“Family medical history unknown…So, what…Are you adopted or something?”
Having dealt with an autoimmune disease for the past two-and-a-half years, I have since seen my share of doctors’ offices and hospital rooms. The one thing I have yet to become accustomed to are the reactions I receive from doctors and nurses when they see “unknown” written next to the dreaded family medical history question on their medical forms.
I have seen the most stoic and poised doctors turn into complete stuttering messes when searching for words to say once I have told them I am adopted. Some doctors insist on pressing me for more information—as though it is completely unfathomable to them that I would have no knowledge of my family medical history. Some doctors can’t move on from that question fast enough and proceed to stare at my chart throughout the duration of my appointment. The adoption-competent doctors take my answer in stride and continue to treat me like a human being who deserves the best medical care they have to offer.
Adoption is a very prevalent method of forming families today. Some adoptees are very comfortable talking about adoption, while others are not. Pressing an adoptee about his or her unknown family medical history will not suddenly awaken his or her memories. We are not withholding knowledge or repressing memories about whether or not diabetes or heart disease run in our birth families. We simply do not know the information.
While it would be wonderful if all medical personnel were adoption-competent, I realize how difficult and unrealistic it would be to educate all of them on adoption issues. As an adoptee, all I want is to be treated like a human being, especially when I am in a situation where my sons (yes, I run into this issue with my sons, as well) or I am in need of medical care. The last thing I need is for my doctor to look at me like I descended from aliens because I don’t know my medical history. (I can assure you, my blood will be red when you perform that blood draw.) I am not ashamed of being adopted. But, when doctors refuse to look me in the eye after I tell them I am adopted, it makes me wonder if there is something wrong with me. Not knowing my medical history may make life more difficult for doctors in terms of diagnoses, but I shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed or less than human for not having the information.
A “simple” solution would be to add an “unknown” option to the family medical history section on medical forms. Doing so could make life easier for adoptees AND medical personnel and could potentially save all of us from the uncomfortable discussion about adoption and unknown family medical history. If we can tolerate those awesomely stylish medical gowns, the least thing you can do is add one additional question to your form, right?