Paging Dr. Johnnie Walker...

The best (true) doctor/patient story I ever heard:


The year is about 1970 and a first-time mother takes her baby to the pediatrician for a regular checkup. She is particularly worried about the child's teething pains and asks his advice. This pediatrician had been practicing for decades and had seen it all. So he tells her to rub some whiskey on the baby's gums. The young mother nods her head, and then, after a moment of thoughtful silence, asks, "What kind of whiskey?" 

Not missing a beat, the doctor replies, "Why, good whiskey of course!" 


For the record, I'm pretty sure the current position of American Academy of Pediatrics is that it is wrong to ever give a child good whiskey, for any reason. And I don't know any parents (including myself) who still use this treatment. That being said, nothing would please me more than hearing such advice from our pediatrician's mouth. 

Finding the right pediatrician is serious business. Few things pain parents more than a sick child, so we need someone we can trust implicitly in our darkest hour of despair. There are a lot of things we look for when choosing a pediatrician, not least of which is a medical degree. A good reputation and lots of experience are usually also at top the list, as is a gentle and compassionate manner.

But when it comes down to it, these things are not that important, except maybe the M.D. part. Being a pediatrician is an art unique in the medical profession. As a pediatrician, you are not treating a child with pneumonia, you are treating the nervous parents of a child with a cough. The best pediatricians are those who have that almost-mystical ability to ease the fears of parents regardless of the child's illness. This is the quality we're ultimately looking for, even if we're not aware of it. What we really want is a pediatrician who can assure us we're not being hysterical loons, while at the same time telling us to stop being hysterical loons. 

Our first pediatrician was special. He had the golden touch when it came to new parents. He could gently hold a baby and do all the proper examinations while at the same time talking in soothing tones to the parents, telling them all sorts of things they were probably doing wrong, and still make them feel like they're being booked on a Disney cruise. "Here on the Fiesta Deck, we usually put the diaper under baby's clothes." Nobody could make you feel better about being a parent than this guy when he said things like, "Hmm, why don't we get this little fella' to the hospital right away."

But I'm past that now. Sick and injured children don't rattle me that much. Not so with my wife. She's a physician, so she's particularly attuned to illness and injury. But she's not a pediatrician, and she readily admits she knows little about pediatrics. That certainly does not stop her from racing to the conclusion that every cough is some disastrous illness I can't even pronounce. 

So long ago I decided we needed a pediatrician who is easily underwhelmed. And I found one. I knew I had a true comrade-in-arms when I told her about some concern my wife had about one of the children, and the first words out of her mouth were, "I see, be honest, I'm not really impressed. Tell your wife to stop examining her children." I knew it!

Our pediatrician also comes out with diagnostic beauties like "titchy lungs," "odd little lumpy things," and my favorite, "some kids are funny that way." And treatment? "Wait three days," and "If it would make you [read: your wife] feel better you could [walk around in the cold air...apply a hot towel...put some ointment on it...stand on your head, etc.]." I imagine she would have prescribed whiskey back in the old days. 

She is an excellent physician when it comes to genuine medial problems. But I'm pretty sure she'd agree with me that most childhood medical problems aren't really problems, they're just unpleasant inconveniences--or funny stories waiting to be told.

This brings me to my only complain about our doc. I wish she would tell me about all the stupid things other parents say. All doctors have funny patient stories, but I bet pediatricians have by far the best. The problem is they're too nice and professional to repeat them. And I doubt they can be bribed, Dr. Good Whiskey notwithstanding. 

Copyright 2013 Paul J. Rasmussen