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Poised: When Doctors Question Your Family's Vaccine Choices, Have Your Answers Ready

June 19, 2012

Story at-a-glance

  • Full-time mother, advocate and writer Cathy Jameson gives a first-hand account of what to say to a pediatrician who tires to force his or her vaccination opinions on you
  • Knowledge is power, so it’s important to stay educated about vaccine choice and vaccination risks so you can easily explain your position to others, including others in positions of authority
  • If your doctor belittles you, refuses to treat your family, or will not take the time to discuss your vaccine concerns with you, I suggest you find one who will
  • It is your choice and your responsibility to get educated about vaccination, and your doctor should work with you on this

ByCathy Jameson

I'mno stranger to the onslaught of questions the medical field throws at me aboutvaccines. One of our doctors finally stopped asking when would we "catch up" onsome of the shots my kids' records were "missing." After years of hearing mesay politely, "Not today, thank you very much," as brightly as I could whiletrying to change the subject, that particular doctor stopped asking.

Ourpresence 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 medicalproblems. I want our doctor to attend to my children's present medicalsituation, not to recommended vaccines from an over-inflated vaccinationschedule.

WhenI do request medical attention for my kids, the pediatrician now says, "So, noshots today," as a statement instead of an accusatory question. "Yep, we'regood. Thank you," is how I've learned to respond. It reduces any furtherdiscussion on both of our parts. I can get in and out of the exam room withexactly the information or referral needed.

She's been happy to help us withRonan's many special needs and is more than accommodating to make sure we getto a specialist when Ronan's problems exceed her expertise. I appreciate herprofessional input over the years, and I know she respects me for what I'velearned and shared with her about Ronan.

Thedoctor's partner though, hasn't gotten used to us. He doesn't know myvaccine-injured son's background. On top of that, he is one of those Type A persons:"Follow the directions and rules and don't deviate from the norm." He is theepitome of what I imagine a scientific textbook doctor looks like.

While Ithink that's a great trait to have, if you don't bother to actually read thepatient's record to become familiar with his complicated past, or don't botherto understand the human being standing in front of you, your textbook scenarioisn't worth squat.

I'dheard only a little bit about this new partner. Since it was my first meetingwith Dr. Type A, I prepared my "thank you very much" response to whatever vaccineinsinuation he might throw at me. One or two colds, and sometimes the seasonalflu, is usually what brings us to the pediatrician. Sometimes we throw in anemergency room run just for good measure, which gives me at least one new grayhair per child.

I'm used to minor medical mishaps for my typical kids, becausetheir 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. Thatday, an annual checkup brought us to the clinic.

Beforewe got too far into the exam, the nurse asked, "What vaccines will the childrenbe getting today?" The way she worded the question told me there wasn't anoption: She was doling them out. So, pick one, or two, or nine, for thatmatter. Since the nurse was also new to the office, I explained politely thatwe didn't need any vaccines today and then distracted myself with my daughterso I wouldn't have to look her in the eye.

Whyam I getting so nervous? I thought. Theseare my kids. It's myresponsibility to make the decisions for their health needs! I stood uptaller and asked the nurse if she was going to do any labs since I hadn'tprepared the girls to go through a needle stick or for the pee-in-the-cuproutine.

Thenurse was writing on the intake form and said, "So, no shots today? You knowthey are both due for some." Um, library books are due, and bills are due. Mygirls are not due for shots today! Nah, I didn't really say that. I didn't havethe 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 thepractice, wasn't there that day, though. We got stuck with her by-the-bookpartner, Dr. Type A. He, as well as this nurse, knew nothing of my son Ronan'svaccine past, and why I've opted for the delayed vaccine approach.

I gotnervous. For a second I thought maybe I should leave and come back some othertime when our regular doctor was in. I knew the potential to be lectured by amedical provider was great, given our record. I didn't want to hear, "Noshots?! Pshaw. Silly Mommy, vaccines save lives!" I had a second todecide—stay, or go home. Drat—in walked Dr. Type A. I could tell instantly thatwe'd clearly struck a nerve, as the partner pediatrician held the sparsely filled-outshot 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 childrenwith me, so space in the exam room was tight. I don't think he offered agreeting, but stuttered into a, "Um, well, I see that…you aren't going tovaccinate today?" He held out the empty vaccine record the nurse had printed, butrefused to let go of the form. I wasn't sure what his first move was going tobe, and I could tell he was stupefied. Now I was officially nervous.

My twoyoungest 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 tellhe was having a hard time concentrating. As he tried to gather his thoughts, Ibraced myself for a tongue-lashing.

Outpoured his questions. "You know the children need their vaccinations. You knowthey are very late to get them. See?" Heshowed 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 longhave you done this…homeschooling?"

Istood and watched him unfold. I couldn't speak because there wasn't a chance toanswer any of his questions. He spoke so quickly, almost attempting to notgive me a chance to speak. Maybe he did it that way so he could say everythinghe thought he was supposed to say during a "well child" exam. I started torespond, "My older son has special needs and the little ones are—" but hequickly interrupted. Clearly I'd confused the poor man, so I let him continuewith his verbal abuse.

Dr.Type A suggested a list of vaccines readily available and waiting to beinjected into my children. Pointing to the shot record again, he reminded me ofVanna White. What a great rep he was for the vaccine industry! "Look, you canget this one, and that one! Oh, and do get this one over here!" The list wasextensive. He described which diseases my children would be most exposed to. Hetold tales of which symptoms from those horrid diseases to which they couldsuccumb. And then, the doctor tried again to sell me on which shots could savetheir lives.

