Being My Family’s Health Advocate

Alternate title: Why is self-advocacy so hard, yet advocating for my loved ones PUSHES ALL MY MAMA BEAR BUTTONS and is a breeze?

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with medical professionals for much of my adult life. The health professionals I work best with are those who see me as a person, rather than as a bundle of symptoms and some data on a chart. Usually, these people are the nurses, the assistants, and the support staff. And I have always enjoyed a good rapport with them. But many of the worst experiences with health professionals have overwhelmingly been people with MD or DDS following their names. I’m thinking about this today, having just had to advocate for my teenager, who was treated insensitively and roughly by her orthodontist.

It feels unfair, to point a finger at an entire profession of people who have advanced degrees in health. And I have had a few really excellent doctors! But that experience has been in the minority for me. When trust breaks down, it feels like a broken power exchange. I give them power via trust, that they have my best interests at heart and information/experience to make my health and life more fulfilling. This is the patient/doctor relationship model, right? And yet. I no longer am able to extend that trust very easily anymore. Because that power I’ve given them has not been wielded, often times, with grace and understanding.

When I was in my early 20s, a dentist adamantly refused to believe that what I was feeling was intense pain, as he extracted a tooth after one injection of novocaine. “You can’t be feeling this,” he said to me. I didn’t go back to the dentist for 10 years.

While experiencing back labor with the birth of my first child, I was convinced by the anesthesiologist that I couldn’t still feel the labor after the epidural he had administered. The birth of my third child was very similar — back labor. I figured I’d try the epidural again, since I was out of my mind with the pain. Same experience. Same lack of understanding that the anesthesia was doing nothing, or very little, to ease my pain. Epidurals work on roughly 90% of women. I’m really not being a coward. Believe me, I can handle pain.

Our first pediatrician tried to convince my husband and I to stop co-sleeping because “You are never going to get that baby out of (your) bed.” And that I should only breastfeed my newborn every 4 hours, or she would get “spoiled.” The kicker was when he advised that I give my newborn formula at bedtime and throughout the night. This was all in ONE appointment, when my husband and I brought our 7-day-old infant in for our first office visit. We didn’t go back.

When I was in my mid 30s, I started experiencing blindingly painful intestinal pain. Tests showed I had sludge in my gall bladder, but no gall stones. The surgeon was eager to remove the gall bladder. A little too eager. I went home and did a complete cleanse. I stopped eating animal fats altogether for two weeks. The pain went away. I still have my gall bladder today.

The knee surgeon I saw a few years ago told me that THE ONLY THING I can do to ease the pain of the chondromalacia patella so that I can remain active is to lose 50 pounds. And then he handed me a pamphlet on weight loss, and walked out the door.

Maybe I’ve just been unlucky? I want to believe this is just bad luck.

Today, the first thing the orthodontist says to my very shy and sensitive, somewhat awkward 14-year-old upon looking into her mouth is “Hygiene not good. I can’t put braces on those teeth.”And then she proceeds to try to SHAME MY KID into escalating her dental hygiene. I’m glad I was standing there, because I reminded the orthodontist that shame isn’t motivating, and to please be more gentle with my daughter. She then went into a longer explanation —entirely unnecessary — about WHY she can’t put braces on the bottom teeth. Yeah. We get it! Shut the fuck up and be nice please? On the way to the car, my daughter stopped and turned around to me and said “I don’t like that doctor. She was being rough with me. I don’t like her.” Tears in her eyes. Fear in her voice.

I brought her to the car so I could go back inside and kick some ass. Which I did.

The result of which is that the orthodontist in question will be informed as to our concerns. The manager promised me that my daughter will receive an apology, and THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN AGAIN. I’ve convinced my daughter to give this orthodontist one last chance. She agreed. I will allow them to try to do better, to make good. ONE chance. And I will be watching. And it will be up to my daughter, whether or not we switch orthodontists.

Dear pediatricians, dentists, anesthesiologists, surgeons, orthodontists and etc whom I encounter in my life: I don’t have the personal data to suggest that I can trust you with my kids, just as I can’t trust you with myself. So. I will be right there. Advocating for them. Talking to your office managers when I feel that you are being an asshole or incompetent. MAKING YOU ACCOUNTABLE. You work for me. You work for that 14-year-old in the chair. The one who’s so nervous of you judging her that she is almost shaking. The one who has been brushing her teeth raw for the last week to meet your approval.

I want to believe you can do better than this.

About Terry L. Holt

Writer. Mother. Goddess. President of the Save the Dandelions Club. Climber of trees.
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