The week before our twins were discharged from the NICU after 78 long days, we were required to submit the name of our pediatrician. We didn’t have one. And we had no idea where to start looking for one. We knew that we had some family in town who loved their pediatrician, but other than that, we were on our own. We asked the NICU doctors and nurses if they could recommend someone, if there was someone in town who specialized in preemies, or anyone who had previously been a NICU doctor and was now in private practice. No one could make a solid recommendation and I was slightly amazed. Our babies were in the only Level III NICU in the state, in the largest city in the state, in the largest hospital/clinic system in the state, and no one could make a recommendation!
A few years before I got pregnant, I was at an Ethics in Business luncheon and a pediatrician was winning an award for his service to the community. He also happened to be the father of a colleague. In my daze from being in the NICU for so many hours so many weeks in a row, I sent my colleague (who I knew also had a young child) a message and asked him if his dad was taking new patients. He was not, but this colleague recommended their pediatrician who was in the same practice. With no where else to go, we called the clinic and started the paperwork to get an appointment for our babies for when they were released from the hospital.
Our first trip to the pediatrician was slightly terrifying: the drive was scary (less than 2 miles from our house, but we had precious cargo), the weather was scary (it was probably about 50 degrees and calm and clear, but again…precious cargo!), and the office was scary (there were lots of other people in there and up to this point our babies had only been in the hospital and at our house). The nurse called us back and had us strip both kids all the way down to be weighed and measured. Our little girl had a few high blood pressure readings while in the hospital, so her blood pressure was checked. They had to take it several times because the cuff was too big, and then, all the readings were sky high. We’d just been through a battery of tests related to the blood pressure before being discharged from the NICU and now it felt like we were back to square one!
And then we met the pediatrician, who we basically chose on a whim. I knew we wanted a pediatrician in the same hospital system where our babies had been in the NICU, but other than that, we knew next to nothing about this person. She was immediately kind and considerate, she was calm and interested, and she listened.
We shared about our time in the NICU as she made notes and then she got right to work checking out our kiddos. Over the next several months, we had appointments every two weeks with her and she worked hard to find solutions to our problems. She guided us through the process of seeing various specialists and made appointments for us. She altered prescriptions and recommended various techniques to relieve reflux, gas, and a bevy of other challenges.
One afternoon, as we were trying desperately to find some relief for our daughter’s reflux, our pediatrician called and explained to us that she’d just spoken with the pediatric gastrointerologist at the hospital who had some recommendations. I was flabbergasted. It’s easy to feel like you’ve come to the end of your rope with your own doctor if a solution is not immediately apparent, and there are lots of doctors who give up, but I was so thankful that our doctor used her resources and reached out to other specialists. It made me realize that she must have done the same to help us find solutions to our other challenges, and indeed, she had! She made regular calls to our NICU to find out about height/weight ratios for preemies and other nutritional guidelines, she contacted other pediatricians who had more experience with preemies and preemie specific problems, she even organized a retreat to educate herself and others about preemies!
A large part of us choosing the right pediatrician for our little preemies was luck, but I recently asked our pediatrician a few questions about post-NICU babies and available care, and although this may not be true in all circumstances, our state (New Mexico) has a physician access line (PALS) that gives doctors in smaller communities access to doctors at the hospital. She also did not know of any pediatricians who specialized in preemies but suggested that people with limited access to care ask their NICU if there is a clinic that specifically follows preemies after discharge.
Finding a pediatrician is a daunting task, but if you’re willing to ask your pediatrician for more information or more solutions, chances are, they’ll do what they can to help find solutions – it’s their job afterall!