Building your “Medical Gut”

building your medical gut

A few years ago, soon after starting a new job, I was asked to answer an important business question by a senior leader in the organization. The problem: I didn’t have the right data on hand to answer the question because the report had not yet arrived from the supplier. My manager nonchalantly told me, “Just go with your gut. What does it tell you?”

Hmm… my gut.

Gut… what do you say?

<<< Silence >>>

Maybe if I wait a bit longer it will give me a hint?



Not a peep. 

“Manager, my ‘gut’ is broken.” 

What I learned that day is that it takes time and experience to build gut-level intuition. Many experts agree that the best way to explain intuition is to liken it to a mental matching game. Presented with a situation, the brain conducts a brief search of its existing files and presents the best solution for the condition at hand. For example, a doctor immediately discerns conjunctivitis when a patient has a pink, goop-crusted eye.  However, for me, when trying to answer the business question, there were no matching files to pull from. I had no experience with the topic at all. Therefore, no gut.

Building gut-level intuition

A year later I was asked a similar question, but this time my brain had a year’s worth of files to search through. Jackpot! I was able to answer the question in no time at all, and felt confident that I was leading the business in the right direction.

When I think about the ‘medical mom’ side of my life, I realize that it has been a similar journey. When we received my daughter’s diagnosis, we all of the sudden had to make a lot of complicated choices, and at the time, I didn’t have much of a “medical mommy gut.”

Now, I am in a constant state of building my knowledge and intuition, so that when my gut needs to spring into action, it’s ready.  Below are a few things that work for me, and some simple questions that I have found helpful.

Strategies for building one’s medical mommy (or daddy) gut:

  1. Questions for a new diagnosis:
    • What does it mean for my child today?
    • What does it mean for my child in the future?
    • What do I need to start or stop doing?
    • Where do you recommend I go to learn more?
    • Is there a community of people with this condition that I can connect with?
  2. Questions for new treatments/surgeries:
    • Why does it need to be done?
    • What are the consequences if I choose not to do it?
    • What are the risks and side affects if I do choose to do it?
    • Are there any alternatives we can consider?
    • Is there another family who has done this that I can talk to?
  3. Keep a notebook (physical or digital): Take notes. Ask the doctor to spell medical terms for you so you can remember them correctly later. Write down the questions you have prior to and during your appointments. Have your notebook open to the page listing your questions to let the doctor know (without you having to say a word) that he needs to plan time for Q&A.
  4. Be bold: Call the doctor if you need to ask them a question about your child. They are on call for a reason. Use it. Don’t assume they are too busy to answer your questions. Ask them. You and your child are the reason they do what they do.
  5. Be persistent: If something feels wrong or off to you, keep asking until you get an answer that puts your mind at ease. Maybe you just need to hear it from 5 different people. Or maybe your persistence will get your child the help he or she needs.
  6. Build a network and use it:  You may think, “I’m fine. I don’t need a support group.” I get that. I’m fine too. BUT. There are MANY benefits to networking with other parents of children with extra needs. Note: Some parents will approach their child’s condition similar to you. Others very differently. You will gravitate towards some & not others, and that’s OK.  
    • They have been there and done that/can share experience with you.
    • They can be a fantastic sounding board.
    • They can give you the lowdown on the specialists who treat your child’s condition.

One of the more surprising things I have learned as the parent of a child with complicated medical needs is that sometimes the doctors are just as stumped as you are. They can give you facts and averages and information on the current best available treatments … but sometimes kids are a mystery and simply don’t follow the rules for what is typical. My hope is that all this gut building will come in handy if that situation arises with my child.

What are your best medical parent gut-building tips?

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