Editor’s note: At a time when many parents of children with disabilities have been going through the annual round of back-to-school medical visits, this guest commentary is appropriate.
It can be difficult for parents to step back as their children get older. This is especially the case if the child has a complicated medical history.
As a result, it can become just the doctor and the parent talking about the child, AKA the patient. The patient is left out of the discussion. This is understandable. Parents typically are knowledgeable about a child’s condition and ask the doctor many questions.
It can be frustrating particularly as individuals get older and gain a good understanding of the conditions themselves. The patient will likely have to speak up against the parents and say something like, “Excuse me, Doc. I have a question.” Parents need to recognize that their young adult children are up to the task of understanding treatment.
Depending on the circumstances and the age of the patient, a parentectomy might be needed. This is done by removing the parents from the exam room. The doctor might make the request if he sees it is appropriate, or the patient does it himself or herself. A patient might perform a parentectomy nonverbally.
This can be done by looking a parent in the eyes and then looking toward the door of the room. This nonverbal communication is code for: “Please leave.” A doctor might talk to the parents and the patient when they are all together, and then also do a parentectomy in order to talk to the patient alone.
A parentectomy can be helpful because the patient can ask questions and understand what he or she is being told. After the doctor and the patient have discussed the patient’s treatment, the doctor might invite the parents back in and explain to them what they talked to the patient about. The doctor might also ask the patient to explain what was discussed.
Sometimes a parentectomy is necessary because a parent is bringing his or her own anxiety to a situation. Such a situation would be when a child has to get an injection. The parent’s edginess heightens the child’s fear, so it is a good idea for the parent to leave the room.
It is important for patients to understand their health conditions so they know how to take care of themselves. It can feel satisfying for patients to be treated in an inclusive and independent manner.
With guidance from a doctor who treats young adults, young adult patients can progressively start running their appointments independently and understanding the treatment they need. It does depend on the patient’s circumstances, but it can be done. Parentectomies can be a very effective procedure.
Emma Wagner has cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus and epilepsy. She understands the issues regarding patients wanting to run their medical appointments independently. Wagner is majoring in psychology at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and plans to become a psychologist or journalist. She has been a lifelong patient at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare and now at Gillette Lifetime Specialty Healthcare.