If I need a cardiologist, I can have my pick of them around here. Dermatologists are a dime a dozen. Oncologists, neurologists, and even urologists are easy to find. I can make an appointment with my orthopedic surgeon and get in to see him within 2 weeks.
That’s not what I need right now. That’s not why I’ve spent hours searching my health care’s website and cursing the provider search function. I gave up in frustration and asked for help in a local parent’s group: we need a developmental pediatrician.
As always, parents – overworked, tired, frustrated, and worn out – gave their precious time to help me out. If it wasn’t for my online tribe I would have lost my mind a very long time ago along this aching, heart-breaking journey.
Armed with 4 names – including one that doesn’t take our insurance – I called around town. I didn’t tell the pleasant receptionists that I needed to make an appointment. No, I asked 2 questions: is the doctor accepting new patients, and how long is the wait list?
Without fail, the wait list was at least 5 months. In one case it was 9 months. That, my friends, is a travesty of our medical system.
We live in the DC suburban area. We’re within reach of 3 – count them – 3 major CHILDREN’S medical centers. Medical centers that people travel to from all over the world for the scariest stuff you can imagine. And yet, we have a critical shortage of pediatric mental health and behavioral health professionals. I know we have it good compared to more rural areas, where families might have to travel for days to find the medical care they need for their kids.
I would cry if I wasn’t so ticked.
The tip of the iceberg
I honestly don’t understand how the diagnoses numbers for Autism Spectrum Disorder keep rising. There’s no one to diagnose them! If every child was able to see the specialists they needed to, would those numbers sky-rocket?
Are we in the middle of a truly epidemic mental and behavioral health crisis for our kids, and we just don’t know it?
I don’t know, and I don’t have the data to prove it. I do know that we are in the middle of a health care crisis and our kids are taking the brunt of it. What are you supposed to do with a child who is having suicidal thoughts? Everyone says “seek help,” but what if there IS no help? A 5 month wait could literally mean life or death. What about the child who is aggressive and dangerous to be around? Do you call police, or plead with their pediatrician to adjust their meds – medication the pediatrician has no experience with?
This is not my first go-around in this system designed to create despair. We gave up for the Engineer – we found ‘some’ help. Not enough, not the right help, and we gave up. Faced with a medical practice that sends patients around an infuriating phone tree that never connects to a real human, a doctor who shrugged his shoulders and said “I don’t know” once we finally got in, and a wait time of unfathomable reach for more testing, we gave up.
Now I’m jumping back in again, for the Destroyer this time. He’s reaching critical need: his behavioral outbursts are overwhelming and his frustration level is extreme. He needs help. I want to get him that help. But he’ll have to wait 5 months to even see a developmental pediatrician, let alone do any testing or therapies.
The lucky ones
If I’m being honest, I know I’m lucky. Because we do have 4 names to call. We have wait times of 5 months, instead of no one available. We have those 3 children’s medical centers staffed with pediatric experts in everything under the sun. We’ll only have to drive 2 hours each way instead of 2 days.
We’re lucky. Not everyone is. And for a first world country, that’s a travesty. It’s pathetic. Our children – our most vulnerable citizens – have no one to turn to.
If your child – might – need help, go ahead and call. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll get an appointment before things go critical. If by some chance your child is perfectly fine, then we’ll happily take your cancellation spot.
Take this shortage seriously, because waiting until the crisis point is too late.