ones in the dust.  But that’s a post for another day….

Would you like to read the other posts in this series?  Click the button below.

A Trip to Holland (A Windmill Words Blog)
I’m currently offering a giveaway for the book Preemptive Love, a story of Iraqi children with CHDs and the people who are trying so hard to save them.  Click the button below to enter the giveaway.
A Trip to Holland (a Windmill Words blog)


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