Seattle Mama Doc

A blog by Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson.

A mom, a pediatrician, and her insights about keeping your kids healthy.

Do You Believe in Vaccines? (Part III: Experience)

Helping families make decisions about their child’s health takes training, expertise, and experience. The training is standardized (medical school, residency, fellowship), and the expertise confirmed by passing board examinations and maintaining yearly CME (continuing med education). But the experience piece is ultimately unique for each physician. With each day in clinical care, patients teach, instruct, and shape how we understand wellness and illness. Through individual experiences with patients, physicians ultimately become who they are in the exam room. In medicine, despite the huge push to standardization everything from centralized phone calls to how much (or little) time we get with patients, individual doctors will fortunately remain unique. As patients, we still get to enjoy our physicians as people helping us through illness and injury.

This week has been intense. Wednesday, I spent the morning as a patient in the care of my incredible doctor. (I’m fine). She’s entirely instructive for me as a patient and as a physician; her bedside manner astounds. I believe she’s just very good at her job, partly because she’s uniquely experienced. I believe her experience being a nurse for many years before becoming a doctor really colors how she provides care–she gets it.

The week has also been intense because of this series. I’ve been thinking about immunizations, reading comments here on the blog, writing, and witnessing my patients’ responses. I’ve received many e-mails. Yesterday, I was at clinic for over 10 hours and like most days, immunizations were a huge part of my day. But I said things I’ve never said before…True synergy between my clinical self (doctor) and my writer self (Mama Doc), this experience is shaping who I am, in and out of the exam room.

Of course, experiences in clinical care (and living on planet earth) shapes how all pediatricians discuss and listen to families when discussing immunizations. Here’s the final segment in my series on asking pediatricians if they “believe” in vaccines. The 20 or so pediatricians who responded, talked about their experiences in representing vaccines. Additional comments are included in part 1 (emotion) and part 2 (evidence).

Experience:

Dr Kronman, a pediatrician and infectious disease fellow:

We don’t see these diseases anymore. I work at a premier tertiary/quarternary care facility for children. I have seen children die of influenza (seasonal, H1N1), pneumococcus, meningococcus, the late sequelae of measles, pertussis; I have seen Hib meningitis, tetanus, severe debilitating outcomes with varicella, cervical cancer caused by HPV, and severe rotavirus. This list goes on. But most people haven’t seen these things anymore. People don’t have to panic about their children in the summer becoming permanently paralyzed from polio, because we don’t see it anymore. And the reason? Vaccines. Read full post »

Do You Believe in Vaccines: (Part II: Evidence)

I asked a group of 33 pediatricians what they would say to the question, “Do you believe in vaccines?” while standing in line for coffee. I asked for their help in thinking about an effective, 2 minute answer.

This is part 2 in a series. For detailed information behind the why, read part I (emotional responses) or watch the video explaining how this came to be. As I said, I’m not a believer in scripts. I’m not attempting to suggest there is one, 2 minute segment for every family that will help. Part of the reason I started this blog was that in practice, I realized when I told families what I knew and learned in training, they listened. When I told them what I did for my own children and how I felt, they made decisions. Telling my story seemed essential.

(This is going to sound familiar) I don’t want to increase the divide between those parents who are worried or skeptical of the possible harms of immunization, and those parents, doctors, and experts and who believe in the benefits. Rather, I want to regain our similarities.

Today I’ve included responses from pediatricians that mentioned things that I experienced as “evidenced.” But rather than talk to you about numbers, causality, rates of autism, and the absence of thimerisol in all childhood vaccines (except multi-dose flu shots), these comments focus on the evidence that helps physicians discuss immunizations with families. There was a paucity of numbers in the responses from these physicians.

Dr Gayle Smith (@MDPartner), a general pediatrician in Richmond, VA says it best:

I’d say how much I wished pediatricians were better ‘rock stars’ with our message of prevention so we could be more effective in the media limelight.  I’d speak my own willingness to touch the hearts of the families I care for, to carry the bag of fear and worry for them, perhaps lessening their load a bit. Read full post »

Do You Believe In Vaccines? (Part I: Emotion)

I wrote 33 pediatricians an e-mail asking what they would say, while in line for coffee, to the parent of a newborn when asked if they “believed in vaccines.”  I wrote the e-mail not as a gimmick or a way to frame the issue of vaccine hesitancy, but because this happened to me. Rather, this happens to me. Often. When a new father asked me this question while carrying his newborn baby 2 weeks ago, I told him what I thought.  I then ruminated about my response for 24+ hours and wrote a group of colleagues. How do we talk with parents we don’t know, outside of the exam room, to help them understand why we feel so strongly about protecting children with vaccines?

I’m not a believer in scripts. I’m not attempting to suggest there is one, 2 minute segment for every family that will help. I wanted to hear what these expert pediatricians would say to get a sense of their collective insight. I wanted you to see it, as well.  I want to be really good at my job as a pediatrician when helping families understand the science, the evidence, and the emotion behind raising healthy kids and preventing illness with vaccines.

