Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reflections on a Sunday: The Doctor in the Family

“This anti-inflammatory medicine or whatever it's suppose to be doesn’t work for my knee,” my husband grumbled one morning while walking into the bathroom. This was the first week after his outpatient knee surgery for an old army injury. “It keeps hurting,” he added for emphasis. This was my signal to stop and take notice.

“Are you taking it around the clock?” I replied over the sound of water rushing from the faucet.

“What?” he asked while massaging the knee with his hand.

I held up one finger and finished brushing my teeth. “The anti-inflammatory. Did you take it around the clock like it was prescribed?” I turned off the water and patted by mouth with a towel. “Babe, the key is that you have to take it even when you don’t have pain to get the best benefit.”

"No, I just took it when my knee hurt. I thought it was a pain medicine? You know I'm not big on popping pills. I've been taking at least one or two of these horse pills a day." He reached into the cabinet and grabbed the bottle of ibuprofen prescribed by the orthopedic surgeon. “Around the clock? So should I take one now?”

“Go ahead and eat something first, or at least drink something so you won’t get nauseated,” I answered. I opened the door to our bedroom and tip-toed down the hall toward the kitchen, using care not to prematurely awaken Isaiah and Zachary. I returned with a banana in one hand and a bag of frozen peas in the other. “Eat this banana to coat your stomach first, and here. . .” I tossed him the banana first and then the peas, “take it easy for a little bit and ice your knee with these frozen peas. They’ll form around your knee, and won’t get all melty. And remember to take the ibuprofen every eight hours with something on your stomach.” He nodded and did as I said. Two to three days later he didn't need the ibuprofen, and the knee felt much better.

Later that day, a friend called and asked me a question about her baby before calling her pediatrician. Her newborn had "a terrible rash on her face" and it wasn't getting better. "These icky white bumps," she said, "almost like acne, but it can't be that because she is only 6 days old. This is not normal!"

I looked at the time on my cell phone. 5:20 p.m. If she called her pediatrician, they would route her to the on-call person. If she wasn't comfortable speaking to an advice nurse or on-call person, or if the on-call person was one of those "just go to emergency" people, she'd be spending the evening in the ER--exposing her newborn to who-knows-what. I thought about all the things people tell you about giving medical advice to people that aren't in your immediate family. (Things like "don't.") But the more I listened to her escalating new-mom anxiety, the more I knew I'd figure out a way to break that rule.

I had an idea. "Can you send me a picture of it? Like maybe a multi-media text?"

"Sure!" she answered. In a flash (literally), we were off the phone and the picture had come over my iPhone. And the photo was exactly what I predicted it would be. I chuckled to myself and then called her right back.

neonatal acne courtesy of "dermeister" (not my friend's baby)

"Hey, girl," I started.

She interrupted me. "Isn't it just awful? Should I go in tonight? Do you think they will have to draw blood?"

"Umm, no. . .not at all, actually. This looks like neonatal acne. You called it right the first time. They have such immature little sweat glands that they get all clogged up. It's nothing to worry about especially since you told me she is wetting diapers and nursing just fine. In fact, it's a really classic newborn rash."

There was silence on the other end. Finally my friend said, "Really?"

"Yup, really." I then had her to "Google image" the term neonatal acne while we were on the phone, which seemed to allay her fears far more than me.

"OMG! This is exactly like what she has, girl!"

I smiled as I held the phone on my shoulder and emptied the dishwasher. "Yup."

"I was about to be up in the emergency room paying $150 for something that didn't even require an emergency room! Girl, what do people do who don't have a doctor in their family?"

"Or their sorority," I laughed making the gentle correction.

"Exactly, girl. But I'm serious, though. Imagine how many little things people worry about when they don't have a doctor or a nurse on speed dial to break stuff down!"

And just like that, the once life threatening "terrible rash" on her baby's face was but a blink on the radar of burps, coos, and diaper changes. We exchanged a few more pleasantries about completely unrelated topics, and then hung up.

Today I am reflecting on her question, "What do people do who don't have a doctor in their family?" I am recalling the countless times that I have been a simple go-between either for my parents or even the parents of good friends who aren't sure how to take a medication. This isn't my first time writing about this--and I guess that is because it is one of those things that I think about often. It used to annoy me when my dad would call me to ask a question on behalf of a friend on the golf course, or when he'd nudge me to call one of my uncles or aunts that I hadn't spoken to in ages. Now that I am older, I see the whole thing differently.

On most days, I see medicine as a ministry, and nowadays, I look at having a knack for teaching people and empathic communication skills as spiritual gifts of sorts. Answering a simple question for a loved one can translate, literally, into hundreds of dollars saved and countless hours of time spent smiling instead of worrying. I imagine myself as some working piece in a much bigger puzzle--one that becomes a perfect picture when I willingly do my part. Now, instead of being annoyed, I recognize it as walking in my purpose.

So in other words, these days I see it as a blessing to be the doctor in the family. Sometimes it's as simple as telling your better half to put peas on his knee and to take Motrin around the clock instead of just as needed. On other days it's as serious as ordering your father to go straight to the emergency department for what will eventually lead to urgent bypass surgery. Regardless of the circumstance, I now know one thing to be true: This doctoring thing is much bigger than us, and the best doctors never clock out, no matter how hard they try.


  1. Amen to that! It's where I got the name for my blog. On Call RN...cause truly I am always the on call nurse for everyone in my life. I can only imagine it being more intense as an MD! Luckily though, like you... I see it as my calling and purpose and I've just been learning to thank God and ask for help in it everyday!

  2. Hey there from your 71st follower! I know I have solicited your advice over the years. It is a blessing to have a sisterfriend who is a fantastic MD!

  3. we're def the goto folx for everybody we know and don't know....but I have to admit that I also go to all my doc friends for medical advice ALL the TIME !!

  4. The world is blessed by people like you. I can definitely relate to your friend. :)


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