A negative experience at a doctor’s office…and some (maybe) news

Bedside manner.  Respect.  Clear communication.

These are necessary ingredients in a successful visit with a doctor, regardless of your sex, age, or locale. When a doctor lacks one (or all) it creates an atmosphere of fear and distrust.  With fear and distrust come disempowerment and a loss of confidence.  Add in pregnancy hormones and a strong personality, and creates an explosive keg that could go off at any moment.

I exploded yesterday.

It took many interviews, but I am extremely lucky to have found an ob/gyn that I have connected with.  It’s probably not surprising that she’s female, a mother of young children, on the younger side, and far more likely to regard me as a peer.  That my last OB also fit this loose description is also unsurprising.  I have grown to trust both of my OB’s because I have never felt belittled, disrespected, or unsafe in their offices.

The person who took (and deserved) the full force of my explosive temper was a sonographer.

Not because the appointment started over 30 minutes late. 

The reality of doctor’s offices (regardless of specialty) is that over the course of the day you can run later and later especially if you are giving each patient the care they need instead of the care you can fit into a tight slot.  I’m sure I’ve been the cause of many a delayed appointment in my time, and while it is boring, it is understandable.

I was not thrilled when the doctor didn’t bother to introduce himself.

I will admit that I was put off by a doctor not bothering to introduce himself.  It’s not exactly empowering to be laying on a bed with part of your body exposed.  It is further less than empowering for someone who is supposed to perform a procedure to just walk in and not bother introducing themselves.  I felt small.  I felt dehumanized…that I was perceived as less than deserving of a minimum courtesy, like “Hi, I’m Dr. X,” before you start squeezing ultrasound gel on my exposed skin.

By itself, it’s a turn off, but this was a one-time appointment and I was willing to shrug it off.

I was a little upset when I was greeted with “Third Baby, Congratulations.”

Let me be clear here, just as I was clear with every doctor that has ever asked me a question relating to my fertility.  This is my third pregnancy.  My first ended in a miscarriage of a child, Hope, that was planned for and very much wanted.  Whom our family still mourns the loss of.  My second pregnancy resulted in Elanor’s birth.  I am optimistic that this pregnancy will end in our SECOND live birth.  A third pregnancy doesn’t equal a third child.

Perhaps I am a bit over sensitive on this topic.  I have two close friends and know several more through friends of friends and via blog that have struggled with infertility, with repeated miscarriage, and who have had a far rougher road to travel to parenthood than I have.

The assumption that pregnancy always equals the birth of a child was the myth that kicked my ass and sent me into a month-long depression after I lost Hope’s pregnancy.  It took Elanor’s birth for me to fully accept that my body wasn’t defective.  That I wasn’t defective.  That assumption is part of the reason there is a culture of silence on the subject of miscarriage…particularly given that miscarriage is incredibly common in the first 10-12 weeks of pregnancy…between 25 and 30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, some before the woman realizes she’s missed a period, many in the early weeks of pregnancy as the fertilized egg tries to multiply itself and carry out the genetic coding.  Coding that sometimes has a bug in it.  The process of turning one cell into a fully formed human is not easy…it’s almost surprising that miscarriage isn’t even more common than it already is.  As a culture we don’t talk about it, though.  I have a lot of anger about this silence.  I also have a lot of anger that because I suffered one miscarriage, I’ve never really trusted my body again.  I spent all of Elanor’s pregnancy expecting her die in utero…my anxiety was so high that I went into counseling to deal with it.  I’ve done better with this pregnancy, but I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to nightmares, to fear, and to the truth that I hold my breath every time I go into my OB’s office and don’t let it out until I hear that reassuring “whoosha-whoosha” sound of the baby’s heart beating healthily.

I also reacted to what I perceived as a tone not unlike the one used on prize showdogs when they’re about to whelp another high priced set of puppies.

With all of that baggage, coupled with a first show of proof that this doctor wasn’t reading my chart all that carefully, I replied testily that it was potentially my second live birth, not my third child.

However, I realize that this baggage is also intensely personal and probably could have let it go, had the rest of the appointment gone differently.

I most definitely was grinding my teeth every time Dr. X called me “my darling.”

Here ‘s where things began to go off the rails.

