The grammatical concept of subject-verb agreement not only ensures a sensible sentence, it also guides the healthcare decisions my husband and I make for our son, Richie.
As you probably first learned in fifth grade, subject-verb agreement occurs when the subject (what the sentence is about) works well with the verb (the action). Without subject-verb agreement, sentences like “he were at school” and “It aren’t raining” would assault our ears. Equally offensive are healthcare decisions that don’t connect the subject (the patient) to the verb (the action plan or plan for care).
Specialists, while experts in their fields, sometimes recommend treatments that might compromise some other aspect of a patient’s care. At three years old, Richie is unable to participate in the majority of his healthcare decisions, so my husband and I must make them on his behalf.
His complex medical needs can create complicated choices. For example, one doctor might suggest a treatment that contradicts the suggestion of another doctor. For Richie, we have to balance his orthopedic and respiratory needs so that managing one does not impact the other negatively. The subject, Richie, always has to agree with the verb, the plan, to be sure that all decisions work toward the best outcomes for him. Our job as parents is to edit the plans.
To do this, we consider the local and immediate effects of our decisions on his behalf, as well as the global and long-term effects. The immediate effect of placing a cast on Richie’s spine to straighten it might include, obviously, a straighter spine, but they might also include limited capacity to breathe deeply and limited mobility. On the other hand, having a straight spine will prevent respiratory decline over time. We have to balance short view with a longer view, also considering whether the limited mobility will affect his ability to learn and explore, along with what that lack of exploration will mean for his intellectual development. The plan of action has to balance the scales, much as a sentence is balanced when the subject and verb agree.
As Richie grows older, we intend to include him on these decision-making processes, explaining why we make the decisions we make and inviting him to participate in the discussions. He is the subject of the care he is receiving, the central focus of these choices, and he has the right and responsibility to take part in creating the plans for his care. As the subject, every verb we plan has to make sense and work toward a comprehensive, comprehensible plan for his care.
Nikki (Charisse) Montgomery has served on the ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital Family Advisory Council since 2013. In addition to being a professional writer and editor, she is pursuing a graduate certificate in patient advocacy. She is a hospital volunteer and a parent mentor, and she volunteers with Muscular Dystrophy Association. Nikki and Richie are subjects in ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital’s Beyond the Frame photo exhibit, on permanent display inside the hospital’s main entrance hallway. Nikki is a regular ProMedica HealthConnect blogger who hopes to inspire and connect with others through the Teachable Moments series. You can follow her on social media @madvocator.