Silence.He finally took a very quick breath that made him stop talking for a very shortsecond. That's when I quickly interjected, "Thank you for being concerned andsharing your opinion. We use the vaccine exemption. As far as thehomeschooling, we have records. Only one of my kids is in a regular schoolright now, and the school accepted the exemption form."

Then,I laid into him, "My other children are very healthy. When you say you thinkthey need Hepatitis B, do you realize that you are suggesting a vaccine for adisease that is usually transmitted through illicit sex or IV-drug use? Look atmy kids," I said. They were almost 3 and 4 years old. "That behavior is farfrom their reality. And you suggested the varicella [chicken pox] vaccine? Ifyou had looked through their medical records prior to the exam, you would seethat four of my children have experienced chicken pox naturally. They don'tneed that vaccination. Which other ones did you say?"

Iattempted to peer over his clipboard to hold the shot record he was stillclutching. "This one—Hib, I think you said? From what you've described as anideal age to get that vaccine, my kids are well over the age of being in dangerof the very scary risks." Then, I immediately stopped talking. I couldn't tellif I was speaking to a wall or if the doctor was getting ready for Round Two. Weboth stood still, waiting for the other to speak. My oldest, who had stoppedplaying with her siblings, was taking in every word. She was wide-eyed, waitingto see who would speak next.

Movement.The doctor started to move toward the door to leave. I saw him begin to "doorknob"—aterm I'd learned in a psychology class back in college. Dr. Type A looked likehe was ready to leave me and my informed decision, but he really was not readyto be done with the conversation. He held the doorknob, twisted it but thendropped his hand.

He came back to the middle of the exam room. Maybe he had anew angle or a new argument for me. Maybe he was going to attempt to again sealthe 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 onthe floor, oblivious to how Mommy was defending them and their healthy bodies. Iwasn't nervous and actually felt a bit hot under the collar. I prepared myselfone more time. Oh, boy, I thought, here comes the hammer.

Dr.Type A started again. He brought up third-world countries and how deadly thesediseases are overseas. "Do you know how devastating it is to see those diseasesin third-world countries? They could be prevented by vaccinations!"

Whydo doctors do that? They bring up third-world countries like that's going toscare the heck out of me. Last I checked, he and I were standing right here inthe good old U.S. of A. I looked around the room, baffled that this was thelast card he was going to play. I didn't think it appropriate to have adiscussion on the history of sanitation and how our U.S. health habits are farmore advanced now than some countries will ever be. I'm sure he was aware ofthat already, so I didn't mess with his intelligence. But I did let himcontinue because he stopped trying to spoon-feed me his input and instead askedfor mine. "How do you protect them, Mrs. Jameson? What if you canprevent these diseases?"

Itwas my turn to take a deep breath, "We are careful where we bring our children.We don't expose them to other people when they are sick. We stay away frompeople when I know other people are run down. I make sure to keep up with thehealth news—if there are communicable disease outbreaks in our area, we stayhome. Look, we lived through whooping cough and chicken pox.

Of course it washard for the kids. It didn't feel good, and the chicken pox itched like mad. Wewere stuck at home for almost six weeks as the pox went from one child to thenext, through all four of them. My fifth child was in utero during thatoutbreak, but look at her now: She's healthy and typical. We survived childhooddiseases a vaccine is supposedly going to prevent.

My kids have immunity tochicken pox—I'd rather that assurance than hearing vaccine efficacy wanes aftera few years. My kids are healthy, and it's because we take care of them. We eatwell, and we are mindful of what goes in their bodies. It's not that difficultto understand, Doctor. If you can provide me with some facts that state thatthese vaccines will protect my children one hundred percent, and if the vaccineingredients aren't going to do harmful things in their bodies, I'd considervaccinating. Until that happens, we again respectfully ask for the exemption."

Ithink I wore the poor guy out. He nodded and wrote something down. Then hewalked out without saying anything. The nurse came back a few agonizing minuteslater to do a lead test for my youngest. Dr. Type A came back in one more timeto give us the paperwork to drop off at the front desk. I don't remember toomuch of his parting words, but he gave us the once over almost as if he'd witnesseda once-in-a-lifetime moment: children… doctor's office… leaving withoutvaccines. Huh.

Ididn't think it possible to confound a medical professional as quickly as Idid. I'll have to add "Baffles doctors to make them think" to my list of superpowers.

Wouldn'tit be great if the little bit of input I shared would start changing the tideof the medical profession? Maybe the vaccination mindset could be changed, onedoctor or nurse at a time.

Everyoffice visit, every encounter reinforces my philosophy: Educate before youvaccinate. After all, the kid you save may be your own.

Cathy Jameson is a dual-certified teacherwith ten years' experience in early and elementary education. Having steppedaway from the classroom to raise her five children, Cathy is now a full-timemother, advocate, and writer. When her son Ronan started to show signs ofdevelopmental delays, Cathy embarked on a mission to find answers, help andhealing - a mission she continues to this day.

She now writes regularlyabout Ronan, vaccine injury, special education, and parenting a special needschild with typical siblings. She writes with the hope that sharing herexperiences might help other families in similar situations. Cathy is aContributing Editor for Age of Autism and has had her work featured in The AutismFile Magazine and Pathways to Family Wellness Magazine. She is also a Co-Founder of The Thinking Moms' Revolution.

Reprinted with permissionof Pathways to Family Wellness magazine. For a limited time, Mercola.comreaders are invited to enjoy a complimentary digital subscription to Pathways!Click here for this special offer and enter "MERCOLA" in the promocode.

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