Should I call the doctor?

Not sure if you should call your child’s doctor for that minor injury or illness? Me neither!

Recently, my 10-month old son dropped a metal mixing bowl on his finger, resulting in a subungual hematoma. That’s fancy speak for a bunch of blood pooling under his fingernail. He was understandably upset, but after several bottles of milk and some baby Tylenol, he finally settled down. My husband and I decided that no medical intervention was necessary (that’s fancy speak for “it’s after hours and I don’t think it’s worth calling the doctor, so let’s put him to bed and hope for the best”). He slept fine and seemed normal when he woke up, so I figured that was that. From my understanding, the only reason to treat a subungual hematoma is if the pressure under the nail becomes very painful, and he didn’t seem bothered by it at all.

However, I had some lingering concerns about long-term damage to his nail since the bowl landed directly on his cuticle, so I found myself headed down the same path I always go down whenever my son has a minor medical concern. Here’s the general thought timeline: 

He seems okay. He doesn’t appear to be in any pain. I probably don’t need to call. Google symptoms. Figure out what the problem likely is, and reassure myself that everything is fine. Call a friend, express my concerns. Friend tells me to call the doctor if I’m worried. Okay, maybe I’ll call the doctor.

Hang up, start to dial doctor’s office, then feel silly because I know they’re going to tell me to come in to “check it out” and nothing will be wrong (because he’s clearly fine) and I’ll feel stupid for wasting my time and money. Call same friend/different friend/mom. Whoever it is reiterates that if I’m worried, I should just call the doctor. Hang up, Google some more. Upon further reading, discover that in some cases, the situation is much more serious than it appears and definitely needs medical attention.

Call the doctor.

Feel silly all the way to the doctor’s office while baby plays happily in his car seat, looking TOTALLY FINE. Doctor checks baby out, and sure enough, he’s fine. Pay for the doctor’s visit while silently berating myself.

In the case of my son’s fingernail, the visit ended up costing me $105 because when I finally decided to call my pediatrician, I was informed by a lovely message on her answering machine that her office was closed for two weeks because she was out of the country. By this time, I had convinced myself that my son’s nail was going to fall off and never grow back and he would get teased by kids for his weird finger and he would resent me for the rest of his life because I refused to take him to the doctor to get it checked out. So obviously, I had to go somewhere, and urgent care was the only option. One hundred dollars later, my son is in fact fine, and I learned three valuable lessons.

  1. Subungual hematomas do not require medical intervention unless they are causing severe pain.
  2. I need to find a pediatrician who has a back-up doctor available for when he or she is on vacation.
  3. Peace of mind can be expensive, but it’s better than a lifetime of regret.

Basically, here’s my guide for how to know when to call the doctor:

-If your child is in pain or distress or running a fever or any of those things that they tell you to call the doctor for, definitely call the doctor.

-If your child doesn’t appear to be in any pain or distress, and you feel that he’s totally fine, you probably don’t need to call the doctor.

-If you insist on Googling symptoms and getting yourself worked up, it might be worth it to call the doctor.

-If your doctor seems mostly unconcerned but says you can come in to have the problem “checked out,” ask yourself: is my peace of mind worth the co-pay/deductible I’m about to pay?

-If yes, go ahead. Just be prepared to potentially feel silly when your initial hunch turns out to be right.

Ultimately, consider it an investment in your training as a mom, like Mom Continuing Education. Because the next time my son drops something on his finger, I bet I’ll know whether to call the doctor.

(Probably not. But maybe?)


How about you? How do you decide whether or not to call the doctor for minor injuries or illnesses?

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