I am 32 years old.  I am a fully functional, intelligent adult.  I do not take well to strange men referring to me as “my darling,” or any other condescending pet name to which they feel entitled to crown me.

I realize that there are generational differences.  I realize that there are cultural differences in play.  None of that entitles an older man, in a professional setting, to call me a pet name rather than “Crystal” (which I’m fine with, and generally prefer) or “Mrs. N—” (if they want to be more formal).  My experience in Singapore has largely been that a doctor will introduce themselves to me and then ask me what I prefer to be called.  I would roll my eyes but likely take this sort of pet name calling from a much older man in a casual setting, and it doesn’t bother me when taxi uncles address my 2 1/2 year old with little pet names like that.  Those are moments where setting implies a level of informality that make it if not okay, at least understandable within the context of age/culture. It is never acceptable to refer to a medical patient whom you’ve never met by a pet name, especially when you haven’t bothered to tell them yours.  Period.  Full stop.

I remember looking at Ravi, who was sitting next to me and shooting him a glance that said “Did you just hear what I heard?”  I seem to remember him giving me his look that’s equivalent to an eye roll, as if to say “what an ass.”

Had he been competent, I would still be pissed about this, but I wouldn’t have ended the appointment.

The final straw, however, was when we couldn’t agree on the purpose of my visit

You want to have a lousy bedside manner?  Fine, not everyone cares about that.

You want to talk to me like I’m no older or worldly than my 2 year old?  Pisses me off, but some women feel codded and safe when older men do that, and you don’t know how to read your audience (and ugh! to those women), especially when it’s a first visit.

But when we can’t even agree what job I’m there for you to do?  Then we have an issue that isn’t going to slide and isn’t going end well.

After not introducing himself and talking to me like I was a cross between his pet hamster and my two year old, Dr. X launched into a lecture about the timing of my ultrasound.  I’m told that I’m both too late and too early for my ultrasound.  Which would be true if I were there for the nuchal fold/quad screen (12-14 weeks) or the echocardiogram (22-24 weeks) but is absolutely incorrect given that I was there for my level 2 ultrasound, which measures vital organs and is done between 18 and 22 weeks.  I am 19 weeks pregnant on Wednesday, so this is actually exactly the right time for this assessment.  Has this guy read my chart?  Or is that just what he does…comes in, calls the random woman on the table my darling and does whatever the hell he wants?

Instead of trying to have good communication and clarification, I’m told that I’m wrong, that it’s too late to do the level 2 ultrasound and that he’s the doctor, not me.  I’m also called “my darling” several times during the exchange.

The frustration that began with his lack of respect at not introducing himself, that had grown with every patronizing “my darling,” finally exploded.

Close to shaking with my rage, I sit up, wipe off the gel from my stomach, pull up the maternity band on my shorts and pull down my top.  “We’re done here.”

He begins to argue with me, every word dripping with condescension, and just as I could have predicted, it was yet another round of  being called “my darling” that blew my temper.

This is when I decide to set him straight, “Look, let’s get one thing clear.  I’m NOT your darling.”  We start to argue, him telling me to get back on the table and that he’ll do my scan, me telling him no way in hell and that I have a master’s degree–he needs to stop calling me his goddamn darling (looking back, I’m not sure what having a master’s has to do with anything, but at the time it seemed to be a valid part of my argument that I was far past an appropriate point in my life to be called something as degrading as “my darling” by a complete stranger).

I walked out.

Dr. X tries to reason with Ravi (who is 100% behind my decision) who tells him that we’re done.

I’m in tears by the elevator.

I felt small.  I felt belittled.  I felt rage.  I was devastated that the day I’d been looking forward to had been ruined by a jackass.  I knew that I’d done the right thing, but was also terrified that by walking out I’d missed out on an important piece of information.  I was worried about the baby.  I did not feel safe.

Coming on the heels of Saturday’s tour and my finally coming to terms with the idea of delivering in Singapore, this felt like a far greater setback than it was.  When I got home, I spent the next two hours before my OB appointment alternating between crying jags and searching for flights back home to Boston, where I felt safe.  Where I understood the care I could expect to receive.  Where, although there are certainly asshole doctors, I at least have the option of reporting unprofessional behavior to their hospital.

Yes, there were cultural issues that were being negotiated, perhaps poorly by both of us.  However, I just don’t see any possible excuse for the kind of behavior that went on, cultural differences or not.

