Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ode to a pediatrician.

When you first met Reese, our now four-year old, she was less than a day out in the world, still swaddled tight, lined up with all the other babies in the hospital nursery, like loaves of French bread in a pink and blue bakery. You inspected her. You, our lucky find. We hadn't done the "Meet with the Pediatrician" item #34 on our list prior to childbirth and we had no excuse, Reese being a week late and all - finally having to be evicted, never one to make sudden changes easily.

So you, kind doctor, were randomly selected on the insurance form. Your name seemed friendly, your office close. Somehow, miraculously, you were accepting new patients. And our insurance was accepting you. That's why you were the one to walk in our hospital room that December day and tell us gently that our baby girl was going "under the lights." She was jaundiced; such a common thing, but this daughter of ours was being serious about it, her billirubin levels skyrocketing. Reese was going about getting yellow like it was her job.

You told us we wouldn't be taking her home for a few days, but that I would be released. Hospital policy. My heart, hormones in full swing, reeled straight to the pink and white linoleum floor and stayed there. A few moments later I looked up to see you patiently waiting for the news to sink in. You empathized. You, a mother yourself, said you knew how hard you knew this must be. You gave us options. You never looked at your watch. You sat down in a chair opposite my bed and went over what our plan would be. Our plan.

That was the first time a doctor had ever surprised me, your compassion making the impossible possible.

Since that day, our healthy, happy girl has been joined by a little brother. The two of them have had their share of visits to your office, leaving outfitted in stickers and tongue depressors. But last summer, Reese had a disturbing cough - we brought her in a few times over the course of a week to be checked. She was listless and feverish, so sad and uncomfortable, her usual good spirits far away. We saw the on-call doctor each time and were told it was "just a virus." Finally, on our final visit, holding our sick little one in the waiting room, we were relieved to know it was you we would be seeing that day. You checked all the same things the other doctors had checked, but you did it so slowly, so carefully, as though there weren't ten other kids in the waiting room. As though you didn't have your own two waiting for you at home.

"Breathe deep, Reese. Again. Again."

Ten, maybe fifteen minutes passed as you closed your eyes, stethoscope in hand, listening so closely to those tiny lungs, intent as though it were Mozart. You told us you heard a "crackle" in her lungs. You wanted a chest X-ray. It was seven o'clock at night and you sent us across to the hospital to get it, STAT. We asked when you would be at the office until. You said, "until you get back." Two hours later, we were sitting back in the exam room. "It's pneumonia," you said. "We'll do antibiotics and she'll be just fine."

And she was. And when she got it again this week, less than a year later, it was you who diagnosed it, who listened so patiently to her breaths, who thanked her for her patience and for taking so much time with you. Once again, your thoroughness, your kindness saw her though - saw all of us through.

So, for all of the things I overprepared for when it came to parenthood, all the researching and reading, the buying and doing, I wanted you to know that the one thing I missed, that I forgot completely - #34 - turned out to be the one thing I got so right.

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