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2 Skills You Can Use to Advocate for Yourself at the Doctor’s Office

By |February 26, 2024

When you’re in the middle of a crisis, especially a medical one, the Black Swan skills can help you advocate for yourself or the other person in your life. Slowing the conversation down, using Accusations Audits, paying attention to your tone, all of these things can impact your experience. This is also important for those in the medical field and/or social work. 

Our family is familiar with being on the patient side of medical discussions due to navigating Cystic Fibrosis (CF). These conversations can sometimes leave one feeling like they've received information through a firehose. One of the biggest tools I use in the CF world is Summary™. You’re often given information so quickly that even if it’s in terms you understand, when the information impacts you or a loved one personally, you’re not always catching it all. 

So when you’re in a conversation, whatever it is, summarize what the other person said: 

“So far you’ve told me….as a result you feel…” I made a point to start summarizing during rounds as a mom to a newborn in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). It was empowering. The simplicity of a summary was perfect as it allowed me to gain traction in a crisis when my amygdala was hijacked. It was a tool I used to use to gain information, better understand the situation and advocate for my daughter. As it began to work, my confidence as an advocate increased. 

I’ve seen too many families struggle to advocate for themselves. Some feel they are just being told what to do, they feel pressure, and they’re scared. If you don’t know where to start, begin with a Summary. Using this skill will ensure you get the information you’ve missed or don’t understand. Then you will be able to make better, more informed decisions.

The Accusation Audit 

During the weeks in NICU our little one underwent surgery, was kept in an incubator, had a peripherally inserted central catheter line placed, and tubes stretching from her little body. My husband and I stayed with her throughout, never leaving her side. Finally, after several weeks, they removed all the lines in her body—it seemed like we would be able to go home at last. 

“We’re just waiting for her to get older, to do a sweat test, before we release her.” The sweat test is the gold standard for confirmation. 

The NICU is incredible, and we have maintained strong relationships with the pulmonologist on her care team. I am grateful for the specialists, NICU nurses and doctors who worked with us and continue to work with so many others. Being in a hospital setting for weeks, without leaving, left us exhausted and depleted. I knew we needed to work on our mindset and the best place for us at the time was at home. We were told that Cystic Fibrosis was the likely diagnosis and she was now thriving with the right medications. 

I wondered if the possibility of releasing us wasn’t considered. If it was safe to release her, could we convince them to consider letting us go? What was the best way to approach the difficult conversation without losing traction with her doctors?

I made a list of Accusations Audits. I spent a long time thinking about every negative thing they might think. Every reservation, every reason why they’d say no. The reason’s made me uncomfortable which meant I was probably on track. I was also very aware of my tone. I practiced early that morning. “You’re probably going to think I’m just another tired mom that doesn’t know what’s best for her daughter. You may even feel like we don’t take your direction seriously...” 

Finally rounds came and I started to give the group every Accusation Audit. I was interrupted by the doctor with a clarification that they didn’t feel that way at all. I added the last audit before proceeding. At the end I said, “We need to be at our best to take care of our little one as we navigate this diagnosis. And part of taking care of family is taking care of mental health. Since our home provides a better space for this, we will drive in every day for testing if needed and allowed. Would it be terrible if you let us go home sooner.” 

The doctor took some time to think. She left after rounds and then returned to our room for a more private conversation. She sat down next to me. Suddenly she started crying. “I’m a mom too,” she said. “I know what your family needs and that you will do anything to work with our team. I’m gonna get you out of here.”

We were released, and were allowed to return every single day after. Difficult conversations with Tactical Empathy build stronger relationships. They build stronger relationships with care teams, advocates and patients. 

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Not easy, but worth it

None of us know when a crisis like a diagnosis will strike. My husband and I had no idea—we never imagined dealing with such a tough topic as we drove in to welcome our little one to the world. But, being on the other side of hurt gave us the opportunity to understand others better.

I am an active volunteer for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and no longer have the fears I did when the diagnosis first happened. Thankfully, our child is now on a life changing medication. We still navigate the ins and outs of a chronic illness and are teaching our daughter how to advocate for herself. Having the Black Swan skills has empowered our family to thrive through uncertainty.  We are better able to understand our own personalities, build trust with caretakers, understand and communicate better. 

More importantly, this has equipped me to understand people in a more raw, and beautiful way. We are complex individuals with unique personalities and circumstances. Products of our environments, fears, and desires. 

And being able to meet someone where they are and empowering them through Tactical Empathy is the most powerful thing we can do. 

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