Earlier this month, I got a diagnosis for my son that caught me completely off guard. Now, it wasn’t a devastating blow or anything. On the surface, it’s a manageable condition. (I’m being vague on purpose, just to maintain some sense of privacy.) But given that my kiddo has no ongoing symptoms of this condition and that it’s not what we were at this specialist’s office for, it rendered me a tad speechless.
I nodded vaguely at what the doctor and then his nurse told me. They gave me room for questions, but I couldn’t think of any partly because, at that point, we’d been at this office for nearly three hours and I just wanted to leave.
Then I got home. And in talking to my husband about it, we agreed that we’d get a second opinion before starting our son on the paragraph of prescriptions the nurse had handed me before we left. And that’s when my anxiety really took over.
I am not a boat rocker by nature.
I don’t make waves if I can avoid it. For better or worse, I’m a compliant person, especially when it comes to authority figures. And that includes medical professionals. Part of this is practical. Doctors are experts. They go to school for a bunch of years and then continue learning about the human body for decades after. Compared to my medical degree from the University of Frantic Googling, doctors have real experience that should carry weight when it comes to medical decisions.
But beyond this, I have not ever been someone to question authority unless provoked. I was not a rebellious teen, other than some questionable fashion choices and the occasional attitude. My parents didn’t even set a curfew for me, presumably because they knew I never left the house. So it’s not surprising that questioning a doctor’s diagnosis comes as a giant leap outside my comfort zone. And to bring it up directly, like some kind of grown adult with a different opinion? Heaven forbid.
But the thing is, this isn’t my healthcare we’re talking about anymore.
It’s my son’s. And as vocally opinionated and unfiltered as he is, it’s not up to him to challenge a doctor if something seems amiss. For starters, he doesn’t understand that anything could be amiss. He takes several medications a day already, but he doesn’t fully grasp what they’re all for or why — though we have explained it to him, for the record. Why would he? He’s five.
For another thing, he wouldn’t know what words to use to get the help he needed. As he’s gotten older, he’s been able to be more descriptive. I can ask follow-up questions about a headache, for example, like where it hurts and how much, and he can give me answers that help me decide whether he needs Tylenol or just time.
But when it comes to chronic issues, ongoing complaints that don’t seem to get better with each new medication we try, that’s when things get dicey. So we call in the pros, the doctors who know how to assess a human body, and we see what they think. And it’s usually not a surprise, once we get a diagnosis. Over the years, a lot of what Arthur’s doctor has told me tracks with what I suspected or knew intuitively. This month, though, I was caught off guard by a diagnosis that didn’t make sense to me.
And when a doctor says something that goes against your gut, which voice do you listen to?
Both, of course. Because in the world of medicine, especially when it comes to tiny bodies, parental instinct and observation have as much place in the diagnostic process as a doctor’s opinion.
That’s not my own arrogance, either. My son’s pediatrician told me during one of his earliest visits that we (his parents) would be the best witness to something going awry. We live with him, after all, and while she’s his pediatrician, we know our child better than she does.
It’s comforting to have that kind of support from a doctor. But honestly? It’s also hard for me to accept on a practical level. What if my gut is wrong? What if what I’m worrying about and staying up late browsing Reddit threads for turns out to be something else entirely? Ahem: that’s where the expert advice comes back into play. It can’t be either/or. It’s both. Parents should trust their guts and listen to their child’s doctor(s) — and not necessarily in that order.
There’s no magic wand in the medical world.
Doctors are human. I don’t think that the first doctor we saw for Arthur’s symptoms was a quack. He seemed like a competent doctor and he was recommended by the pediatrician. But I disagreed, on a gut level, with his conclusion. And for what it’s worth, the second doctor we saw disagreed, too. He did his own evaluation and came to a different conclusion.
The second doctor also told me point blank that there’s “no Magic 8 Ball” when it comes to diagnosing kids this young. Maybe the first doctor will end up being right. Time will tell. In the meantime, we can play it by ear and take a less aggressive approach to treatment.
Even if the second specialist had agreed with the first, I think it was worth it to seek out another opinion. As I told the pediatrician, I just needed to be sure this was the right course. Medical problems aren’t easy to deal with when they’re your own. Making these kinds of decisions on behalf of another human is even trickier.
I realize that for some people, getting a second medical opinion is a far cry from rocking any boats. But for people like me, who shudder at the thought of making waves, it feels uncomfortably assertive, perhaps downright rebellious.
Until this month, I had never in my life asked for a second opinion from a doctor. But being a mom is a big ol’ learning process, isn’t it? You start doing things you never thought you were capable of, all on behalf of a tiny human who depends on you to show him the way.