Tuesday, March 06, 2012

To Doctor Or Not

When I was growing up, my parents' philosophy about taking their children to the doctor was, "If you're still alive, you don't need a doctor."

Ok, that's exaggerating. A little.

Mom relied on enemas, sliced onions on a hot rag on the chest, and chamomile tea in a little brown pot.

I remember excruciating pain from earaches, a head injury that had me vomiting and incapacitated, a bent fingertip from a sledding mishap, and plenty of run-of-the-mill fevers and flus, none of which involved seeing a doctor.

So I thought that was how it was done, and when I taught school I struggled for weeks with a cough and feeling terrible, but I didn't go to the doctor until the next-door neighbors pretty much commanded me to, because they woke up in the middle of the night and heard me coughing, with their windows and mine all shut.

It was acute bronchitis and I soon recovered, with those magic antibiotics. How cool is that?

One of many nice things about living in Canada was that when the children were sick I didn't have to endlessly dither about Are They Sick Enough To See A Doctor? thanks to the socialized medical care. [Except for the two years when the doctor was 125 miles away, then it was a much bigger deal.] Even in Round Lake, which was even further from a doctor, there was a nursing station, and I got to know some of the nurses well enough to have them over for lunch, and dropping by to have them listen to a child's chest was a simple matter.

But back in Oregon, where just walking through the door of the clinic cost a week of groceries, To Go Or Not To Go again became a matter of huge internal angst.

To go and find that yes, the bone is broken, the spots are strep--that was sweet vindication. But to be told that it's just a virus, calm down, give lots of fluids--that felt humiliating, like I was a wimpy mom who panicked about nothing.

It's worst with my own illnesses. Sometimes, like last December, I drag for weeks, relying on home remedies, until my friends threaten to tie me up and haul me in to the clinic by force. It actually was bronchitis, it turned out, and in three days I was well, on Azithromycin.

This last week I once again caught something, with the familiar sore throat and cough and then the terrible fatigue and the feeling of a boa constrictor around the chest. My temperature went up and the wretched misery of all that can't be described. I was sure it was bronchitis again, so I went to the doctor yesterday, making sure I didn't take Tylenol beforehand, so my temp would be as high as possible, to prove my point.

"Your lungs are clear," she said. "It's your asthma. You should have upped your inhalers as soon as you got sick."


Would it be so much to ask that just once, when I am that wretchedly miserable and coughing and gasping, and I take on this huge expensive gamble of Going To The Doctor, that he or she takes one look and listen and says, "Ooooh, not good. Pneumonia, severe, both lobes. I'm calling an ambulance to take you in immediately."

But no, it's use your inhalers, drink fluids, take Tylenol, get lots of rest, see ya!

(But she said she liked my purse, my homemade version of Vera Bradley, so that took out just a bit of the sting.)

Quote of the Day:
"Call your doctor."
--the most common advice in all the dumb parenting magazines I used to read. Fever, bumps on the head, rashes, everything. It was always "call your doctor." I always had too much of my mom in me to do that.


  1. I'm with you on the beauty of Canada's healthcare. I miss it.

    Made me laugh, thinking about how a diagnosis of pneumonia would be sweet vindication.

  2. I can identify completely with your post! I married a Canadian, and though I've never lived there, I see a big difference in how quickly his family goes to the doctor vs. how long we wait. And your feelings about the verdicts -- vindication or feeling like a wimpy mom -- could have been mine! I loved this post!
    Tabitha S.

  3. Of course she liked your purse! It's her bread and butter! :) :) :) -PC in VA

  4. oh how funny! I just talked my husband into going to the doctor, sure he would need an antibiotic and maybe a strict order to stay in bed for a day or so, but noooooooo just a virus.
    I HATE that.

    But I must say, I have the best pediatrician: a nurse answers the phone and gives lots of helpful advice over the phone. They have prevented me from coming in for a visit many times with their good advice.