I’m no stranger to the onslaught of questions the medical field throws at me about vaccines. One of our doctors finally stopped asking when we would “catch up” on some of the shots my kids’ records were “missing.” After years of hearing me say politely, “Not today, thank you very much,” as brightly as I could while trying to change the subject, that particular doctor stopped asking. Our presence in that office is usually for more pressing reasons—a major illness, or the need for a referral for my son, Ronan, when he experiences new medical problems. I want our doctor to attend to my children’s present medical situation, not to recommended vaccines from an over-inflated vaccination schedule.
When I do request medical attention for my kids, the pediatrician now says, “So, no shots today,” as a statement instead of an accusatory question. “Yep, we’re good. Thank you,” is how I’ve learned to respond. It reduces any further discussion on both of our parts. I can get in and out of the exam room with exactly the information or referral needed. She’s been happy to help us with Ronan’s many special needs and is more than accommodating to make sure we get to a specialist when Ronan’s problems exceed her expertise. I appreciate her professional input over the years, and I know she respects me for what I’ve learned and shared with her about Ronan.
The doctor’s partner, though, hasn’t gotten used to us. He doesn’t know my vaccine-injured son’s background. On top of that, he is one of those Types A people: “Follow the directions and rules and don’t deviate from the norm.” He is the epitome of what I imagine a scientific textbook doctor looks like. While I think that’s a great trait to have, if you don’t bother to actually read the patient’s record to become familiar with his complicated past, or don’t bother to understand the human being standing in front of you, your textbook scenario isn’t worth squat.
I’d heard only a little bit about this new partner. Since it was my first meeting with Dr. Type A, I prepared my “thankyouverymuch” response to whatever vaccine insinuation he might throw at me. One or two colds, and sometimes the seasonal flu, are usually what bring us to the pediatrician. Sometimes we throw in an emergency room run just for good measure, which gives me at least one new gray hair per child. I’m used to minor medical mishaps for my typical kids, because their health is fairly good. It’s quite the opposite for their brother Ronan, who has a team of at least eight medical specialists at one time. Usually, bringing my other kids to the doctor’s office means something’s not right. That day, an annual checkup brought us to the clinic.
Before we got too far into the exam, the nurse asked, “What vaccines will the children be getting today?” The way she worded the question told me there wasn’t an option: She was doling them out. So, pick one, or two, or nine, for that matter. Since the nurse was also new to the office, I explained politely that we didn’t need any vaccines today and then distracted myself with my daughter so I wouldn’t have to look her in the eye. Why am I getting so nervous? I thought. These are my kids. It’s my responsibility to make the decisions for their health needs! I stood up taller and asked the nurse if she was going to do any labs, since I hadn’t prepared the girls to go through a needle stick or for the pee-in-the-cup routine.
The nurse was still filling out the intake form. She said, “So, no shots today? You know they are both due for some.” Um, library books are due, and bills are due. My girls are not due for shots today! Nah, I didn’t really say that. I didn’t have the guts to say it like that. Instead, I replied, “We do the vaccine exemption. Dr. J. is aware of our family’s needs. Thanks.” Dr. J., the head of the practice, wasn’t there that day, though. We got stuck with her by-the-book partner, Dr. Type A. He, as well as this nurse, knew nothing of my son Ronan’s vaccine past, and why I’ve opted for the delayed vaccine approach.
I got nervous. For a second I thought maybe I should leave and come back some other time when our regular doctor was in. I knew the potential to be lectured by a medical provider was great, given our record. I didn’t want to hear, “No shots?! Pshaw. Silly Mommy, vaccines save lives!” I had a second to decide—stay, or go home.
Drat—in walked Dr. Type A. I could tell instantly that we’d struck a nerve, as the partner pediatrician held the sparsely filled-out shot record page. He barely looked up to greet us. Briefly scanning the room, he looked again at all those empty boxes on the form. I had four of my five children with me, so space in the exam room was tight. I don’t think he offered a greeting, but stuttered into an, “Um, well, I see that…you aren’t going to vaccinate today?” He held out the empty vaccine record the nurse had printed, but refused to let go of the form. I wasn’t sure what his first move was going to be, and I could tell he was stupefied. Now I was officially nervous.
My two youngest were given a quick once-over. Their physical exams were very short, with no chit-chat at all. The doctor attempted to write notes, but I could tell he was having a hard time concentrating. As he tried to gather his thoughts, I braced myself for a tongue-lashing.
Out poured his questions, “You know your children need their vaccinations? They’re very late to get them, see?” He showed me the form. “You know we can catch them both up today? What is this, that you homeschool? Don’t you have to have shot records for that? How long have you done this…homeschooling?”
I stood and watched him unfold. I couldn’t speak because there wasn’t a chance to answer any of his questions. He spoke so quickly, almost attempting to not give me a chance to speak. Maybe he did it that way so he could say everything he thought he was supposed to say during a “well child” exam. I started to respond, “My older son has special needs and the little ones are—” but he quickly interrupted. Clearly I’d confused the poor man, so I let him continue with his verbal onslaught.
