Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Practical Tips for Taking Your Loved One (or Yourself) to the Doctor

You could say our family has had a decent amount A LOT of experience with medical appointments. Of course, the last 7.5 years with John have provided quite the education, but then we also have three other children and my own medical factors requiring regular visits to the rheumatologist and high-risk OB (aka maternal-fetal medicine) with each pregnancy.  It may not come as a surprise that we are on a first name basis, exchange Christmas cards, and have the cell phone numbers of many of our doctors!
Dr. Berry in Boston; we love you!
In this post, I am going to share what I have learned over the years in hopes of making your future doctor visits both manageable and worthwhile.  Here we go!

1. Dress up for medical appointments!  Remember that you are seeing a professional, and YOU are also a professional (whether you are a professional mom/caregiver or perhaps you teach, practice law, or run a small business).  I have found that if I want to be treated with respect and as an intelligent human being with valid opinions, then I need to dress the part.  Additionally, “dressing for success” significantly boosts your mental and emotional poise.  And let’s face it, we often need the extra grit and mental fortitude in these types of situations.  When you dress professionally, you put your game face on and are ready to communicate clearly and effectively with your healthcare providers. 

2.  This leads me to my next point.  Remember that you are a TEAM with your doctors.  Your input is valuable!  You may not have been to medical school or be an expert in a certain field, but you certainly are the expert on yourself, your child, or aging parent.  My dad, a pediatrician himself, has been known to always ask a mother what she thinks is going on and to typically trust her instincts.
Granddaddy pediatrician, "Daddy B," with baby Andrew.
SO GRATEFUL to have a doctor in the family!  And we are crazy about him too!  :)
3.  Do not be afraid to speak up!  Again, you are a team, and the old adage is still true: there are no stupid questions (or at least most of the time, ha ha).  Additionally, don’t feel embarrassed if you need a doctor to explain something, especially highly technical medical jargon that is only commonplace in her field.  Remember that, just as this sounds like Greek to you, she probably does not know what a peplum is.  However, if you are a tailor or clothes designer, you would know that term.

John with our beloved Dr. Khwaja

Preparation is key…. So let’s back up…
Prior to the appointment:

4. Do any research or chatting with knowledgable parties (other parents are always essential resources for us) prior to the appointment.

5. If you have an opinion that you think will challenge traditional medical wisdom, it is game changer to bring in a medical journal article supporting your view, i.e. not quotes from a mommy blog, as informative as they can be (and great places to start, I might add).  I learned this the hard way (and continue to, as I’m always researching new possibilities for John in particular).  
     Here is one of my stories: I found all these compelling arguments on delaying the newborn baby’s bath following delivery.  It resonated with my gut and made logical sense.  Apparently, the vernix (the substance that covers the baby when they are born) possesses antimicrobial properties, providing a barrier of sorts to any harmful germs or “perinatal pathogens” that may be floating around.  Additionally, delaying the bath helps the baby maintain adequate body temperature and is a bonding connection to the mother. BUT, when it came time to go over my plan with my current OB (who I really love, by the way), all my great reasons came out in a jumble and I quickly became the crazy hippie who didn’t have a proper appreciation for the advancements of modern medicine (which I do).  Well, I came to my next appointment prepared, with scholarly article in hand.  He later told me that he ended up showing it to all of his partners in their next meeting.  And as a side note, vernix is not gross.  The nurses will still wipe your baby down, and by the time the next nurse comes in for the following shift, she will not even know your baby didn’t have a bath!  You can wait until you get home.      Links are included at the end for those who are curious about this particular example (a.k.a. other dorks like me).
Dr. Taylor, the man!  He delivered both of my Atlanta babies. Here we are post-Michael.
Dr. Chugani with baby Michael; she is also a great part of the team!

6. Write down your questions and take them with you (make a note in your calendar as to where they are and a reminder to bring them to the appointment).  It is shocking how quickly even pressing questions can fly out of your brain the moment the doctor walks in. Don't rely on your memory alone!

7. If you have children that are not being seen at a particular appointment, try to arrange childcare for them so you do not have to bring them with you.  You want to make the most of your time and not have the added distractions of a fussy, hungry, goofy, or even delightful child. 

8. Bring snacks and drinks as you never know how long these adventures take. Books and toys are also a plus.

John in the early days during one of many EEG studies in 2009.

