Before You Call the Doctor
October 1975

“Before You Call the Doctor,” Ensign, Oct. 1975, 69

Before You Call the Doctor

Before contacting a doctor when a family member is ill, you should carefully and closely observe the sick person. If the situation is not an emergency, make written notes of your findings. It is too easy to overlook an important sign if you rush to call the doctor without first evaluating the full nature of the illness. Symptoms are those complaints that the ill person relates himself, such as pain, stiffness, shortness of breath, or loss of energy. Signs of illness are those objective findings that an observer can detect, such as elevated temperature, bleeding, or rash.

In order to report signs and symptoms in an organized manner, the following checklist can be used:


  • Location

  • Type (dull ache, stabbing, shooting)

  • Duration (continuous or intermittent)

  • Is it affected by change in body position?

  • Is it affected by eating?


  • Report actual reading from thermometer


  • Report number of pulse beats per minute

  • Report number of breaths per minute

  • Does breathing appear labored?

  • Is he coughing?


  • Location

  • Color (bright red, watery)

  • Amount (steady flow, intermittent, oozing)

Body Discharges

  • Changes in color or character of stools, vomitus, sputum, urine, or other discharges. (If discharge is unusual in appearance, save a sample in a covered container for the doctor to examine.)


  • General appearance (flushed, sweating, pale, jaundiced)

  • Is there local reddening or discoloration in any area?

  • Rash (give location and description)


  • Does the patient look sick?

  • How does he say he feels (loss of energy, tired)?

  • How long has he been sick?

  • Is there loss of appetite?

In addition to a description of signs and symptoms, the doctor will want to know what first aid or treatment has been given to relieve the patient’s symptoms and any medication that the patient has been taking.

By providing the physician with a complete report of the patient’s condition, you will greatly assist him in making an accurate diagnosis and in starting early treatment of the ill person. Suzanne Dandoy, M.D., M.P.H., Acting Director, Arizona Department of Health Services

Illustrated by Phyllis Luch