Dr. Type A suggested a list of vaccines readily available and waiting to be injected into my children. Pointing to the shot record again, he reminded me of Vanna White. What a great rep he was for the vaccine industry! “Look, you can get this one, and that one! Oh, and do get this one over here!” The list was extensive. He described which diseases my children would be most exposed to. He told tales of which symptoms from those horrid diseases to which they could succumb. And then, the doctor tried again to sell me on which shots could save their lives.
Silence, he finally took a very quick breath that made him stop talking for a very short second. That’s when I quickly interjected, “Thank you for being concerned and sharing your opinion. We use the vaccine exemption. As far as the homeschooling, we have records. Only one of my kids is in a regular school right now, and the school accepted the exemption form.”
Then, I laid into him, “My other children are very healthy. When you say you think they need Hepatitis B, do you realize that you are suggesting a vaccine for a disease that is usually transmitted through illicit sex or IV-drug use? Look at my kids,” I said. They were almost 3 and 4 years old. “That behavior is far from their reality. And you suggested the varicella [chicken pox] vaccine? If you had looked through their medical records prior to the exam, you would see that four of my children have experienced chicken pox naturally. They don’t need that vaccination. Which other ones did you say?”
I attempted to peer over his clipboard to hold the shot record he was still clutching. “This one—Hib, I think you said? From what you’ve described as an ideal age to get that vaccine, my kids are well over the age of being in danger of the very scary risks.” Then, I immediately stopped talking. I couldn’t tell if I was speaking to a wall or if the doctor was getting ready for Round Two. My oldest, who had stopped playing with her siblings, was taking in every word. She was wide-eyed, waiting to see who would speak next.
Movement, the doctor started to move toward the door to leave. I saw him begin to “doorknob”—a term I’d learned in a psychology class back in college. Dr. Type A looked like he was ready to leave me and my informed decision, but he really was not ready to be done with the conversation. He held the doorknob, and twisted it… but then dropped his hand. He came back to the middle of the exam room. Maybe he had a new angle or a new argument for me. Maybe he was going to attempt to again seal the deal of what he probably expected to be a regular vaccine-injecting “well child” visit. I met his gaze while my youngest three quietly played with the toys on the floor, oblivious to how Mommy was defending them and their healthy bodies. I wasn’t nervous and actually felt a bit hot under the collar. I prepared myself one more time. Oh, boy, I thought, here comes the hammer.
Dr. Type A started again, pointing out how deadly these diseases are overseas. “Do you know how devastating it is to see those diseases in third-world countries? They could be prevented by vaccinations!”
Why do doctors do that? They bring up third-world countries like that’s going to scare the heck out of us. Last I checked he and I were standing right here in the good old U.S. of A. I looked around the room, baffled that this was the last card he was going to play. I didn’t think it appropriate to have a discussion on the history of sanitation and how our U.S. health habits are far more advanced now than some countries will ever be. I’m sure he was aware of that already, so I didn’t mess with his intelligence. But I did let him continue because he stopped trying to spoon-feed me his input and instead asked for mine. “How do you protect them, Mrs. Jameson? What if you can prevent these diseases?”
It was my turn to take a deep breath. “We are careful where we bring our children,” I said. “We don’t expose them to other people when they are sick. We stay away from people when I know other people are run down. I make sure to keep up with the health news—if there are communicable disease outbreaks in our area, we stay home. Look, we lived through whooping cough and chicken pox. Of course it was hard for the kids. It didn’t feel good, and the chicken pox itched like mad. We were stuck at home for almost six weeks as the pox went from one child to the next, through all four of them. My fifth child was in utero during that outbreak, but look at her now: She’s healthy and typical. We survived childhood diseases a vaccine is supposedly going to prevent. My kids have immunity to chicken pox—I’d rather that assurance than hearing that vaccine efficacy wanes after a few years. My kids are healthy, and it’s because we take care of them. We eat well, and we are mindful of what goes in their bodies. It’s not that difficult to understand, Doctor. If you can provide me with some facts that state that these vaccines will protect my children one hundred percent, and if the vaccine ingredients aren’t going to do harmful things in their bodies, I’d consider vaccinating. Until that happens, we again respectfully ask for the exemption.”
I think I wore the poor guy out. He nodded and wrote something down. Then he walked out without saying anything. The nurse came back a few agonizing minutes later to do a lead test for my youngest. Dr. Type A came back in one more time to give us the paperwork to drop off at the front desk. I don’t remember too much of his parting words, but he gave us a look almost as if he’d witnessed an once-in-a-lifetime moment: children… doctor’s office… leaving without vaccines. Huh.
I didn’t think it possible to confound a medical professional as quickly as I did. I’ll have to add “Baffles doctors to make them think” to my list of super powers.
Wouldn’t it be great if the little bit of input I shared would start changing the tide of the medical profession? Maybe the vaccination mindset could be changed, one doctor or nurse at a time.
Every office visit, every encounter reinforces my philosophy: Educate before you vaccinate. After all, the kid you save may be your own.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #33