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CHANGING doctors can be a daunting prospect. Most of the time, it’s really no big deal, especially for your child who’d most likely breeze through the transition. It’s usually the parents who suffer the angst of change.

My eldest son, Omar, was growing up a bit too fast for my liking. The years seemed to be whizzing by. Even though he’s getting older in years, being mentally and physically challenged, he doesn’t act his age. His paediatrician said that he’d have to be transferred to the adult clinics at some point and suggested that we visited the adult clinics when he turned 17.

While there are no hard and fast rules about this, many children leave their paediatricians from the age of 18 onwards. I wasn’t happy at the prospect of leaving my comfort zones and safety nets.

I’d been going there for nearly all of my son’s life, knew the routines, all the nurses and medical staff to the extent of feeling like some of them were family. My son’s doctors patiently explained to me that this had to be done because treatments and medicines may not be the same anymore.

An adolescent who doesn’t have any major medical problems can usually transition at the age of 18 and learn to manage their health care needs and medications, like using an inhaler to manage their asthma.

For adolescents with special needs like my son, 21 is usually the age they transition out. Omar had grown into an adult and looked like he’d outgrown everything in the paediatric clinic. It was something I had to grudgingly admit.

MAKING THE MOVE

I finally made that move when Omar turned 21. I was finally ready by then and it also coincided with his primary doctor’s (a paediatric neurologist) retirement. I had about four years to make the necessary arrangements, trial visits, before finally crossing over.

I was seeing four specialists regularly and the coordination of transferring files was tricky. So I made my own files and also copies of the essential notes like the medications he’s on and previous treatments he’d received from the various specialists, including his vaccines and immunisation dates. This would help if a new file had to be opened and the information was slow in being transferred over.

I decided to check out the various clinics first without my son. This was more than 10 years ago but I remember shuddering at the thought of being amongst so many adults.

All these years, it’d always been my son and I among other mothers and their children. It may have been noisy with active children running around or screaming babies who were in pain, but somehow, there was some sort of camaraderie among the mothers and other caregivers.

Out there in a clinic full of adult patients and caregivers, though it was quieter, the air was tense. It felt worlds apart from the paediatric waiting room. I was actually quite intimidated by so many serious-looking adults who stared and glared at whoever entered through the door.

A NEW WORLD

It took me a long time to tell myself to calm down and get used to this because they were either in pain and wanted to go back to the comfort of their homes, or that was just their “resting face”.

I found an empty chair amidst the waiting crowd to get the feel of it. I gave myself an hour to do this. After a while, I found myself looking up from my book or phone every time someone walked through the door. It wasn’t that I was curious about that person; it was a reflex action that proved to be a break in the monotony of waiting.

The seemingly endless waiting isn’t something that would put a smile on anyone’s face. After what seemed like the umpteenth person walking through the door, I felt like I’d become one of those people I’d earlier described as “serious-looking adults who stared and glared”. As such, I felt that I passed that first stage of recce with flying colours. Now I had to see how it’d be when my son was there.

My son’s first appointments at all the adult clinics were eventful. He was excited to be in a new place. Although he couldn’t tell me how he felt (he’s non-verbal), he showed his excitement by chirping and making loud noises that naturally got everyone’s attention.

Because of that, Omar was usually allowed in first because the noises he made could be quite unnerving to some who were already nervous about the entire prospect of being in a hospital to see the doctor. You have to be quick about deciding what you should do next. The staff is usually very cooperative and can make snap decisions if you tell them your situation.

Putri Juneita Johari volunteers for the Special Children Society of Ampang. She can be reached at [email protected].

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