I’m certain that I’ve written previously on the perils of being your own physician. Many of these perils should be obvious to a disinterested observer, and many apply to being a physician to family members. But in small, close-knit communities, some familiarity with one’s patients is often inevitable. Where does a patient become “too close”? Sibling? Cousin? Next door neighbor? Person you grew up with and have dinner with from time to time?
These questions don’t have obvious solutions, but to be a doctor, whether to those close to you or to strangers, one must recognize that wishes (in the psychological sense) can kill (in the concrete sense).
One day my daughter was on rounds with me and as usual I bought her a cookie. A little while later she was complaining of not feeling well, having a sore throat, and a stomach ache. By the time I got her home, she had hives. We called the doctor, who didn’t seem too concerned, and we gave her benadryl and an albuterol treatment. She was better within the hour. My wife pointed out to me that our daughter was having an allergic reaction—a severe one. I hadn’t even considered it, but of course she was right. An ingredient list of the cookies showed they were made with walnuts, and later testing confirmed a walnut allergy.
As parents, we are like doctors to our own children. We don’t want to believe anything bad can happen to them and we may naturally minimize their complaints. This is not always a bad thing. Frequently, physical complaints are what we get from kids when actually they are anxious or tired or cranky. And for many, it feels saner than its opposite; we may ridicule parents who take the kid to the doctor every time they blink funny.
I recently came upon an interesting blog, whose latest post is called, “I am a monster.” I can understand the author’s fears, being a parent myself, but it’s interesting how he takes a normal occurrence (trying to judge a child’s level of illness or injury), and conflates it with his own pathology. Most parents feel guilty when anything happens to their kids, and many parents are burdened with various constitutional biases that determine how they make these judgments. Barriers to seeking medical care are innumerable. Aside from the obvious difficulty in determining which boo-boos require a doctor’s evaluation, parents may worry about economic barriers. They may have difficulty getting transportation to an adequate facility. They may have their own fears of finding something wrong if they do go to the doctor.
But these fears are not the problem. Introspection—a real examination of motivations in decision making—and collaboration with another adult can help with each individual decision and those that come after. The blog post was a brave confession of fears all of us parents carry.