Doctors I’d like to kick, or why Lei didn’t get a newborn hearing screening

When I took Lei to her three-month well check-up and told our family doctor that she hadn’t had a newborn hearing screening yet, he checked it for me right there in the exam room. What a cool guy.

He stood in front of me. Lei perched on my lap, facing him. He extended his right hand to Lei’s right ear and rubbed his fingers together so that a very slight shhhh sound was produced. She turned towards his hand. After repeating this highly scientific evaluation on the left, he pronounced a finding of 100 percent normal hearing.

“She can hear just fine, see?”

I’m not a violent person, but I do sometimes fantasize about finding him and kicking him in the head.

Because that is not a hearing test. It’s not. It’s not even a screening. It’s really a test to see if a baby will be curious about why you have put your hand outside their peripheral vision and what you’re doing over there.

Lei didn’t get her newborn hearing screening in the hospital at birth because the equipment was down at the time. They gave us a script to return in a week, but my husband and I decided to ask our family doctor to set it up at the major university medical center where he was located. He said he didn’t know how to do that. (That’s another kick to the head.)

The three month checkup came and went. By the time Lei was five months old, the colic that had kept her screaming for hours each day had given way to a shrieking that she emitted during every waking second of her day. It was quickly driving me out of my mind. I took her to the doctor.

“Maybe we should get her that hearing test,” I suggested to a new, very progressive doctor we had switched to.

“There’s nothing wrong with her hearing,” the nice doctor assured me. “Babies who can’t hear don’t usually make much noise.”

Oh. OK. (Kick)

This hip new doctor assured me that if I wore my daughter in the sling more, she would calm down and shriek less (Kick). She recommended Dr. Sears’ Fussy Baby Book (Kick). What I didn’t say was that I was already wearing her in the sling most of the time. I just took my (suddenly and mysteriously normal-acting baby, like a car that stops that weird knocking as soon as you take it to the shop) and went home.

At around eight months of age, concerned that my daughter was not making the ba-ba-ba-ba and ma-ma-ma-ma sounds that the baby books said she should be making, I returned, yet again to the doctor.

“The only time she ever made that sound was when I got in her face and made it for her. Then she imitated me. Once.”

“Well she can obviously hear you and is imitating you,” the doctor said. “She’s fine.” (Kick, kick, kick.)

I knew something was wrong. I knew Lei wasn’t hitting her communication milestones. I had the intelligence and observation hours logged to know that all was not well.

What I didn’t have was a doctor who would say, “You sound really concerned about this. As Lei’s primary caregiver, you are the one who knows if everything is okay or not. Let’s trust your gut and set up that hearing screening.”

To this day I hear people tell me their toddler isn’t speaking yet, and their doctor has told them to wait. Kids develop at their own pace. You’re just being an over-anxious parent. Relax!

Here’s what I tell every new parent I meet: Nobody knows your kid like you do. Nobody is more invested than you are. If you think something is wrong, keep being an unholy pain in the ass until you get some answers. Doctors will only rarely care as much as you do. They will only rarely commit to joining you in the quest for answers. You are the constant, so if something seems wrong Don’t. Give. Up.

For more information on Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI):

American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) on EHDI

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on EHDI

Why newborn screening is important:

National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)

CDC: Hearing Screening for Newborns Important for Development

Speech and language milestones in early childhood:

NIH/NIDCD: Speech and Language Developmental Milestones

ASHA: How does your child hear and talk? 

To get really good at kicking people in the head:

Goytia’s Martial Art Dojo

Or just study Tae Kwon Leap

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6 thoughts on “Doctors I’d like to kick, or why Lei didn’t get a newborn hearing screening

  1. I used to be afraid to speak up to doctors/therapists as I worried they’d think I was trying to tell them how to do their job. I don’t worry about that any more. Experience is the best teacher but it’s sad that we have to push so hard sometimes, just to get someone to listen. It took 7 hearing tests in 3 locations for us to finally be told our son had profound bilateral hearing loss.

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  2. Way to advocate, Lisa! Yes, it’s a challenge to speak up when doctors, therapists, teachers, school administrators and so on tell you what’s what, but you don’t agree. Advocacy is such a big part of raising a child with special needs. And like you, I learned right here, on the job.

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  3. Wow. I am an ENT doctor and teach medical students (99% of whom don’t go into ENT). Though this probably wasn’t your intention, I have a new intention to make sure all our med students really understand what a newborn hearing screening test is, esp because most of them end up in primary care without learning much detail on ear exams. Reading about that doctor doing the finger rub pretty much gave me an ulcer within a few seconds!! I am so sorry this happened and glad you are encouraging parents to be persistent. It’s such uncomfortable and exhausting work to be an advocate.

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    1. It is uncomfortable and exhausting, but so important. I never learned how to be an advocate before having kids, but boy have I gotten an education since. I’m glad you are fighting the good fight with respect to teaching new doctors the importance of newborn hearing screening. What a tremendous contribution to the lives of babies your students will go on to care for!

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  4. Amen. I’m regularly shocked by how many doctors disregard parents when parents are the true experts on their children! I’m so sorry you had this happen again and again. Universal hearing screening is such a simple thing to do and has such a dramatic impact.

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