Later in the day, I saw my OB, who promised another opportunity with someone who has a better bedside manner.  She said she’d take a look, and things looked good.  The baby’s heartbeat was good, and she saw a few of the vital organs.

We also tried to sneak a peek at the sex of the baby.  The baby wasn’t in an optimal position, and there was no clear view.  Based on what was seen/wasn’t seen, the OB felt 75%-80% sure that the baby is a girl.  However, I’m not entirely convinced and want another look before I start seriously thinking about names and clothes and all of that.

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17 Responses to A negative experience at a doctor’s office…and some (maybe) news

  1. Pingback: A mother of two daughters? | Taking a chance on baby…

  2. Dawn says:

    The advantages of having another girl include that (assuming you kept stuff) you can reuse Elanor’s wardrobe. Sisters are often best friends. Elanor will have a built-in MOH for her wedding. And you don’t know that they will be nightmarish teenagers; if they’re nerds like their parents, their teenage years will be too busy with homework, math meets, and concerts for normal “teenager” woes.

    Also…you don’t know yet, and really, won’t be sure until the baby comes out. AND, if you really want a boy to add to your family, you could try again (and hope the third pregnancy is easier than the others), or even adopt a boy (there are tons, especially from foreign countries, that desperately need homes).

    All of that being said, I’m sorry the sonographer was such a dick; I’m sure a lot of it was cultural, but sometimes people are just rude and mean. You have enough to stress about (including the fact that anxiety/stress makes morning sickness worse, as I’ve found out the hard way) without having to worry about someone who’s supposed to be taking care of you treating you like crap. Here’s to hoping you won’t have any more of those experiences, ever again.

    • Dawn says:

      …er, fourth pregnancy. Sorry. 😦

    • Crystal says:

      I do tend to get enough ultrasounds that I feel fairly confident that we’ll get a better look at some point. Honestly, especially after everything E went through, a healthy child is really what I want…but it would be helpful if, on our next trip home, I could hit the end of summer sales and stock up on early aged clothing.

      The thing about siblings that unnerves me the most is that it’s totally uncharted territory for both R and I…we’re both only children (although that’s a key reason we had more than one child). I’ll be relying on my friends who are not only children to help me negotiate this weird new world where you have to *gasp* share.

      Thanks, and no worries about the third baby/fourth pregnancy confusion. I hold medical professionals who deal with pregnant women all day every day to be more sensitive about it. AND by correcting your comment, you showed far more empathy in two minutes than he managed in the entire visit. Honestly, the next doc can only be an improvement by comparison.

      • Dawn says:

        Mostly I fail to be able to count! But yeah, I definitely didn’t want you to be upset all over again because of my fence post error. (If I could have just edited the comment, I would have.)

        As for the clothing, did you not save all of E’s clothing for a potential female sibling? We saved everything of Fran’s but most of it’s going to have to get donated unless we decide to have another kid (and it’s a girl). Or we think it’ll last long enough to be good for grandchildren. :p (F DID wear some of Tim’s hand-made newborn clothes, carefully preserved by his mother, but most his clothes got destroyed and/or donated, meaning they’re not available for our #2.) Of course, seasonality may be an issue; if most of E’s clothes are not for summer, then even if you have a girl you’ll need tropical clothes for her for the first couple of years.

        As for the “uncharted territory” of siblings; I’m sure it won’t be as weird as you might think. It’s not like, even though you were children once, that you already knew how to take care of children; you needed to do research and figure it out as you went along (I assume, since that’s been our experience). Siblings are the same; even if you were one it doesn’t mean you’d have any particular clue what to expect from them. Also, it’s very different depending on the particular children. So no worries; I’m sure you’ll all handle it beautifully and be happier for #2’s existence. 🙂

      • Crystal says:

        We have all of E’s old clothing, which will be great (sort of–I have a small shopping addiction I like to indulge) once the baby is the size E was when we moved here. The problem with some of the early stuff is that it’s all weather appropriate for a New England Winter and not the equatorial climate we now live in. Obviously the cotton sleepers and such will all transfer over to the younger sib (and maybe some of the lighter terry cloth ones…less sure on that front, but definitely not the fleece). But most of her pre 6-12 month stuff isn’t really transferable as it’s heavy on the knits, cordoroy, sweaters, etc. While the malls can be cool here, it’s nothing like back home 🙂

