I used to feel sort of blasé about doctors. I knew they were helpful and highly educated, but that was where it ended for me. I got what I needed from them, and then I got out. Problem? Head to the doctor. Problem solved. I didn’t feel the need to pursue relationships with any one medical team.
But all of that changed pretty quickly when our family found itself dealing with a specific, chronic, and life-altering illness. After my son Cole was diagnosed with atopic dermatitis, my relationship with the medical community was never the same. At that point, it was time to bring another person into our family dynamic—a good eczema specialist who really listened to us.
When I would take my son to a new eczema specialist, I would have a few litmus test questions. Firstly, I’d ask, “How many patients with this condition have you treated so far?” It might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many eczema specialists we have been to that have not seen my son’s level of severity. At one appointment, the specialist called his colleagues into the office to look at my son’s flare-up—yes, really. That was scary for Cole and didn’t do much to inspire confidence in me.
Secondly, I would ask, “Are you willing to partner with other specialists and look at all possible options?” If you’ve been working with someone for a while without success, it may be time to seek out other opinions and cast a wider net. One wonderful specialist scoured medical journals for us and reached out to her colleagues to see what other options they’d had success with.
And finally, I’d ask, “Will you ask my son to give up the activities he enjoys?” It sounds a bit silly, but this is an attitude question. What I’m doing when I ask this is looking for an eczema specialist who understands that chronic illness sufferers want to live their lives with a sense of freedom and purpose.
They need to be able to enjoy what they’re passionate about, even if there are limitations.
When specialists don’t seem very interested in understanding Cole’s unique condition, I take that as a signal. It lets me know that the person has fixed their opinion on managing the disease a course of treatment and often has a standard method that isn’t tailored to any one patient.
That has never worked for us. We need an eczema specialist who is responsive and flexible, as my son’s flares come on unexpectedly and overwhelmingly.
I’m happy to say that our current specialist passed my litmus test with flying colors. To the activities question, he responded, “Your son should be able to do all of the things he loves. I like a mystery and a challenge and will do everything I can for him.”
When I heard this, I knew we’d found the right addition to our family.