Dear Auntie SparkNotes,
I have a problem: my dad is a doctor. Usually, this is great! It’s always nice to have access to medical help whenever I need it. However, I am now 18 and will be starting college soon. I have only been to a real doctor’s appointment a few times in my life because my dad usually takes care of anything that’s wrong with me.
For most of my life, I have been fine with this, but in the past few years there have been times that when I have wished I could seek private medical advice from someone who is not my father. There are three issues in particular. The first is that I have had depressive thoughts for the past six years, and I sometimes think they might be worth talking to a doctor about. The second is that I have an extremely bad habit of picking my fingernails, toenails, and lips, sometimes until they bleed. The third is that I have started having appetite issues in the last few months. I am already more than twenty pounds underweight, so this worries me.
I don’t like talking to my dad about serious health issues like this, mostly because he just dismisses them if I mention them. Also, it’s very awkward, especially in a home environment when my other family members are around.
My parents see doctor's appointments as a waste of money. I tried to convince them that they should teach me how to use my health insurance, since I am an adult now and will be moving cities to go to college. They just told me to come home for anything I need. But my most serious issues are really something that I would feel more comfortable talking to another doctor about, not only for reasons of privacy, but because I do not want to worry my parents. I even have my reserves about seeing my other doctor, since he's known my parents for decades, but I feel that anyone would be better than my dad. What do you think, Auntie?
Well, hey! Wouldn't you know it, Sparkler: my dad is a doctor, too. And having a physician for a parent is, indeed, very convenient—to get medical advice on the fly, to get prescriptions without an appointment, to be allowed to inject your own toe with anesthetic before a minor surgical procedure because hey, it's 10pm and the office is empty and nobody will ever know. (Okay, maybe that last one was just me.) Which is to say, I am not unfamiliar with the ins and outs of being a doctor's kid... but by the time I got to the end of your letter, my face looked like this.
And as for what I think: I think that even for a family with a physician in the mix, this is seriously inappropriate and pretty damn weird.
First, because learning to use your health insurance—even if it's just so you have a theoretical grasp of its functions—is kind of a life essential. As is getting used to interacting with medical professionals, on a professional basis, and learning to express your concerns and ask questions. As is not running home to mommy and daddy every time you get sick. As is having some freakin' privacy. These things aren't a waste of money; they're Adulthood 101. Not to mention that at your age, the gynecologist should be in regular, annual or biannual rotation on your medical calendar; is your dad planning on handling that, too?
And second, because family or not, no self-respecting doctor just dismisses a patient's concerns as unimportant when she brings them up—and particularly not an underweight, anxious, depressive patient who picks at herself until she bleeds.
Like I said, this is weird. It's weird enough to make me wonder if your parents are waging a war of denial over the fact that you're not a kid anymore, and have decided to make their last stand on the hill of your medical independence.
But whatever their reasons, here are your options:
1) Go directly to the doctor, do not pass go, do not collect parental permission.
You don't need your parents' say-so to get medical care, and no doctor can discuss your health, with anyone, without your okay. Doctor-patient confidentiality is a big deal—a big, legal deal—and violating it is a big, illegal no-no. And if you don't want the headache of a confrontation with your parents, your college should have a health services center where you can make an initial appointment, explain your concerns, and ask for help in both connecting with a doctor and using your health insurance.
Or, alternately, you can...
2) Reopen the discussion—but tell, don't ask.
"I don't understand why you're so unwilling to give me the information I'm asking for. I'm going to be in another city, I need to know how to use my insurance in case of an emergency, and it's not desirable or even possible for me to come home every time I need a doctor. As an adult, I'm going to have questions and concerns about my health that I don't want to discuss with my father. I'll figure this out on my own if I have to, but I would much prefer to do it with your help."
...In your own words, of course.
And honestly, I can't say which approach is better. On the one hand, you can save yourself a confrontation by going around your folks rather than through them; on the other, getting the hang of your health insurance will be a heck of a lot easier with your parents' help than without it. And regardless, this is a point on which you're going to have to assert yourself—if not now, then someday soon. But when you do that is up to you.
Because this, just like any other decision that involves your health, your well-being, and your body, is your choice... and whatever your choice, now is as good a time as any to get used to making one.
What would you do in this Sparkler's position? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.