The Left Hand Column

Yesterday Monito had his six month well visit (almost a month late–he will be seven months on Thursday). At Kaiser they ask you to fill out a questionnaire while you’re waiting to be seen. It has about 30 questions that cover safety in the home (Have you turned the water heater in your house down? Are all cleaning solutions and medicines locked away?), milestones (Does your baby sit with back support? Does your baby pass objects between his hands?) and health issues (Is your baby allergic to any medications? Have their been any hospitalizations in the family since you were last seen?) The questions are almost all yes or no, but the answers are arranged so that the “right” answer is on the right and the “cause for concern” answer is on the left. So sometimes “yes” is on the left and sometimes “yes” is on the right. I’m assuming it’s set up this way so that the doctor can quickly scan the questionnaire and easily determine if there is anything she needs to talk to you about. Any checks in the left hand column warrant a follow-up discussion during when you’re finally seen.

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I remember filling out my first of those questionnaires when Osita was just a few days old. I was frustrated that the yes’s and no’s kept switching sides–I was sleep deprived and in pain, why were they making it so hard for me?! By the two month well visit I had figured it out, and I was marking the page accordingly. I didn’t want to get any of the answers “wrong,” so even though I sometimes turned my back on my two month old baby (who couldn’t move an inch in any direction) to grab something while I changed her, I dutifully checked the “no” in the right hand column. I mean, I KNEW I wasn’t supposed to turn away from her, even for a second, so it was okay if I fibbed a little.

Later, there were other questions I hovered over, unsure how to answer. Sure my daughter wasn’t crawling yet but I was sure she would be soon. Did I really need to talk to the doctor about it? Should I be worried that she hadn’t hit that milestone yet? If it was on the sheet, and my answer was in the left hand column, was it cause for concern?

By the time Osita could walk and talk, I wasn’t all that concerned about where my checkmarks fell. Sometimes I said my daughter was eating veggies on the reg and sometimes I had the conversation about how I was trying, but she just wouldn’t eat anything green (or any color really, except for white and cheese). I knew that my daughter was thriving, and I wasn’t worried about whether or not I could answer every question “correctly.” The questionnaires stopped with the free well visits, when my daughter turned two.

Now, with my son, I find myself back in the waiting room, filling out the questionnaires. It’s amazing how easy it is to get sucked back into that insecurity, that need to mark the right hand column, all the way down the page. My son is seven months old, but he’s not eating three meals of solids a day. In fact, I don’t think he’s actually swallowed a piece of solid food yet. I know this isn’t an issue, it’s not something I need to be concerned about, and yet I find myself wanting to lie and mark “yes.” Why is that? Why do we want our babies to fit under the umbrella of “normal?” Surely no mother can avoid the left handed column forever.

I get the point of these questionnaires, they are a quick and easy way to educate both parents and doctors. Parents might need to know not to put their baby in bed with a bottle, or they might need a reminder to put Poison Control into their speed dial (ahem–me). And while my doctor wasn’t concerned that Monito isn’t eating solid foods now, she will be if he’s still not at nine or twelve months old. The point is to keep our children safe, and intervene when something isn’t quite right.

“Normal” looks different for each baby and while the questionnaire doesn’t know that, my doctor does. Usually, when I mark something in the left hand column she assures me that every thing is fine and there’s nothing to worry about. And even though I already know that, it’s always nice for a professional reassure me. As parents can use all the reassuring we can get.

Does your doctor’s office have something similar? How do you feel when you have to answer in the “left hand column?”

2 responses

  1. The doctor’s office that we moved away from had something similar, but totally different. The questionnaire got sent home. It included questions, but also included activities that you were to do with your child, if you couldn’t answer immediately (Can your child pick up a Cheerio) type stuff. So, it was less about what we were doing as parents and more about the development of the child.

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