Here’s my message, a plea actually, to male doctors. Set your male ego aside. Focus on the patient. Listen to the parents. They’ve been dealing with the unique medical issues for their special needs child for as long as the child has been alive. They may not have a degree in medicine, but they have a hard-earned degree in parenting.

I don’t mean to generalize. My cardiologist is a man, and he’s a wonderful doctor. Asks good questions and actually listens to my answers. Always willing to share with me the latest research affecting my medications and tests, and Medicare rules. and we have had plenty of good ER doctors that were men. They listened to us about our experiences and what has worked in the past. But all of our negative experiences with the medical community have been with male doctors. and it’s always a case of their egos taking priority over our experience.

The most egregious case occurred close to 20 years ago. It was at a time when our son’s chronic ear infections first showed as a spike in his temperature. We asked the ER doctor to give an antibiotic injection to start the fight against the infection ahead of the oral antibiotic regimen prescribed. He didn’t feel the ears looked bad enough to warrant an injection, despite our explanation that it was common that his ears were often worse than they looked. We were sent home without the injection. 

Eight hours later we were in an ER after his fever hit 106 and he seizured, prompting a call to 911 and an ambulance ride to the hospital. At the ER, they measured his temperature at 106.4. Later we were informed that 107 is typically fatal. How much trauma was endured; how many resources were expended; how much cost was incurred because one doctor didn’t want to heed what parents told him?

Our most recent experience once again involved an ear infection triggering a seizure. In the years that have passed, our son has become allergic to the injectable antibiotic that has previously been our go-to ER treatment. What we’ve found instead has been helpful is a steroid shot to address any inflammation from the infection. Without the steroid shot, we experience another seizure the next day, prior to the oral antibiotics taking effect. With the steroid shot, no such secondary seizure. 

The male ER doctor treating our case declined to give the steroid shot. It wasn’t part of their “seizure protocol”, and he didn’t feel the steroid was treating any condition he could describe. Our explanation of our experiences fell on closed ears. We left the ER that night without the steroid. Predictably, we were back the next morning with another seizure. This time, a female nurse practitioner had no difficulty, after consultation with a different doctor, providing a steroid shot. Once again, there was trauma to our son and us, unnecessary demands on hospital resources, and wasted costs to the Medicare/Medicaid systems because one doctor refused to listen to what we had to say.

The most problematic situation involves our son’s current ENT. To begin with, he does not accept that ear infections can trigger seizures. Even though our son’s neurologist has assured us that infections are one of four possible triggers for his breakout seizures (his seizures are normally controlled through medication, until he has an infection), and our primary care physician concurs. Both of them are women; maybe not a coincidence. The ENT also claims our son is not really experiencing ear infections. 

Over the years, we have had the misfortune to visit ERs in six different hospitals from Birmingham, AL to Bloomington, IL. Some of them multiple times. I could barely hazard a guess as to how many different ER doctors have treated our son. In every visit, the diagnosis has been otitis media–ear infection. Depending on the ER and the doctor, he’s been tested for all manner of other possible causes of infection. Urinary tract. Respiratory. Viral. Even meningitis. Every other possible source test has turned up negative. Ears are the only constant.

But the ENT insists (and this is probably the most arrogant position I’ve ever heard a doctor of any type take) that ER doctors aren’t qualified to diagnose an ear infection. Think about the possible number of ER doctors we’ve seen and the unbelievable implication of that statement. It is not only arrogant, it is downright stupid. He also claims that it is impossible for our son to have an ear infection because he has developed permanent perforations in both ear drums (the result of many, many sets of tubes) which allow for aeration and drainage.

As a result of his beliefs, he says that our son’s problems do not stem from ear infections, and as such, diagnosing and treating the problem is not for him to do. It’s a problem elsewhere in the body, he says, and he has put the treatment back on the primary care physician. He has essentially washed his hands of us. Fortunately, our female primary care doctor is very patient and willing to research and explain alternatives we can try.

My own opinion is that his ego has been so significantly bruised (or at least challenged) by an unusual problem that he has so far been unable to figure out, that he no longer wants to face that challenge. Too hard on his ego. He seems to be unable to ask the question, “What might be happening that presents as an ear infection, but might be originating in some other related system?” and he certainly isn’t able to postulate an answer. Or maybe he’s just unwilling to work that hard for a patient he doesn’t seem to genuinely care about.

To those male doctors out there who do truly focus on their patients, don’t let their egos get in the way, and who actually listen to parents, I’m sorry if I’ve lumped you in with the men who don’t. It’s simply an indication of the level of frustration we’ve experienced in the past, and are continuing to experience with some male doctors. Our only recourse has been to seek out female doctors to the extent we can. Unfortunately, we can’t ensure they’re available for every specialty and situation. Please pay attention to parents.