But I also really want families to understand why pediatricians work so hard to vaccinate children. I don’t want to increase the divide between those parents who are worried or skeptical of the possible harms of immunization, and those parents, doctors, and experts and who believe in the benefits. Rather, I want to regain our similarities.

We are all so similar.

We all want to do what is right for our children.  That’s why everyone is so nuts about this. Simply stated, we all care immensely.

This was confirmed when I wrote docs from all parts of the US. I got over 20 responses.

I’ve arranged these pediatricians’ thoughts based on how I experienced their comments:

  • Emotional
  • Evidenced
  • Experienced

These thoughts are not mutually exclusive; you’ll hear evidence in the emotional comments, experience in the evidenced ones, and emotion in the experienced ones. Today’s post includes responses that felt emotional.

As I said in the video, it isn’t just parents who are emotional about vaccines. Read the comments to that post and you’ll see—some 30+ comments, mostly written by pediatricians, full of energy, data, and emotion. Pediatricians (and scientists/public health experts) are ultimately responsible for improving the way families understand immunizations. So this is weighty.

Emotional:

Most of these doctors wrote me about listening more than about talking.  But here’s some of what they said:

Dr David Hill, a pediatrician in North Carolina wrote:

Boy is this an issue on all of our minds! For me this question has particular poignancy, as we all watched our partner’s (a pediatrician) 22-year-old daughter die of H1N1 last year. To see her face-down on a ventilator, bloated and pale and then to have a parent tell me, as one did last week, ‘Everyone knows the flu vaccine causes just as much disease as it prevents.’

Gulp. His response to that parent’s viewpoint: Read full post »

Wednesday Before Thanksgiving

Be safe today. With travel defining many of our days, this is a day I think about safety every year. Now more than ever because of my kids. Motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death for children in the United States. The CDC statistics on child passenger safety state that child safety seats reduce the risk of death in passenger cars by 71% for infants and 54% of toddlers age 1 to  4 year of age. Car and booster seats are an awesome way to protect our kids.

Wednesday before Thanksgiving was changed for me forever while training in pediatrics.

Wait, a warning: this is a slightly morbid thought. So if it will do you no good, don’t read on. I share this only to show you how and why pediatric training and the profession of caring for ill children shapes how and why we pediatricians believe so strongly in preventing illness and injury. Terrible stories are instructive.

One year in residency, I rotated into the pediatric ICU during November. I was on-call the Wednesday before Thanksgiving until middle of the day Thursday. I was taking care of critically ill patients, some who were on the transplant list waiting for organs. I remember as colleagues left for the day on Wednesday afternoon and evening, one doctor mentioned she wasn’t worried. She knew the patients in the ICU were going to get the organs they needed shortly. It was the biggest travel day of the year, she explained, and organs were going to be much more available.

Entirely morbid, and then entirely hopeful, too. Yes, the organs did arrive over the weekend…

The memory of that conversation really stuck with me. I don’t know if it’s true that more organs are available soon after the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (biggest travel day defined) because of travel related accidents, but it comes into my head every year. Makes me double check the car seats, re-examine the buckles, and drive a bit more slowly.

Be safe today, all. Don’t take risks you don’t need to take, and buckle up. Ensure the carseats are properly installed, particularly if you’re putting a seat in a relative’s or a rented car while you travel away from home.

I like this USA Today article with tips about traveling with infants and children, too.

And here’s my take on why I don’t recommend using Benadryl on the plane if you were thinking about throwing it in the travel bag.

Be well. Enjoy time with friends, family, and your Thanksgiving traditions. I am so thankful for all of you…

Good Decision: Cough And Cold Medications Off The Market In 2007

Over the counter (OTC) cough and cold medications do very little for cough in infants and young children. There is a pile of research that supports this. Parents often agree after they try these tinctures. Because of the lack of effectiveness and concern for side effects (or worse: over-dose), makers of OTC cough and cold medications voluntarily took them off the market in 2007. This was an incredible step in protecting children. In getting rid of unnecessary (and ineffective) medication marketed for young children, we’ve improved pediatric care in this country. Today, some data backs this up. Read full post »

Two Minutes To Represent Vaccines?

Last Friday I was in line for a coffee and met a newborn baby. Her father asked me if “I believed in vaccines.” I answered him (hint: I do). But then I got to thinking…how could I have done it better? I wrote some friends…

Work-Life-Balance

I did a live radio show for the the AAP’s Healthy Children radio show last week.

Click the above link if you’d like to take a listen or below for individual segments (each about 15 minutes).

My favorite part of the first interview is when I mention magic. Of course, the hard work of raising young kids is simply so worth it. We get so much more than we give. Nothing about this is easy of course, and nothing about this static, either. Take a listen and let me know if what you think.

