The Power of Authority

When someone you love is sick, the doctor is the one with the perceived power to cure. When someone you love is struggling in school, the teacher is the one with the perceived power to make a difference.

Whether it is the emergency room staff or the IEP team, the ones ‘in charge’ have the power to access, to diagnose, to report and to offer suggestions for moving forward. This leaves the subject and their family in a vulnerable place. Trust is placed in the hands of the professionals. It is an awesome responsibility.

As an child development specialist and as a lay person I have been on both sides of this type of scenario and my recent trip to the vet emergency clinic in the middle of the night reminded me of how it feels to be the ‘parent.’

My thirteen year old ‘puppy’ suddenly got sick. His vomiting became bloody and the other details are too gross to share. At 2:00 in the morning we decided it was time to see a doctor.

The first thing I noticed was that the person at reception did not smile when we walked in. At that moment I desperately needed someone to smile. She walked in the back and disappeared for what felt like ‘forever.’ It was only ten minutes but as my dog lay listless in my arms I was beginning to wonder if anyone really cared about us. The doctor came out to explain that they had another emergency in the back and he would be with us in a short while. That moment of connection worked magic in helping me relax and realize that he did care.

When we finally had our ‘evaluation’ we were left with three options: The first was to have the vet inject fluids with follow up medicines at home, the 2<sup>nd</sup> was to leave him for a few days with an IV drip and the 3<sup>rd</sup> was to add to the IV drip with a battery of tests. There was no guarantee he would get better or that the tests would indicate the cause of his symptoms. The vet gently warned that if we took him home he probably would not start eating for several days and we might re-consider an IV drip.

The pressure to make the ‘right’ decision and the costs began to add way up. We chose the first option and left with confusing instructions on how and when to administer the meds. I’m not sure if I was imagining it but the receptionist/nurse seemed annoyed that I asked her to repeat the instructions more than once. As I was already feeling plagued by doubt with our decision I may have been a little oversensitive to the remark she made as we paid our bill:

“Make sure you have him seen within 48 hours. He’s a very sick animal.”

It was a long night and we gave him medicine at 4:15am and then at 5:15am. I lied awake, monitoring his every move. It reminded me of when my children were young, not feeling well, and the nights felt endless. When he still seemed listless in the morning light I started feeling guilty that we hadn’t left him with the professionals. By noon we agreed we would spend whatever money it took to make him feel better. As I started to get dressed my dog opened his eyes, followed me into the bathroom and looked at me as if to say, “Trust your gut, mom. I’m gonna be OK.”

Within the hour he started to drink water. By evening he cried his hunger cry and ate some rice and turkey. He let me put on his leash and take him out to the front lawn for a quick release. By the next morning he was almost back to himself, asking for some more food and even barking when the front doorbell rang.

I’m sharing this because the entire experience made me think about the children and families I have worked with these past forty five years. I’ve seen professionals with attitudes like the receptionist ~ all business, little compassion. I’ve seen parents who felt judged by professionals or who were uncomfortable asking what the lingo and jargon of ‘special educators’ actually mean. I’ve experienced test experts going through diagnostic reports as if the emotional lives of families had no relevance. I’ve done my own share of judging parents for the decisions they made.

IEP meetings can be confusing and stressful for parents. Goals, services, types of support can feel like a whirlwind of fear and judgment. I’ve seen parents get so upset that they break into tears. Often the teachers, school psychologist, social worker, principal and other team members disagree among themselves as to what is the best approach. Just like the kind doctor, we professionals sometimes get it wrong.

We just aren’t helpful when we get stuck in our egos, our degrees, our titles or any other story that gets in our way of being compassionate and open to possibilities.

I am sure the doctor meant well when he told me it would take days for a sick dog to eat ~ but he was wrong in this case. I don’t believe the receptionist/nurse consciously decided to instill me with guilt for my decision to take a sick dog home ~ but her words stung nonetheless.

Our words and messages as educators are powerful. Our authentic smiles are powerful. Our openness to possibilities are powerful. When we use our professional power wisely we can become the positive change that affects the roadmap of a child’s self imagine, sense of value and eager outlook for the future.