When Should I Call the Doctor?

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Every parent goes through the back and forth of when they should call the pediatrician about a question they have or a circumstance that has come up. My short answer is to call them whenever you darn well feel like it because that’s what they’re there for. However, it may be a little more difficult for some parents to be vulnerable and ask for help, so I’d like to talk more about my reasoning when it comes to making the call (about making the call).

First, a quick review of a few reasons I’ve called my pediatrician:
  • The wrap around my son’s circumcision wouldn’t budge
  • Swollen lymph node (that ended up being his collar bone…)
  • Suspected croup (it was)
  • Suspected jaundice (it was)
  • Suspected worse-than-normal cold (ended up being walking pneumonia)
  • Asking about a sleep aid for my toddler (was told no melatonin until age 3)
  • Suspected thrush (it was)
  • Common cold questions
  • Suspected ear infections (sometimes was, sometimes wasn’t)
  • Limp after a fall (just a bruised bone)

A lot of the time I was right on the money and was very glad I made the decision to call and get an appointment to be seen. However, there were a couple of instances where I left the doctor’s office feeling like a complete idiot and that I completely missed the mark. But besides a little ego bruise, was I out anything? Absolutely not. In every instance, I was trying to do what I thought was best for my child. And most of the time, calling and asking for help was exactly the right choice.

I’m under the impression that this decision comes down to listening to your gut and using your “mother’s intuition”. If it’s a pressing question or you’re really not feeling comfortable about the state your child is in, that’s probably a good sign that you should call for aid. Whenever I’m debating making a phone call to the pediatrician’s office, I end up asking myself, “What’s the worst case scenario?” Ultimately, I’d rather be safe than sorry!

When you call in, you’ll likely have to press a certain button, or ask to speak to a nurse. Under most circumstances, after hearing your story the nurse will ask a few questions to get enough information from you. If your question is easily answerable (medicine dosages, general health questions, prescription refills, etc.), then there most likely won’t be any need to see the doctor and you can be on your way after the phone call. But when it comes to non-emergency injuries or illnesses, you’ll probably get told to come in to the office to get your child checked out by the doctor.

Pediatricians have empty time slots every day that are there for this exact reason. I’ve always been impressed at how efficiently they are able to squeeze us in to their already busy day! And another thing I remind myself of is that this is their job! Even if it’s a “dumb question” (which I’m sure they’re used to), it’s exactly what they’re there to help you with. The fact that we have so many resources at our fingertips is pretty awesome.

However, these offices don’t run 24/7 so this presents a more difficult question: when should I call the on-call doctor? During lunchtime, after five o’clock, or over the weekend, the phone line will state that they are out of office but that there is an on-call doctor available if necessary.

“If you feel this is an emergency, please hang up and call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.” (I have this recording memorized from my OBGYN's office from calling there so many times.) But even though we’re talking about kids here, the same applies. If it’s an emergency, don’t bother calling the on-call doctor: book it to the E.R. or call 911. If it’s not an emergency but it’s pressing, and you aren’t able to wait a few hours or a day or two, that’s when to call the on-call doctor.

Making decisions is something that, as a parent, you’re pretty stuck with. Some are tiny, and some are huge, but it’s up to you to make the best choice for your child. It’s pretty daunting, but when it comes to wondering when you should call and ask for help, I personally think it’s never a bad thing to seek guidance, direction, someone else’s opinion, or assistance. Good luck, Mama!

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