Don't Ask Don't Tell

2.11.10: Ask your questions – Doctors love it


Nicole emailed that she saw a note in her chart she didn't understand. Her doctor wrote at her nine-week prenatal appointment that her "abdomen was soft and the uterus non-palpable." Nicole's worried something might be wrong.

Nothing's wrong, honey. "Abdomen soft" means there aren't any weird lumps, solid masses or anything hard to worry about. "Uterus non-palpable" means your doctor just couldn't feel it yet from outside your tummy yet. That's going to change over the next few months when he'll not only be able to feel your uterus without poking around inside, he'll start measuring it.

It's the stuff doctor's don't tell us and the things we don't know that cause the most worry, right? When we don't know what questions to ask, we don't get all the information we need to reassure ourselves that everything's OK. In Nicole's case, this is her first pregnancy. No doubt she has a million things on her mind and with only a short amount of time to talk during prenatal appointments, how do you prioritize your questions?

I'm a firm believer in preparing for appointments like you would a business meeting. Seriously, that's what your relationship with your doctor really is. You're paying him/her to provide a service. Do your research; create an agenda and jot down your questions. In Nicole's case, research includes reading any pamphlets or paperwork she was given by the doctor at her first appointment. Next, Nicole grab a few pregnancy books and read up on what's normal and what's not during these first few months and beyond. Then, write down every question that comes to mind. Ask them at your next appointment.

There really is no such thing as a bad question. Many women feel intimidated about asking their doctors basic questions, challenging something he/she recommends or suggesting her own ideas. They don't want to come off as ignorant and they don't want their doctor to lecture them. I've talked with doctors about the intimidation factor and their reaction is usually something like this:

"Really? They're intimidated? Of me? Why? I didn't know that. I'd love to talk about their concerns. I just didn't know what they were. She didn't tell me. Geez, I feel bad now. I don't want to insult anyone by giving them information that's too basic or over their head and I don't always know what my patients want to know. I wish they'd just tell me. My favorite part of this job is teaching and sharing information." Then that poor doc goes about the rest of their day wondering why anyone would be intimidated when he/she is actually just as nerdy, shy, goofy, distracted, confused and bumbling as the rest of us and are really just trying to do their best. Believe me, if the tables were turned and your doctor had to ask you about your area of expertise (and yes, everyone has an area of expertise), he'd be a little intimidated too.

One doctor-friend said, "If my patients ever saw me at home in my bathrobe tripping over the dog's water and standing in my wet socks while I try to whittle away at the pile of dishes I've been ignoring, they'd get over that intimidation thing. Or if they realized how much time I secretly spend looking up kittens with captions on the Internet and watching Big Love, or..." The point is, sure, they're doctors, but they're also just folks like the rest of us and they can't read minds.

If Nicole had asked her doctor what his chart notes meant, he'd most likely have enjoyed providing a "teaching moment." Charting is boring and redundant, unless you're an inexperienced patient. Then it's an opportunity.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to and it may be answered in a future blog post.

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.