What if you can’t stand your child’s pediatrician?
I remember the moment my long-simmering (but still mild) dislike of my daughter’s pediatrician boiled over into actual antipathy. We were discussing Pumpkin’s milestones at her third birthday checkup when the doctor asked if she moved into a bed yet. I said no, and added that Pumpkin loves her crib and hasn’t even tried to climb out. (And this is a child who loves to climb everything else.)
The doctor’s reaction: “Most children have moved into a bed by age 2.”
My response, with an attempt at humor: “I can’t even imagine what her room would look like in the morning if she could get up whenever she wanted. Clothes and diapers would be everywhere, and she’d probably sleep on the floor or in her glider.” Said with a smile and chuckle.
The doctor’s response: “Well, she’s going to have to go into a bed eventually.” With zero (0) humor. No smile. She wasn’t trying to be funny. She was being sarcastic.
I should have replied with something like: “Oh, really? We were hoping to keep her in the crib until college to save money on a new bed and sheets.”
But that would have been the end of our doctor-parent relationship, and I am not 100 percent certain if it should be over. Now, let me say, if this was the first instance of us disagreeing, I probably would let it go, but it’s not. Just for instance, here’s another priceless exchange from the same visit:
Doctor: How much milk does she drink?
Me: About 9 ounces in the morning. She won’t drink milk later in the day, except chocolate milk, and even then, she’ll drink perhaps a half-cup. She really doesn’t like milk or even yogurt.
Doctor: She should be drinking three to four cups a day! (With a look that suggest she thinks I’m either stupid or negligent.)
Me (silently to myself): What do you want me to do? Have you ever tried to make a toddler eat or drink something they don’t want to consume? (For the record, we have this milk conversation every time we have a checkup.) Out loud, I offered that she eats cheese. To that, the doctor replied: “Doesn’t all that cheese make her constipated?” (I never said it was a lot of cheese!)
But even these disagreements â€” and even her sanctimonious attitude â€” wouldn’t get under my skin so much if there weren’t a bigger problem: She doesn’t seem to “get” that Pumpkin is a preemie.
Our first pediatrician, who was recommended by the doctors at the White Plains Hospital NICU, was terrific. He seemed to really understand the unique needs of micro-preemies like Pumpkin, who weighed just 1 pound, 13.4 ounces at birth. He was extremely cautious when it came to Pumpkin’s health. He ordered her to avoid public spaces and to stay away from all children, even her cousins, until she weighed 15 pounds. (A milestone she didn’t reach until shortly before her first birthday.) She had monthly shots of vaccine for RSV during her first winter. For you non-preemie parents, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is unpleasant but not an emergency. For preemies, it’s a big deal. I appreciated his personal attention. I liked the way he plotted Pumpkin’s growth on a preemie growth chart targeted to her week of gestation at birth. I was very sorry when we had to switch doctors because we switched insurance.
Our new doctor dismisses every attempt I make to talk about Pumpkin in the context of being a preemie. Last year on Pumpkin’s second birthday, she was unhappy with her speech development and suggested an evaluation, adding that we have to judge her by her birth date rather than her due date. The speech therapist disagreed and gauged Pumpkin’s development using her due date, which is a full three months later than her birth date. She turned out to be ineligible for services because although her expressive abilities lagged, her receptive speech was actually ahead of the curve. Perhaps not so amazingly, come August of last year, just after her due date birthday of July 27, Pumpkin’s speech blossomed.
So, this year again, the doctor was unhappy with Pumpkin’s speech, adding, “Most 3-year-old girls are chatterboxes, and she hasn’t talked to me at all.” Well, Pumpkin takes a while to warm up to strange people, and what kind of pediatrician judges people this way? She’s never met a shy child before? I shared the story of what happened with the evaluation last year, including the details of the speech boom in August. Her reply, given with obvious irritation: “Well, you can wait until July, but that’s only two months, and I doubt it will make a difference.”
Plus, she only charts Pumpkin’s growth on the regular chart, where her weight is in just the 10th percentile. I’d like to know how she measures up to other preemies born in her week of gestation, but I can’t find out at that pediatrician’s office. (Parents of preemies: Do you have this problem, too?)
So, what do you all think I should do. I started writing this post as a sort of “Can this doctor-parent relationship be saved?” Maybe it’s really a “Dear Joan” letter.
The hard part: How do you pick a new doctor?
Parenting books often have advice about choosing a pediatrician, suggesting that expecting parents interview potential doctors much like you are a boss hiring someone for a job. Has anyone actually done this? Are you expected to pay for the doctor’s time in these cases? Insurance sure isn’t going to cover it, and I’d be surprised if doctors are so eager for patients (especially the potentially cranky kind that demand pre-visit interviews) that they are giving their time away.
How did you choose your pediatrician? Do you like him/her? Has s/he ever said anything that made you want to wring his/her neck?
(Also: Out of curiosity: How old was your child when you moved him/her into a bed? And was it because of a new sibling? I find it hard to believe that “most children” are in their own beds by age 2!)