I’ve had a handful of invaluable phone appointments with my mother’s doctors over the past few months that I had to specially request, but they were granted quickly and generously.
Mom has finally turned the corner on severe depression that had lasted much, much too long. She no longer wanted to live, and that unshakable thought had been torturing her (and me) through seemingly endless days during the past year.
I’ve learned the agonizing way that in order for things to turn out best for my mother, I need to insert myself into the work of her doctors much more intensely than used to feel comfortable or appropriate to me.
I had to cross some boundaries, stop being the listener and responder, start giving specific, directive advice, and boldly disagree with plans and procedures that made no sense for Mom in the context of her history and unique personality.
In order for this to work, you need to cut through the belief system that someone with a professional degree in medicine could ever know what’s best for your loved one any more than I could.
Sadly, it took a few doctor oversights, med errors, and lots of suffering on Mom’s part before I was willing to step up and start asserting myself as an equal authority on her care. But once I was able to push our interactions with doctors to that level of collaboration, instead of hierarchy, things started rolling in Mom’s favor much more quickly.
Now working as a team, we put information out on the table and then make a plan that neither the doctors nor I could craft as carefully or effectively alone.
The reality is simply that the large majority of even the very best doctors today don’t have the time or depth of practice to be experts on each patient, and that’s where the caregiver comes in as an essential check and balance.
This can be a fine line to walk, and prickly too, if you’re dealing with a medical professional whose ego, insecurity, or need to control is obstructing progress, or if you’re not receiving enough specific information to be able to help with decision-making.
Or perhaps you prefer not to be in that role, which is completely valid when you trust the doctor, but naive if you think unintentional errors will not occur now and then.
Unfortunately, but somewhat understandably, it will take most doctors some time to get to the place of trusting a caregiver to be a reliable and trustworthy advocate, to be well-versed on the medical issues at hand, to keep a level head, listen carefully, and know when to push and when to let go. (And the reverse is obviously true too, in order for caregivers to trust doctors.)
I can’t say I’ve mastered all those skills, but I think that doctors start to get a sense of when you’re tenaciously committed to the best possible care, and that’s when things can start to shift to a cooperative relationship which is, in my experience, the only way to reach the highest levels of quality patient care.
You just cannot assume anymore that:
- doctors are thoroughly reading charts and past history
- doctors in one area of care are collaborating, communicating, and getting updates from the other medical professionals involved with their patients
- medication allergies or contraindications from past unpleasant or ineffective experiences will always be noted and remembered/revisited
- doctors will always start off with the smallest, gentlest effective dose of a medication before increasing to the average dose in order to avoid undue stress
It can be difficult and awkward-feeling to tell a doctor to slow down and hold up a prescription until you have time to digest the pros and cons and think it through. Fortunately, I was able to hand pick all Mom’s new doctors based on word of mouth and community reviews, so she now has a team of professionals who are more concerned about her well-being than about being right all of the time.
Many of you are probably way ahead of me here, but I think I finally have it drilled into my head that…
If a doctor continues to feel bothered by your thoughtful questions, comments, & educated, respectful opinions, it’s time to move on to a true professional who understands that it takes teamwork to get anywhere close to understanding the complexity of each unique senior who walks through the door.
Have you had success collaborating with doctors? How did you find a good match?