9. Figure out the parking situation in advance; 
Arrive Early.   Many doctor’s offices addresses are actually different from where you should actually park.  Ask the receptionist what you need to know about finding the building and parking when you are on the phone scheduling the appointment.  Ask for multiple landmarks and intersections.  GPS is not enough!  Arriving early is an easy way to reduce anxiety and regroup before the appointment begins.  Oh, and bring cash!  Oftentimes, parking decks or lots charge and still do not accept plastic.

10. Bring a relative or close friend with you ONLY IF you think that will be helpful, but let them know in advance what you want his or her role to be, i.e. do you want your friend to be a silent supporter, take notes for you, or jump in and ask questions.  You may also want to let the doctor know that he has permission to discuss anything in front of your buddy.

11. Clear your mind, pray, meditate, do some deep breathing…. whatever it takes to calm any anxiety or tension prior to the visit.  Again, mental focus is key.  There is a time and place for tears or anger outbursts, and trust me, I have shed PLENTY of tears with nurses and doctors. And probably been a little witchy at times, too.  However, I often find I am in a better place and leave an appointment in a better place if I view myself as a professional and reserve my superfluous emotions for another time. 
Baby Daniel with pediatrician and mentor extraordinaire....  there are no words!!  We miss you, Dr. Wrubel!

During and after the appointment:

11. Ask your questions!   Have a pad of paper with you (yes, this is often a lot better in the moment than your iPhone, and it is clear you are not texting!), and make a note of additional questions that may spring from the answers you are hearing or items you are discussing.  I like to even ask a doctor if there is anything else I should be asking. 

12.  Remember that this time has been allotted for you or your loved one. Try to fight the temptation (or reality) of feeling rushed.

13. If any procedures, medications, or treatments are recommended, obviously ask why and explore the rationale behind each suggestion. Additionally, ask if there are any alternatives that should be considered and ask how all of the suggestions have worked in the general population. Percentages help, especially when weighing potential costs and benefits.  What would the medical professional recommend for his son/friend/mother/etc?
Yes, this is a real thing.  Resting Metabolic Rate study.
14. Write down any follow-up or action steps and go ahead and make notes of these in your calendar, both for implementation and alongside the date for your next appointment.

15. If you had labs are other tests performed, ask when you should expect to get a call with results or when is a good time to follow up. I receive better and quicker results if I call rather than waiting on an office to call me. Results often come in early, and it could take them awhile to get around to calling you. Additionally, scan in any and all records to your computer. It is extremely helpful to have electronic copies at the ready.  And if you don't have access to a scanner, you can download the CamScanner app for free!
With our favorite Boston researcher, Dr. Agrawal, and the talented Meghan!
16. Get any scripts (this is the fancy medical term for prescriptions) you need before leaving the doctor’s office.  AND if possible, ask the doctor or secretary to call in the prescriptions to your pharmacy, as that will save you a step and at least one trip to the pharmacy!  You may additionally require scripts for medical equipment, orthotics, further labs, etc.  

17.  Go ahead and make a follow up appointment, AND see how far out the doctor is currently booking. That way you know how much buffer time you will have should you need to change your appointment down the road.  Also, clarify who you will see during your next appointment and state your preference of who you would like to see (doctor, nurse practitioner, etc… there are benefits to all routes).

18. Congratulate yourself!  You did it, and you are a GREAT advocate!  Along these lines, I recommend having something planned to look forward to following the doctor’s appointment, whether it’s a candy bar like my mom always let us pick out following our appointments as kids, a dinner out, or a Netflix marathon. We often work so hard to accomplish these tasks, and then we move right into the next thing.  Let’s pause, celebrate, and thank the Lord for continuing to carry us through! 
Grateful for friends like Bryan and so many others (you!) who have supported us over the years!
Fortunately, he lived near Boston during our many trips up there!
Red Sox game, courtesy of a kind supporter of the hospital.
That time we almost walked into the dugout and were greeted by the grounds crew...

(For those of you who are wondering where “What’s in a Name? – Part 2” is…. Stay tuned!)

Just a few of many links on the amazing and protective properties of the vernix caseosa:


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  2. Amazing post! So incredibly helpful to have these steps and suggestions all written out. Thank you for sharing this. Like you said, these are great tips for all doctor's appointments, not just for your kids. This is such a great resource.