Tuesday, August 5, 2014

When Your Doctor is Condescending

We had a recent ER visit with Punkin for an allergic reaction.  I wasn't sure what caused the reaction but I did have a suspicion.  I believed she had an allergic reaction to a fire ant bite.  But since Punkin has no diagnosed allergies, it was just a guess (although a somewhat educated guess).

When we entered the ER I showed the nurse Punkin's foot which was very swollen and red.  It looked like it had multiple bites on it.  The nurse agreed that it looked like she had bitten.  We both thought fire ants were a likely possibility.

After getting Punkin all settled and checking her vitals, I waited for the doctor.  I hoped it would be the same doctor we had seen before in this particular ER.  Unfortunately, it wasn't.  A lady breezed into the room and started tossing questions my way.  Then she dismissively waved in Punkin's direction and said that they would be sending us home soon with some Benadryl.

I was beginning to feel frustrated.  She had not even touched Punkin or even come close to her, much less examined her.  She offered not encouragement, no diagnosis, no advice.  So, I thought it was time for me to get in my questions.  After all, I was paying a high premium for her time and she needed to give it to me so I could do what was best for Punkin.

I asked her what had caused this reaction - if it was likely that Punkin had some underlying allergies that were not diagnosed.  I mentioned that we had a family history of extreme allergies but that Punkin had previously tested negative even though I knew that not all tests were accurate.

She then launched into a tirade against allergy testing and how controversial it was.  That was my answer to that.

Then I asked her if she thought I should worry about a secondary reaction or a rebound reaction and also what I should do in the future.

Her answer was that I needed to give her Benadryl.  Then she went on to explain all the symptoms of anaplylaxis in "doctor speak," using terms such as "stridor and urticaria" without bothering to explain any of them.  What she didn't know was that I knew what these terms meant - if only a minimal understanding - because I'm an allergic mom.

My last question was the cause of the allergy.

She extolled the virtues of keeping an extensive food diary of everything that Punkin ate to help us find patterns that might point to an allergy.

I then explained that it had been several hours since Punkin had eaten anything but had been at the pool.  I asked her if she thought it could be fire ants and if the bites on her foot looked like fire ants.

She turned up her nose and scoffingly remarked that I would need a time machine to determine that.

She said she was going to go write us a prescription for Benadryl (hello, I don't need a prescription for that!) and then she was gone.

Now, I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt that she was a brilliant doctor and just couldn't relate well to patients.  Then I said I didn't care.  I don't think she deserves the benefit of the doubt.  Harsh, I know.  She went into her chosen field to help others, heal others, educate others, and provide care.  She did none of those things that day.  Rather, she harmed someone by further destroying my faith in doctors and discouraging me greatly.

There was no reason to be condescending to me, throwing technical terms in my face and refusing to answer my questions.  Her education does not make her somehow better than those she treats.  She should demonstrate caring and take the time to answer my questions honestly, even if the answer is, "I don't know."  Telling me that I need a time machine is sarcastic, hurtful, and dismissive.  Refusing to actually examine my daughter while ignoring my questions is truly arrogant.  Doctors should never forget that they are treating people and not just problems.  They need to make time to heal the worry, doubts, and fears and not just see people as a medical diagnosis that needs treatment.

Sadly, it's not the first encounter I've had with a condescending doctor. 

So what do you do when faced with a condescending doctor?

  • Pick a different one - If you can change doctors or take your business and your health elsewhere, then do.  I have left practices because I refused to have a doctor talk to me like less than a human.  It's ok to "fire" your doctor.  There are plenty out there who would be glad for your business and happy to help you.  Find the doctor that you feel cares about your or your child's best interests. 

  • Ask questions - If a doctor will only talk in "doctor speak" rather than plain language, don't be afraid to question and question and question.  Keep asking those questions until you get an answer that you can understand.  And question every person that you encounter from each doctor, nurse, or assistant.  Ask questions until you feel that they have been answered.  You don't need to apologize for wanting to understand your or your child's medical problems as completely as you can.

  • Speak up - There have been times when I disagreed with a doctor or didn't want a particular nurse coming into our room again for one reason or another.  I voiced my concerns calmly and politely.  I have refused certain testing in favor of taking a different route and I have forbidden nurses from entering our room again.  It's ok to disagree and it's more than ok to tell them that you do. 


Kathryn @ Mamacado said...

Well said....sorry you had such a negative experience at a stressful time for you and your daughter. It's difficult to continue asking questions when someone is trying to intimidate you with their "knowledge". Good reminders for us all in case we ever face difficult people like this too.

Lexi Henegar said...

Thanks! It is hard when dealing with difficult doctors. I always find it very frustrating when they are not being helpful during a stressful time. I don't need to be impressed with their knowledge. I need to experience their compassion and understanding.

Anonymous said...

I just found your website today. As a person with multiple allergies, and a parent of a child with multiple allergies, and multiple extended family members with assortment of severe allergies I have faced far too many "poor" medical doctors. You reached out for help and all you received was to be blown off and treated as an inferior. If you are able, change doctors, however I suspect you are trapped where you had to take whatever so called "doctor" was on duty that day. At least take close up pictures to keep in your child's documentation along with good written records of each doc visit.(always include the name of the doctor who saw her, and info such as fact she never even touched your child). I know that doesn't help you, just know to go by your gut and don't let that doctor keep you from trying to get your child help in the future. Right now I am struggling with what to do with a doctor who used to be good, but who seems to have changed and blows off any questions-I finally realized maybe it is a problem the doctor has developed. Aging? Personal problems? Alcohol? Something has definitely changed over the past 12 years. I was blaming myself, but I am not being a difficult patient, instead he seems to have changed. Good luck and always go by your gut!

Lexi Henegar said...

Yes, sometimes it is important to change doctors. And sometimes doctors change. It can be so hard to find a doctor that you trust and one that is an advocate for your child.

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