Written by: Josh April 13 2011
I just fired our pediatrician.
He doesn’t know it yet, but he has been given the fated pink slip of ‘Yeah, I’ll call later to schedule the next appointment.’ Read: axed. Terminated with extreme prejudice, as the sagely sidekick Garth once mused. “Why, God, why?” screams the kneeling whitecoat, sterilized fists pounding on the cold tile.
Simple, buddy—you were unprofessional.
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No, he didn’t do anything that you might normally associate with that word. There was no inappropriate banter, no name-calling, no hygienically suspect garb. He simply was not behaving to what I deem a professional standard for a man in his profession. Doctors are measured against a higher bar whether they like it or not. Remember the game of Life? You always wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer; 50 grand a year was way better than that poor teaching slob making 20.
Listen, this is what happened. This particular doctor (let’s call him Bob), walked into our room, barely said hi, and asked about three questions while he looked over my son the way most men would eyeball the Master’s on a rainy Sunday. He was only casually invested, like, “I know it’s supposed to be important, and I guess I really have nothing better to do.” He told me that despite Baby’s early development issues, he was ready for solid food. Caught unawares, all I could muster was, ‘You know he has no teeth, right?’ The rest of the conversation went something like this:
B: He doesn’t need them.
J: Okay, how do I do that? I mean, should we start with carrots?
B: (mild scoff) No, rice cereal.
J: (Thinking of Snap, Crackle and Pop) Is there a specific kind? Or do I just buy this at the market?
B: Yeah, the baby kind. Powder form.
J: Okay, then what do I do with it?
B: (mild sigh) Just mix it with some milk.
J: (Wondering how much milk to mix it with, let alone how much to feed him) Okay, and then how much milk to we give him in addition?
B: (subtle but detectable ‘you’re officially bothering me’ look) He’ll let you know.
J: (Thinking that in addition to being utterly toothless, he also is not the clearest of communicators) Okay, thanks.
Now Bob was clearly having a bad day. Poor Bob. I guess he was just not feeling it that day, caught up in the whole healing-the-sick thing. Perhaps Bob had a nasty hangnail or had ingested some disagreeable al pastor tacos for lunch. It could be that Bob was going through a divorce or had a parent in hospice or maybe, just maybe, Bob was just having a bad day; happens to the best of us.
I don’t care, Bob.
Not to sound callous, and I certainly don’t wish ill on him and his family, but there are certain professions (and I’d have to say doctors and teachers run straight to the front of this line) that are not afforded bad days. IT guys can have bad days. 7-Eleven clerks can have bad days. I can have bad days. You can’t, Bob. It’s not fair, I know, but I’m not going to apologize. You can’t drag your personal baggage into the examination room. C’est la vie.
My wife naturally freaked out. Disengaging from the pediatrician wasn’t in the paradigm of expected answers to ‘How was the check-up, honey?’ The good news is, I’ve got a whole alphabetized directory of replacements just waiting to get their hands on Baby, searchable by zip code. Who are these people? Who knows? But somehow I’ll have to find out before his 6-month checkup.
And this highlights the real problem here. My parents still tell me tales of my childhood doctor. You know who I’m talking about—my doctor, the guy that delivered me into this world, cut my cord and whom I later visited for years of checkups. He was a person, with a family and a life. We knew what kind of car he drove and what brand of gum he chewed. He could be forgiven a bad day.
I don’t even remember the name of the doctor who delivered Baby. She was part of the “team” of four who were supporting our main doctor, and in the appointments leading up to the birth, I had the pleasure of meeting only two of the others. It was a crapshoot, a roll of the dice, who would deliver our son. Our main doctor didn’t even show up at the hospital during our three day stay, and we haven’t seen her again to this day. She wasn’t a choice for continuing care anyway, because she isn’t a pediatrician.
So we got out the catalog. Some doctors are friend-recommended, some are out-of-network, some aren’t taking new patients. You end up picking a name that sounds soothing. Like Bob. And then four months later, you fire Bob for having a bad day. And go back to the catalog.
It’s probably not Bob’s fault, ultimately. He likely has the same complaints about the state of his profession, clings to the same idealized visions of the doctor as both healer and friend, weeps about it nightly. And he should—it is sad. Doctors have been marginalized, watered-down, like Subway. When Subway first came to be, they made awesome sandwiches. But then everything gets corporate-y, measured, homogenized. Like those original Subway hoagie models fresh off the assembly lines, doctors used to have more meat on them. They used to know their patients and, ergo, make judgments based on solid histories and firsthand information. Now they are more educated opiners than anything, and have to be regarded with at least a modicum of skepticism.
I’m certainly not suggesting you shun doctors and their expertise. My point is only that you spend way more time with and know your child better than anyone. Take a list of questions with you to each appointment. Hear your doctor out, but ultimately, listen to your gut (and your baby) to make your final decisions.