We’ve tried really hard to let Wendy help to steer her medical road, but it hasn’t always been easy.
She got sick when she was three, so in the beginning, we did most of the steering. But even still, we tried to give her as many choices as we could. We would let her choose which finger she wanted to get her blood stick for her diabetes. We would let her choose her 15 carb snack if she was low. After a doctor’s appointment, we would let her choose where she wanted to go for lunch. You get the idea, little choices, but ones that gave her a stake in her own care, which we felt was important.
As she got older, she started to take more control. She liked to negotiate with the phelbotomist or the IV nurse where she thought the best place for her IV site should be. She liked to help flush the lines with the nurse. She would ask for warm packs for her IV site or warm blankets if she was in the Emergency Room.
When she neared the age to go up to the next floor at the hospital, somewhere around 6 or 7, she would state very clearly to the Emergency Room nurse that she preferred to be on Ellison 17 (which is the younger floor) because she knew and liked all the nurses there.
When she is an inpatient, we choose to have bedside rounding, so the doctors all come into the room to discuss the problem and what the plan for the day will be. She watches us ask questions of the doctors and we always ask her if she has questions, or has anything to add to the conversation. Most of the time, she doesn’t have any questions, but it’s important to us for her to see the exchange as this is going to be a regular part of her life and she is a part of her care team.
When she is released and we have our normal clinic visits, on the drive in I ask her if she has any concerns or if she plans on asking the doctor any questions about her care. We also talk about the right way to address doctors and nurses and I remind her that no screens are to be on when a doctor or nurse is in the room.
When she was ten years old, she wanted to start packing her own lunch, but she didn’t have much of an idea of carbs versus protein, so I set up an appointment with a nutritionist who went through it with her. (She didn’t want to listen to me, I was her mom.) We set up a list of things that needed to be in each lunch: a protein, a carb, a fruit, a vegetable and a dessert. We made a list like a Chinese food menu, pick from columns ABCD & E. We went to the supermarket so she could pick out her favorite fruit and vegetable for the week. And we put down each item on the chart along with the carb count. She would choose from ABCD & E, find the carbs for each, and create her own itemized list of the food on a post-it note to give to the school nurse, just like I did every day for her.
When she was eleven, we got her a cell phone so she could more easily go over to friends’ houses without a parent present because these were no longer little kid “play dates”. She checks her own sugar, and texts me the information about how much she is going to eat, sometimes taking a picture of the plate so that we can figure out the carbs. When she started sleeping over at friends’ houses, she sets herself an alarm at 2 am to check her own sugar, and then texts her father the number, to make sure that she is in the normal range.
She knows she gets sicker faster than other kids because she is immune suppressed and she knows to wash her hands before each meal. Sometimes she snacks when she’s not supposed to, but just like the rest of us, it’s hard to pass an open bag of chips and not take a handful. She knows that she can’t have “open food” at a buffet, and she knows to get her food first when we are at a party before other kids “double dip” or lick their fingers.
When she says she doesn’t feel good, I ask her if she thinks it’s serious enough to go to the hospital and I trust her answer. We talk about her symptoms, call the doctor, and make the best decision based upon the information we have.
I always tell her that we are a team and we will get through her illness together.
These are all conscious, concerted efforts. It’s not easy to plan all of these ways to empower Wendy, but both Michael and I think it’s important. She’s twelve, and she has a lot of issues to deal with, but it’s important to know that she can take care of herself, both for her self esteem and for our peace of mind. We want to nurture in her a strong sense of self, complete with all of her aspects. We want to show here that we are a team: her doctors, her parents and herself. She needs to know that she can interact well and intelligently with the medical world, because she will need them for the rest of her life. It would be so much easier to do these things for her, but it’s important to show her how to do them herself. Like the old adage of teaching a man to fish, we are showing Wendy how to navigate the medical world, trust her instincts, and be a strong self-advocate.
Probably the road will get bumpy again as we encounter the teenage years, but that’s all a part of it. It’s just important to lay the foundation that she can do this, we can do this, we are a team, and she will have us when she needs us. It’s all any parent wants for their child, but it is both especially challenging and especially important for the parent of a chronically ill child. It takes planning, preparation, determination and the willingness to watch your kids safely fail.
These small choices add up to a great result: a strong confident woman ready to commit to self care and interact with her health care providers.
At least, that is the hope.