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By Cathy Jameson

When doctors question your family’s vaccine choices, have your answer ready.

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 Type 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.