Work-Life-Balance Issues for Working Parents

Breast Feeding, Working, and Being a Working Moms

Evidence for Vicks VapoRub?

A Pediatrics study this past week starts out stating that, “Upper respiratory infections (URIs) are the most common acute illness in the world.” Wowza, that seems like a show stopper right there. But it’s true, anyone who works with kids or has kids or knows kids (let’s be honest) also knows that winter brings snot to little noses. And lots of it. I really believe that snot and mucus are a part of being a kid in the wintertime.

Kids typically have 6-10 colds a year, mainly between October and May, so if your child is snot-free today this mid-November, consider yourself lucky. Kids get upper respiratory infections (“a cold”) one after another after another and its often difficult to know when one cold ends and a new one begins. The far majority of these colds are caused by viruses. And because we don’t have treatments to impair the virus or kill the viruses that cause colds, we recommend supporting the machine that does: the body. Support your child as they fight off infections. Immune systems are amazingly efficient. Feed these immune systems the proper fuel: rest, hydration/liquids, energy, and most important, time.

We see many children in clinic with colds when families come in concerned about fever, cough, sore throat, congestion, or possible ear infections. Fortunately we rarely have to use antibiotics or other medication interventions. And although it’s nice not to have to prescribe medications for well children with uncomplicated colds, I hate not having much in my tool box to help a family. After a terrible sleepless night of coughing, hacking, fever, and snottiness, families come in absolutely exhausted. Pediatricians really do get this and we do want to do “something.” But often our advice comes off as “The doctor did nothing.” I look at it this way, we ruled our bacterial infection, provided ideas for improving cough (humidifier in the room, honey before sleep for kids over 1 year of age, nasal suction [love NoseFrida], and upright positioning to let the snot drip the right way) and gave guidance about why or when to return. But I do want more tools in my toolbox. This study may help.

As I mentioned last week, sleep is a major commodity while raising children (duh). The study on Vicks VapoRub surprised me. Read full post »

Happy Birthday, Blog

It’s crazy when people talk about themselves in the third person. Also crazy, when virtual projects take on lives of their own. Personification- isn’t that the term? You and me blog, we’ve been inseparable this past year. A proud mama, I am. Drained and exhausted, yup, that too. But to you, today, I say the most sincere, Happy Birthday.

Today marks 1 year for Seattle Mama Doc. It’s been wild– something akin to piloting a plane, taming a wild dog, starting a new business? For me, this last year has been the most rigorous of my life: raising my boys, seeing patients in clinic, writing, creating, and speaking about what I believe to be true in health care. All the corners of my brain are being accessed though, and on most days it feels really good. And today, I must say, I’m a bit teary eyed as I mark all the 1’s in the calendar (11/11/10 for a 1st birthday ain’t bad). In celebration, at the end of my long day in clinic, I’ll bake a cake. Sit at the counter in my kitchen and eat. Should be a nice way to mark the huge milestone for me. In lieu of gifts, will you please leave comments? What have you liked, what can I do better, and of what would you like to see more?

I’m so thankful for the success, the support from others, and the change I believe we are making in improving communication around children and health. Thank you for reading (silently) and for commenting (loudly). You truly feed me, too.

A Year In Review

Am I right? Do you remember this differently?

Here’s to another year. But wait…a day of clinic, and then a bite of cake, first.

Breast Feeding vs Formula: Mommy Sleep

Loved a study published today in Pediatrics. Researchers sought to determine if mothers who breastfed slept less than those who formula fed their babies. I hear lots of talk (at birthday parties to office visits) about how formula or rice cereal creates better infant sleepers. So far, science doesn’t back up these claims. But as every new mom (and dad) knows, sleep is the major commodity during your infant’s first 6-12 months. We really want our babies to sleep through the night. Desperately. Six weeks in, crying is at a peak for infants and mothers are utterly exhausted after a pregnancy, a labor/delivery, and a month or so of very fragmented and dwindling sleep. Not only are we at peace when our babies sleep, we often rest, too. Maternal rest is essential for familial functioning, enjoyment of a baby’s infancy, and simple recovery. Sleep is not just about feeling rested or perceiving that you get more (or less) sleep than the other baby’s mothers on the block. It is about wellness, too. The study asserts that, “a growing body of evidence shows that mothers may not, in fact, do fine with less sleep.” Maternal sleep may affect rates of postpartum depression and an infant’s emotional and cognitive outcome. Getting rest is something we actually CRAVE in the first few months of our baby’s lives. Sleep, at some point, has to be a priority.

Researchers in West Virginia wanted to figure out if mothers of formula fed babies got a better night of sleep compared to those who breast fed or partially breast fed. The motivation behind the study was to dispel any perceived disadvantage of breastfeeding. Before you get up in arms about how bad your night sleep was while breast feeding compared to baby Jane next door who was chugging formula, look at what they did. Sometimes understanding how a study was performed helps you interpret how much weight you put into the results. Read full post »