My hands-off approach to medical care

Photo Credit:   Alex E. Proimos   via   Compfight     cc

Photo Credit: Alex E. Proimos via Compfight cc

Another day, another study telling us something we previously considered “safe” is anything but.

This time a study out of Denmark found a strong correlation between acetaminophen use among pregnancy women and higher rates of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in their children. We all know correlation isn't causation, but still here's a drug that is considered one of the safest on the markets (although I would have disagreed with that assessment before this study) suddenly seeming more complicated then we first thought.

I have a deep distrust of medication or medical treatment considered “safe” during pregnancy. It is unethical to test things on pregnant women, no one is going to sign up to use themselves and their babies as guinea pigs. Therefore, true safety can never really be established. However, it goes beyond that for me. If I'm being honest, I have a deep distrust of medical care generally.

I'm not a Christian Scientist. I'm not a conspiracy theorist who believes the government or corporations or Barack Obama are out to drug us up. I'm not out to get rid of doctors or hospitals all together.

If I was in a car wreck, I'd want to go to the hospital. If I was diagnosed with cancer, I would want the best doctor around. I think our medical care system does a pretty dang good job of taking care of people when there is something bad wrong with them.

However, I think our medical care system does a dang near terrible job of taking care of healthy people, particularly pregnant women. Pregnancy is not a trauma or an illness. The common cold or a fever or your average virus is not something that needs to be beaten into submission with medication and medical intervention.

The human body is an amazing creation, which I believe – if in an average, healthy state – can handle most of the things thrown at it. However, taking your trust away from the power of the human body and placing it completely in the hands of a human being, who can be distracted or misinformed or downright wrong, is a dangerous proposition in my opinion.

First, there is the real reality of human error. Anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 people die every year in the United States because the flawed human beings making medical decisions just plain old get it wrong. That makes medical errors the THIRD leading cause of death in the United States! When you expose yourself to medical care, you take the risk that someone will make a mistake that could cost you your life. Plain and simple.

Second, even when these medical professionals make the “right” decision, there seems to be an assumption they are making this decision on complete information. However, they are NOT. In fact, they almost never are. Doctors who were telling their pregnant patients Tylenol was safe thought they had all the information, until they didn't. The list of reversals in medical knowledge is long and covers everything from the ancient practice of bleeding to the modern recommendation of a low fat diet.

We just don't know. That's why my threshold for any medical intervention or treatment with my own healthy body or those of my children is very, very high.

It's why my children aren't circumcised. It's why I give birth at home. It's why I rarely give my children antibiotics or medications of any kind. It's why I rarely take medications myself.

It's why last week when Amos had a febrile seizure the only medical intervention I sought was a five minute telephone conversation with my pediatrician. I won't lie and say it was easy. When I realized what was happening to my son, panic flooded every cell in my being. And despite everything I've said up until this point, my first and strongest instinct was to talk to my doctor.

Now, here is where my approach was probably a bit different. I don't trust him because he has M.D. at the end of his name. This is a doctor I have come to trust because his hands-off approach is almost as strong as mine. This is a doctor I have come to trust after five years of watching him trust the human body and distrust medication. This is a doctor I have come to trust because he will argue with me and debate with me and sometimes admit he just doesn't know the answer.

I didn't want any doctor. I wanted MY doctor. When two receptionists in a row advised me to call 911, I had to battle not only their voices but the panicked voice in my head to insist – to DEMAND – to speak to my doctor.

When he finally answered the phone, I burst into tears. “You're the only one I trust!” He assured me I was right. He told me my instinct was correct. Amos was fine and that the seizure was scarier for me then it was dangerous for him. In fact, it was the human body doing what it does best - protecting itself.  He told me the only concern was what was causing the fever in the first place but as long as I saw improvement there was no need to bring him in.

So, I didn't.

Instead of exposing Amos to the emergency room (and a mandatory meningitis test) or even the additional germs of the doctor's office, I opted for one dose of Tylenol and one dose of Ibuprofen before bed. He was on the mend by the next day and back to himself less than 48 hours later.

Fighting the traditional approach to medical care isn't always easy. My own personal philosophy has come after decades of educating myself and practice, practice, practice. I've learned what to look for in a doctor. I've learned how to say no to medical tests and medications, which is still really hard. I've learned to get second opinions from friends who are both medical professionals and lay people like me who think there might be a better way.

But I will say this, it might not be easy but it is worth it.