How does the saying go? A doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient and fool for a physician.
If you treat your loved ones, who do they have for a doctor? Do they even have a doctor, or do they just have a script pad, referral pad, yes-man, or an annoying puller-of-medical-strings? Do they have over-diagnosis, inappropriate tests and treatments? Or do they have reassurance where none is warranted?
It seems that the children of doctors are in danger of one of two extremes- being tested for everything, labelled with unnecessary diagnoses and treated when no treatment may be the best option, or… walking around on their broken leg for weeks before being xray-ed.
The self-aware doctor may struggle with finding the finer balance between the two.
Recently my baby boy, afflicted with the latest in a series of day-care viruses, developed bronchiolitis and mild bronchopneumonia.
I dutifully took him along to the GP, several times, as his illness progressed.
As he worked to breathe, I stared obsessively at his chest, neck and face, monitoring his level of respiratory distress. I knew that most parents would take him in to hospital with that nasty wet cough and wheeze, but from my (brief) paediatric registrar experience I knew that he was not yet needing inpatient support. So I watched him. And watched him.
I wished I was not a doctor. Knowing the worst that can happen and understanding the disease process can make you worry more rather than less, I found.
I was glad I was a doctor. Knowing it was ok to give him a little more prednisone, knowing how to calculate the correct dose of antibiotic after a mistake was picked up at the pharmacy, having access to a practice with oxygen and salbutamol (the latter predictably had little effect but was worth a try)… How would I have managed all this otherwise? I guess by taking him back to the GP yet again, or in to the hospital, like a ‘normal’ parent.
Being a doctor though, you are highly conscious of how you and your family will be perceived by their treating doctor or team. You want to be a ‘good’ patient, that only comes in when necessary, is cooperative and grateful.
You are aware that it is vital to be a parent and not a doctor to your children, but it is impossible to divorce the two parts of yourself and irresistible to use your doctor knowledge to ease the path where possible, or ease the load on the actual treating team.
I am so grateful to my son’s GP, to all doctors who are comfortable treating doctors and their families. It can provide an added challenge to any clinical scenario.
My son thankfully recovered and is now full of beans and learning to crawl, while we stagger around shellshocked. Ah, the resilience of youth!
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