It’s Okay to Question Your Doctor

Warning: Potentially touchy subjects ahead

Let me preface this by saying that I come from a medically minded background, I trust modern science, and I am well-informed and educated in disease processes and treatments. I studied science in college and work as a Medical Laboratory Scientist. My husband studied Exercise Science and just finished applying to PA schools. We both trust the medical system explicitly, and have never really doubted that our care providers have had anything but our best interests at heart.

We had to really financially prepare when we found out we were pregnant. We made a tight budget and every single dollar had a purpose and place. Since I only work part time, the six weeks of maternity leave I was planning would be unpaid, and Jared’s salary would have to suffice in terms of paying our bills for those six weeks. We went into the hospital to have Elliott with the intention of leaving as soon as possible so we wouldn’t have to pay the $500/day fee any longer than we needed.

On the morning of our second day, almost exactly 24 hours after she was born (the minimum they make you stay in the hospital) our nurses came into our room and informed us that Elliott’s bilirubin levels were a little high and they wanted to repeat the test. We were a little antsy, but agreed on the repeat test. We waited and waited and waited and finally a couple hours later, the nurses came back wheeling a giant light and telling us her bili levels were officially too high for us to be discharged. We were a little confused and asked to speak to the hospital pediatrician.

Instead of the pediatrician visiting (I should mention that our pediatrician who we know and TRUST didn’t have privleges at the hospital where I delivered, so Elliott was being seen by the hospitalist) the nurse practitioner came in. This is where things get ugly, so buckle up.

She entered the room and was already in a bad mood. She seemed really peeved that we had questions and wanted to speak to her. She started off by saying “I know you have questions but let me just tell you what’s going on.” She then proceeded to rattle off numbers and values of Elliott’s various lab tests and explained that they would be keeping her for an additional 24-48 hours under the lamp to treat the jaundice. As I mentioned before, I work in a laboratory. I KNOW what each of the values and tests she was throwing around mean, and I knew that not only where these values NORMAL for newborns, but that based on the level of jaundice Elliott had that they were actually proof that her body was taking care of the problem on its own. Anyone who didn’t have a medical background would have had no idea what this woman was telling them, and I’m positive that this was her intention.

When I brought up the fact that based on the numbers she was giving us that Elliott was actually in good shape, she became incredibly defensive. I asked if we could keep Elliott under the lamp for 6 hours instead of 24 and check her labs at that point. She responded that that wouldn’t be enough time to see any progress, and then she said “YOU do not have a choice, this is what WE are doing and we will NOT discharge you beforehand.”

UMMMMM.

I glanced over at Jared who literally looked like he was going to punch the wall. I was so in shock that I didn’t know what to say. She left the room and I burst into tears (hello postpartum hormones). The nurses put a mask over Elliott’s eyes, undressed her, and stuck her under that stupid lamp and left us alone.

I was a literal mess. Let me outline all the obvious things that are wrong with this picture:

  1. You just told a 24 hour postpartum woman that she has no choice in how her child (aka the ONLY thing she cares about right now) is treated.
  2. You tried to use numbers and acronyms to scare new parents into going along with your treatment plan.
  3. The baby didn’t actually NEED half the things you were suggesting.
  4. You didn’t entertain the idea of compromise (checking at 6 hours)
  5. You belittled.

Jared and I sat there for about 15 minutes before realizing what had just happened, and also realizing that we could legally do whatever we wanted. The one thing we were worried about was whether or not the hospital could report us to CPS if we decided to up and leave. Around this time, my OB stopped by to check on us. YOU GUYS. Having an OB I knew and trusted and had built a relationship with literally saved us.

We recanted everything that had happened to my OB and she replied with “well that’s complete bulls**t.” She told us we were right, we could refuse any treatment we wanted and could walk out the door right then and there. She looked at Elliott’s chart and agreed (with the disclaimer that she’s not a pediatrician) that the values were fine and weren’t anything to be stressing out over. She told us that CPS wouldn’t be called in this situation, and after about 20 minutes of just talking to us like the educated human beings that we are, she went and found the charge nurse and told her to get the actual pediatrician in to see us ASAP.

When the pediatrician came in, he sat down and explained why he wanted to do the treatments and why he thought the values were concerning. He spoke to us like real people and explained anything we were confused about. He agreed to the 6 hour check and asked us to make a follow up appointment with our actual pediatrician for the next morning.

After 6 hours of the phototherapy, Elliott’s bilirubin values dropped to the “no risk zone” and we were discharged from the hospital. (Let me remind you that the nurse practitioner said this definitely wouldn’t happen). The next morning I took Elliott to our pediatrician who also looked at her labs from the previous day and said “they wanted to keep you for this?! It’s not even that bad!”

I feel incredibly blessed that Jared and I both come from medical backgrounds and that we were able to stand up for ourselves and have the knowledge required to make informed decisions about how to treat our children. Even knowing what we know, that nurse practitioner managed to use scare tactics to get us to do something we weren’t on board with.

I still believe strongly in modern medicine. I don’t think doctors/pharmaceutical companies/providers are all out to get us. But this particular experience taught me to rely on my instincts and education in addition to what the doctor was recommending. In this situation, we were being taken advantage of. 100%. And luckily we had my OB supporting us and our education to fall back on.

It’s okay to ask questions. Do your research, make informed decisions for yourself and your family. Don’t just hop on any bandwagon trend that starts without looking into things for yourself. Will everyone agree with you? Probably not. But if you are doing what you legitimately believe is best then you are entitled to do so. We learned a lot from this experience, and I hope that sharing it will be helpful for some of you as well!

3 thoughts on “It’s Okay to Question Your Doctor

  1. This really makes me question some things now when I had my daughter and they kept wanting to keep her. Good for you for having the knowledge and strength to stand up for what you believe.

  2. Omg I can’t believe this happened to you. I’ve had a doctor try to pressure me into doing something I didn’t think was right. Crazy always trust your instincts

  3. Oh goodness, I’m so sorry you had to deal with this! It’s so hard when the people we’re supposed to be able to trust don’t give us accurate information. I’m glad you were able to talk to your OB and the pediatrician and feel good about your mama-gut instinct that it was ok to leave!

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