One of the more frustrating things that come with a medical education is having people expect you to give advice or fix them right away. I’ve had Wife’s friends and coworkers call me, unexpectedly and unacknowledged, to ask me if their doc was crazy, or if they should be doing this for that, etc. I’ve told all of them a very similar message: I don’t give advice over the phone or in person, I’m a medical student, go see your doctor. I have stated and firmly believe that you shouldn’t give advice to people without being their doctor - regardless of the relationship. It can come back and bite you in the ass.
That being said, it’s harder when it’s your family. Both my kids were sick recently (10 days of hacking cough and 2 days of violent food poisoning) and I’ve been trying to take care of them as best I can. Since they’ve been sick with illnesses that would resolve on their own I’ve really just been dolling out comfort care. But it upsets you, to know that you’re looked at to fix them and that being post haste. Plus, on top of that expectation is the very real notion that you're not believed.
“What good is your medical education if you can’t take care of this?”
"I didn't really believe what you were saying, but I guess you were right."
I’ve heard those statements before and will most likely hear them again. It’s hard to tell your loved one that they just have to “suck it up” and deal with it for a while – there’s nothing that can be done beyond supportive care. Certainly you feel that you want to be proactive and heal your family, but at the same time you must realize that in order to be a good husband and father you have to distance yourself from your medical training – at least to some extent.
I've had conversations with my mom about my dad's cancer, if it's progressed, and similar topics. She recently asked me, while out for an interview, to come with them to a follow up appointment where a new growth was going to be discussed. Because this subject was well beyond my training, I went and asked only a few pertinent questions. My goal was to be a support while trying to not interfere with the relationship developed between my dad and his doctor. Mostly I was there, I think, to make my mom feel better and certainly not second guess the treatment plan. They were glad I accompanied them, but I understood the hazards that were in place at my being present and tried dutifully to avoid traversing them.
There’s a slippery slope that can develop if we get too involved in caring for our family or friends. Regardless of your experience I feel that we can get too emotionally involved and attempt too much without the guidance of other, perhaps more appropriate, physicians and nurses. I’ve had times where I felt guilty for wanting to take Daughter to her pediatrician because I felt there was something that they could do - anything - just make her happy again. I've also had times where I've felt ashamed for presenting with an illness that, in retrospect, was an easy diagnosis that did not require a sick visit.
Between all of these cases she's been OK, but it still bothers me. Stepson's dad has taken him to their doctor after I've told him there's really not much more they can do - too which I've found some degree of anger directed towards him. Regardless of whether or not I was accurate I have since realized that it's not his job to trust me (nor I him) as I'm not their physician. And because of these understandings, based on pride and shame, I realized that I was too involved in the care of a loved one and could have made mistakes shadowed by emotional attachments.
A perk of medical training is being able to take care of people around you, but it is imperative that all physicians realize there's more undertaken while caring for a family member than a regular patient. Important findings could be minimalized by a desire to avoid a tough discussion or diagnosis and bonds that were once strong can be broken forever. I personally have decided to never provide healthcare for my family that would normally be part of their doctor visits.