Several years ago, Ronan’s brother stepped on a nail. It wasn’t a rusty nail, but it did pierce his skin. While playing in the back yard, he and a neighbor crossed an old wooden board that spanned over a trench that separated our yard from an undeveloped lot of land. As he crossed the board, the nail, which was sticking straight up, went right though Willem’s shoe. While quite painful, he made his way across the yard and into the house with no assistance. Even so, I knew to be careful when removing his shoe and sock so as not to further disturb the wound. Once his foot was exposed, I immediately inspected where the nail punctured his skin and observed. Blood began to ooze out which I took as a good sign. At no time did I panic or think I needed to run him to the E.R. That would’ve be fruitless anyway.
Knowing the typical protocol for that kind of injury, if my son had been exposed to tetanus, E.R. staff wouldn’t proceed with giving the TiG (tetanus immunoglobulin) first or maybe even at all. They would’ve offered to clean the wound, which I could do myself, and would give him a tetanus shot, which he didn’t need (and which, as far as I’m aware, is never a stand-alone shot—it’s adminstered as the Td, DTaP, or Tdap). Regardless, the kids were vaccinated on schedule. That meant that Willem had gone through the tetanus series and wasn’t “due” for one. At the time, vaccine logic told me that if he had been exposed and if that vaccine series did what doctors claim it does, which is to provide protection from the tetanus bacteria, he’d be fine. He’d had several of those shots already. I was reminded of that fact earlier this week.
At a clinic with Willem for a physical, the nurse, who looked to be in her late 30s-early 40s, could not wrap her head around the fact that a stretch of time had passed since those vaccinations had been administered. Getting ready to put the cuff on Willem’s arm to get a blood pressure reading, the nurse kept going back to one of the pages I’d filled out before we arrived. She’d look at the page, glance at me quizzically, and then look back at the page again. She finally spoke up.
“Are you sure you have the right date?”
Looking her straight in the eye, I confidently replied, “Yes.”
Skipping to the next section, she paused. Then she went back to that other page.
Oh, boy. Here we go, I thought.
Willem must have thought the same thing. He looked at me knowing things could go one of two ways – our way, or her way. He smiled a very nervous smile at me. I quietly whispered, “I’ve got this,” and smiled back at him.
Turning her head toward me, the nurse looked at me strangely again, “But it says here…”
Before she could finish, I politely interrupted her and said, “Yes, that date is correct.” Then, I attempted to get her back on track.
“So, he’s here for a sports physical. He’s a pretty active kid. Eats well, loves to play outside… rides his bike, enjoys football, frisbee, and soccer…he’s doing well in school, has a great appetite, and he’s grown.”
Unsatisfied with my response, I quickly added, “There’s been no change in his health since his last physical.” There. That should get her attention back to where it should be.
She was not having it.
In her broken English, she stammered, “But this date, it’s….”
While there is one question about one vaccine on this particular form, vaccines are not a requirement for why we were at the clinic that day. The nurse, who over time must see thousands of patients requesting this exam, should know that. But I ended up being the one to educate her. Just like I had to several years ago with another young medical professional who grew up outside of the United States. Relying on third-world facts and fear tactics, he, too, tried to change my mind about vaccines. After a lengthy convo, he respectfully came around. But this gal didn’t seem to want to budge. She’d need a longer lesson on knowing when to stop badgering a parent who obviously knew more about vaccines and parents’ rights than she did.
Forced to speak my mind once again, I firmly said, “We’re here for the physical, so…thanks for asking about the tetanus, but he’s all set.”
She’d been quite pleasant when we’d walked in, but the nurse’s tone had clearly changed. Not entirely pleased with how pointed I had become, she jotted something down on the intake paper. She’d written down Willem’s height and weight on it already and was about to write down his blood pressure and heart rate, too. I didn’t see what she scribbled, but I’m sure it wasn’t a positive comment. That didn’t phase me. It wouldn’t be the first time someone’s attitude about me changed once they got to know the real me.
Still in disagreement, the nurse finished her part of the appointment and left the room. Leaving quieter than when she walked in, I stuck to my guns and waited patiently for the doctor to come in. With gusto, and all smiles not just toward my kids but toward me as well, he welcomed us with open arms. And within 10 minutes, we got what we came in for and left without incident.
It isn’t every day that I have to take my children to the doctor. We save those sorts of trips for when we need to and for when forms like the one I was getting signed absolutely have to be filled out. Along the way, if we run into a provider who listens, who respects, who doesn’t badger and who invites us back, we stick with them. Their staff may come and go, like that new nurse we encountered, but they don’t, and never will, have the final say when it comes to my children’s health. As their mom, that’s my job. For now, it’s my right, too.
As the parent of a vaccine injured child, I go into medical appointments knowing what I want. I go in knowing what I need. To try to veer me off that path does me, and that provider, no good. Thankfully, the doctor we saw for that physical understands that. His attitude toward me is far different – and better, than that nurse’s. It’s helped make our encounters with him positive, productive, and meaningful.
I hope the nurse learned something useful last week. I know I didn’t change her mind like she wanted me so quickly to change mine. But if she learns one thing, I hope it’s to stop and listen. Stop overtalking, stop fear mongering, stop pushing the agenda. Instead, listen to the mom. Listen to her story. Listen and learn from the parent sitting in front of you. She speaks up for a reason.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.