As a young adult, I never felt comfortable with confrontation. The notion of getting into an argument intimidated me. When I first got promoted to a supervisor position, I had to deal with employee performance issues like dress code and time and attendance. When I had to coach someone’s performance, I worried for days about the conversation, planning how I should phrase my words and preparing for retaliation. Maybe I worried I’d lose the argument or that the employee wouldn’t like me anymore, but I had a job to do and, through practice and some feeble trial-and-error, I improved and learned not to let their reaction bother me.
Nearly a decade has passed since I received my first taste of responsibility as a young adult. Since then, my wife, Laurie, and I have fostered five children, all under the age of three, and adopted two – one from foster care and one from a private agency. Currently, we are a kinship placement for our oldest son’s biological brother, a two-year-old boy we call J.
J came to us with multiple medical issues; the most serious concern was his need for oral surgery. A week after he came home, Laurie booked an appointment with a reputable pediatric dentist who accepted Medicaid (a battle itself). The dentist found eight cavities and recommended the only oral surgeon in town who accepted Medicaid. Unfortunately, this surgeon worked on children once a month and was booked until the following month.
During the month we waited for his surgery, J had three head colds. Laurie took him to the doctor three times and each time the doctor sent her away with a prescription for over-the-counter medication. J’s third cold came the weekend before his surgery and Laurie and I worried that if he were placed on an antibiotic his surgery would be postponed.
Our fears came true when Laurie took him in first thing Monday morning. The doctor diagnosed J with strep throat and said that his surgery would have to be postponed. Laurie called me at work and broke down crying. Had she been in good health herself, she might not have fallen apart, but she was on her way to her doctor who would diagnose her with strep throat as well.
I took a half sick day, rushed home, and booked an appointment for my three-year-old daughter, Vivianna, to see her pediatrician since she’d had a runny nose for a couple days. While I was gone, Laurie called the oral surgeon to cancel Thursday’s surgery. The office informed her the surgeon was booked the following month and that we’d have to wait two months. When Laurie called me with the news, I lost my temper.
I called J’s pediatrician’s office and told the receptionist that if J had been put on antibiotics the two earlier times we’d brought him in, then he wouldn’t have gotten strep, given it to his mother, I wouldn’t have had to take a sick day, and J’s surgery wouldn’t have to be postponed. The receptionist transferred me to the doctor’s assistant who asked me to repeat the entire story. I repeated everything at a higher volume and added, “This is your office’s fault and you need to make it right.” It was a pathetic bluff; this wasn't a restaurant that had messed up our meal and could comp the ticket. Nevertheless, it surprised me when she said I could bring him back in for a penicillin shot.
“You want me to bring him back today?” I asked.
The assistant said, “As long as he doesn’t have a reaction to the shot he can still have the surgery.”
I was more angry than relieved. “Why didn’t you give him the shot earlier in the day when he was in?” I asked.
She offered no explanation. She only said, “I’ll have to check with the doctor to make sure we can fit you in today.”
By now, it was after three o’clock in the afternoon and I started to worry about rush hour traffic and what we were going to do about dinner. At 3:30pm, the assistant called and said I could bring him in. I drove J myself and we were in and out in thirty minutes. He had no reaction to the penicillin and, three days later, had the surgery and came out fine.
I don’t like that I got as frustrated as I did with the pediatrician’s office. Yet, I don’t understand why i had to get so upset to get results from them. Had I not yelled at the assistant, she would not have offered the penicillin shot and J’s surgery would be postponed two months.
I have to remind myself that although the doctor’s office takes Medicaid, it is still a business and the staff will not lose any sleep if my son cries and points at his teeth when he chews food. Laurie and I alone are emotionally invested in the well being of this child. Like my role as a supervisor, I consider my role of a father as doing what I have to do because it’s my job, regardless of how comfortable I am. I don’t consider myself I fighter; rather I’m an advocate willing to do whatever it takes to ensure my children are taken care of.