My son hates doctors’ offices.
He developed his anxiety early on. I don’t know whether he associates getting shots with the exam rooms, but as soon as he sees one, he will cry. In fact, we were at a children’s museum with an area set up like a doctor’s office, and he cried when he saw the exhibit.
I now know that some of this anxiety could be sensory related. Maybe he smells things that I don’t. Maybe the sterile decor offends him visually. I think it is also a lack of familiarity. He has been a fairly healthy child. He only went to the doctor for wellness checks for his first two years. Except for the other appointments related to his developmental delays (speech and hearing screenings and his autism screening), he didn’t go to the doctor for anything other than a wellness check until he started preschool. Hello, germs!
I had scheduled his four-year wellness check for shortly after his birthday. I decided I needed to start preparing him now for the visit. While curiosity often overcomes Philip’s dislike of the exam room, he still gets upset when the nurse or doctor tries to examine him.
I have to look at it from his perspective. He is in a room that he may never have been in before. I may have told him we are going to the doctor, but that phrase has no meaning for him. Once inside this out-of-the-ordinary environment, strangers try to touch him, often using unusual tools and instruments. And let’s not forget that the reason we are there is that he doesn’t feel good. No wonder he clings to me so desperately.
While shopping at the Dollar Store one day, I saw one of those play doctor kits and had an idea. For just a dollar, I acquired a cheap plastic stethoscope, one of those scopes for looking in the ear, nose and eyes and a fake syringe. Several days later, as Philip got in the tub for bath, I showed him the stethoscope.
I held on to it, touching it to my body. I gave him time to get used to its presence. When he was ready, he briefly touched it.
Slowly but surely, I was able to pretend to listen to his heart. Soon, he got brave enough to actually touch and then hold the stethoscope. He still didn’t like it when I tried to touch it to his back, but there was no crying.
I decided that was enough for one day and put shaving cream in the tub for Philip to play with. He loves this, so I figured it would serve as a reward for his bravery.
I’ve pulled out the toy kit a few times since. He doesn’t cringe at the sight of it anymore and grabs at it early on. He even started putting that one part on his own chest. Then, I was surprised to see him try to put the listening part in his ears.
Today, my efforts at desensitizing Philip to the paraphernalia of the doctor’s office got put to an early test. Philip threw up early Sunday morning and was lethargic for most of the day. He started running a fever. Since he has been rubbing his ears even more than usual (touching his ears is when of his stims), I didn’t want to take any chances. It was off to the doctor’s office (instead of preschool which just started last week. Sigh).
Philip willingly enters the building that houses the pediatric practice. He also usually finds something to entertain himself with in the waiting room. But as in times past, as soon as he saw the exam room, he cried, even though we hadn’t yet gone in.
After getting weighed and reluctantly entering the room, Philip stayed on my lap for the whole exam. He was tired, so that didn’t help him deal with his anxiety. However, I was pleased to notice that he didn’t fight the stethoscope. He usually cringes and turns his body away from it, but not this morning.
As for the scope used on the ears, Philip did his best to squirm and loudly express his displeasure. The good news was there is no infection in his ears. I guess we are going to need more practice with the otoscope’s plastic toy equivalent at bath time.
Philip is just going to be scared of some things. Heck, I’m an adult and I’m afraid of heights. I know grown people who squeal at bugs. Fear is a normal, healthy reaction. However, some fears can get in the way of living. Philip’s fear of the doctor prevents the pediatrician from giving him a thorough exam. I’m going to have to do my best to prepare for these visits in advance.
I have three weeks until our next trip to the doctor. I know what role I’ll be playing at bath time until then.