Childhood Cancer

Your Child in the Hospital

Types of relationships

Three types of relationships tend to develop between doctors and parents:

Paternal. In a paternal relationship, the parent is submissive, and the doctor assumes a parental role. This dynamic may seem desirable to parents who are uncomfortable or inexperienced in dealing with medical issues, but it places all the responsibility for decisions on the doctor. Doctors are human. If your child’s doctor makes a mistake and you are not monitoring drugs and treatments, these mistakes may go unnoticed. You are the expert on your child and you know best how to gauge his reactions to drugs and treatments.

I once asked a fellow about the results of my daughter’s blood work. She literally patted me on the head and said it was her job to worry about that, not mine. I said in a nice voice that I thought it was a reasonable question and that I would appreciate an answer.

Some parents are intimidated by doctors and fear that if they question the doctors their child will suffer. This type of behavior robs the child of an adult advocate who speaks up when something seems wrong.

Adversarial. Some parents adopt an “us against them” attitude, which is counterproductive. They seem to feel the illness and any discomforts of treatment are the fault of the medical staff, and they blame staff for any setbacks that occur. This attitude undermines the child’s confidence in her doctors and nurses, which is a crucial part of healing.

Collegial. This is a true partnership in which parents and doctors respect each other. The doctor recognizes that the parents are the experts on their own child. The parents respect the doctor’s knowledge and feel comfortable discussing treatment options or concerns that arise.

Honest communication is necessary for this partnership to work, but the effort is well worth it. The child has confidence in her doctor, the parents have lessened their stress by creating a supportive relationship with the doctor, and the doctor feels comfortable that the family will comply with the treatment plan.

Early in my daughter’s illness, we changed pediatricians. The first was aloof and patronizing, and the second was smart, warm, funny, and caring. He was a constant bright spot in our lives through some dark times. So every year, my two daughters put on their Santa hats and bring homemade cookies to the pediatrician and nurse. The first year, she was so weak I had to carry her in. She and her sister looked them in the eye and sang, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Her nurse went in the back room and cried, and her doctor got misty-eyed. I’ll always be thankful for their care.