When Emilee Francois’ 15-month-old son Emric suddenly developed a high fever and rash, the 30-year-old mother was desperate. Having moved from France to Delhi only recently, she didn’t know any doctors in the city. Certainly no one she could entrust with the care of her young child. Help came in the form of Laurice Denison, a colleague’s wife, who recommended Dr Rajesh N. Kumar. “It is such a relief to go to a doctor who has already attended to my friend’s children. I know Emric is in safe hands,” says Francois.
Kids get sick. It’s a guarantee that makes a competent paediatrician, who can make you feel comfortable and reassured, an essential part of the childcare armoury. So, how do you pick the right paediatrician? “It is never a good idea to just walk into any doctor’s clinic. Ask around, check for references and even when you are with the doctor, watch his or her demeanour towards the child and you. He should be soft with the child and willing to hear you out before reaching for his prescription pad,” says Dr. Rachna Khanna Singh, a lifestyle management expert at the Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre Limited, Delhi, and 33-year-old mother of three-year-old Aveka.
Despite such measures, most parents tend to go wrong the first time. Even if your friends rave about their doctor, all doctors have different approaches and methods of treatment, and parents have to decide what suits them best, depending on their own views. Nutan Lakhanpal Pandit, author of Pregnancy: The Complete Childbirth Book, says “the acid test” to judge a paediatrician by is “to assess how eager he or she is as far as antibiotics and tests are concerned. I’ve heard of child specialists who require one- or two-year-old children to have routine UTI (urinary tract infection) tests every two months, which is absurd.”
Also, if you’re not happy with a paediatrician’s bedside manner, don’t be afraid to switch. Right after Rachnaa Bakshi, 33, delivered her first-born, the resident paediatrician of the hospital almost reduced her to tears. “He was so militant about everything—‘throw relatives out; never use a feeding bottle; do not massage the baby’.” Bakshi says more than the advice, what put her off was the tone in which the missives were delivered. “He seemed to assume that I would be a bad mother and I couldn’t handle it,” she remembers. Once home, she called friends for recommendations and soon had a new child specialist she was comfortable with.
It is essential that the doctor you choose be a source of wholesome medical care. Some feel that an individual who focuses only on the physical aspect of a child’s well-being is far too narrow in focus. Dr. Singh, the mother of Aveka, left her last paediatrician because she was too abrupt and concise. “Kids throw tantrums, stop eating food, become undisciplined. You need advice from your doctor on how to handle such situations. He should not direct you to a child psychologist every time you want to chat about a conduct issue,” she says.
And “issues” can arise at any time of day or night. Which is why a doctor’s accessibility can make him/her your best friend, or your worst tormentor. While most parents believe that any doctor, especially a child specialist, should be accessible 24x7, overanxious guardians who press speed dial over every sneeze and twitch are equally trying. Being a medical professional herself, Dr. Singh says she understands how difficult it is when patients call incessantly for little things. “A good paediatrician must pre-warn the parent to watch out for signs that indicate the child is getting sicker, by saying things like, ‘Call me if your child vomits more than five times an hour’.” In fact, simple pre-emptive tips to parents on dealing effectively with fevers and minor scraps can curtail middle-of-the-night anxieties for parents and doctors alike.
Young Emric’s paediatrician, Dr. Kumar, who has a practice at Delhi’s Panchsheel Enclave, monitors his patients’ progress by making regular phone calls to the parents, and he’s always on call himself. On the other hand, Bakshi is thrilled that her doctor’s office calls to remind her about her daughter Sanaa’s vaccination schedule. “I am so new to this, and in the whole race of handling a baby, I forget schedules. A reminder can be helpful.”
Whatever yardstick you choose your paediatrician by, remember that there’s no perfect fix. What works for one family, may not pass the strictures of another. But if your doctor can combine proficient diagnosis and effective treatment with a patient ear, then you’ve got yourself a catch.
A thermometer:The jury’s out on whether the ear or mercury thermometer is best. Forehead strip thermometers and digital ones are rarely accurate, so don’t depend on them.
Gel-based soothes:Unlike a strip of wet cloth for the forehead, which makes most children cry, gel-based soothes are less messy, stick to the forehead and keep it cool.
Sugar: Keep ‘mishri’, sugar cubes, Cadbury’s Gems or other sweets handy. Pop a few into your child’s mouth to get rid of the taste of a nasty medicine. Works like a charm.