Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Good Doctor

Since this all started, Thomas has seen, I dunno, a bazillion doctors. Most of them were excellent. We have, however, had some bad experiences (I'll share a funny story later this week about one), and thinking about them made me start compiling a list of what makes the good ones good.

How to Identify a Good Doctor
The Good Doctor tells the whole truth, carefully and kindly. She or he encourages us to ask questions. And he doesn’t feel the need to drive the point home – just because we’re happy after a successful surgery, for example, the Good Doctor doesn’t remind us right then that we are not out of the woods yet. Our docs are really, really good about this.

The Good Doctor sees a person, a family, not just a patient. When I say, “Thomas needed suctioning every ten minutes last night,” the Good Doctor also hears “My infant and I were up all night and are now both frantically tired.”

The Good Doctor looks you in the eye – us and Thomas. On the parent side, this means that even when he thinks our questions are off base, which of course sometimes they are, he looks straight at us and talks through it with us. On the kid side, see the following -

The Good Doctor knows that Thomas is just little, not totally illogical. I think being a kid in a doctor’s office is like this – your parent and a big stranger in weird clothes are talking, talking; you’re thinking about your toes…and then suddenly the stranger lunges at you with a shiny object. Of COURSE you’re going to freak out. Good Doctors know that it actually matters to look Thomas in the eye and say things like, “Hi, Thomas. I’m going to examine you now,” and to move slowly and friendly-like.

The Good Doctor knows what the parents’ job is. Scott and I are Thomas’s Project Managers of Cancer –not the experts, but the coordinators, the person in charge of tracking deadlines, communication, equipment, expenditures, and reports. Without our careful attention and questions, Thomas’s care would be more cumbersome for the hospital. A Good Doctor knows this and facilitates our informed participation. Our doctors did this from the beginning, even when we didn't understand our role yet.

The Good Doctor doesn’t weigh you down with his own feelings, but he gets that it sucks that your kid has cancer. Oncologists are sometimes the only people who truly know that a nuclear bomb is going off in your family, and their patience and focus makes sentient decision-making possible. Our oncologists seem to genuinely, personally care for Thomas, and that has made it so much easier to trust their expertise.

I think it must be really hard to be an oncology doctor or nurse. You spend a lot of time with kids in real trouble; keeping their humanity present in the hospital room every day risks breaking your heart. But our team does it. We owe them, and not just a bazillion dollars.

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