        We’re looking forward to the siblings thing, and I’m sure we’ll stumble through (and research, because that’s totally who we are)…but it is a bit like the blind leading the blind 🙂

  3. bookjunkie says:

    I put off visits to the OBGyn because each time I just felt violated. There is total lack of respect and I don’t think it’s totally a cultural thing. To me bedside manner is important too and it looks like you were totally patronized. Sometimes it’s not what they say but how they say it and body language too. You were definitely talked down to and that I have experienced that at the drs office in Singapore many times…too many times…felt like a piece of meat….just awful. The times when I was treated with respect I can count on one hand which is why I tend to avoid the dr unless I have absolutely no choice.

    Hope you have more professional care in the future visits….*hugs*

    • Crystal says:

      If you want a referral to my Ob/gyn, email me (or DM me on twitter). She’s youngish (40’s) and incredibly respectful. Her office ladies are also very nice, and I’ve never felt scared or like a piece of meat in that office.

      Of all the doctors, the Gyn is, in many ways the hardest if it’s a bad relationship because you are so exposed in so many ways (ultimately the most vulnerable ways) that a negative experience is so much worse there. I’m still not over the ob/gyn in Boston who told me days after my miscarriage that I’d never have a healthy baby if I didn’t lose weight (for the record I weighed 5 lbs more when I got pregnant with E and was at the same weight pre #2 as I was pre-Elanor), and that was almost 4 years ago. I still happily take the chance to bash her and warn people off her when I’m Boston pregnancy bulletin boards.

    • Dawn says:

      Not all OBGYN’s are created equal, bookjunkie. I mostly don’t see OBGYN’s but midwives, and they’re all the most sympathetic, caring people you could imagine, but even when I do end up seeing an OB (for example, to oversee an ultrasound), they do everything in their power to put me at ease. Today’s ultrasound-overseeing OB, for example, was an Asian-American man who joked (when he saw me cringe at insertion) that the vaginal thingy was used on men for prostate exams, and then told me about how someone has patented a basic idea for an artificial womb that’ll make it difficult, if someone actually comes up with a working one, to avoid paying royalties to the guy. That was in between reassuring me that all the issues they were investigating appeared to be resolving/have resolved themselves. (Yay!) It made for a very positive experience.

      • Crystal says:

        Ugh to your OB experience today. Yay for stuff resolving on its own!

        Had I been low/normal risk, I would totally have gone the midwife routine. I do love my OB gyn here (and in the US) but overall, midwives have better reputations for fostering a caring relationship with the patient, at least back home.

      • Dawn says:

        Oh it wasn’t an ugh at all! The guy was really nice! (He was there for my last ultrasound too, the one where the issues were identified.)

  4. kirsten says:

    I don’t think it was really a cultural thing. The cultural thing, to me, would be when the patient is too scared to talk back or walk out like you did, because “he’s the doctor”. And that just reaffirms his obnoxious behaviour. Good on you for walking out!

    • Crystal says:

      I’ve considered writing him a letter, but I’m not sure that it would have value beyond me rehashing all those negative feelings yet again. I’m sure in his mind I’m just the arrogant crazy bitchy (insert stereotype of white American Ang Mohs here) American and I doubt that he’d take anything I had to say, no matter how dispassionately I said it, seriously. After all, it’s not like I have a medical degree or a penis.

      • Dawn says:

        I wouldn’t write him a letter under any circumstances. He doesn’t deserve the courtesy. Your reaction should have made it blatantly clear to him what he did wrong, and if he doesn’t get it, a letter wouldn’t help.

        I would, however, consider filing a complaint with the hospital and/or his boss (if you can identify whoever that is).

      • Crystal says:

        Sadly the medical system isn’t like that here. He (and all dr’s) are basically independents. The hospital is more like—and this is a terrible comparison–a hair salon where people rent a chair, and you go there for the person, not the salon overall. The individuals set the policies, not the hospital….stuff like that. Maybe the medical board, but that seems extreme.

      • Dawn says:

        It might be extreme to write to the medical board, but it can’t really do any harm. At worst, you’ll be ignored, and at best, maybe some policies will be changed.

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