The email with colorful balloons and a rainbow logo arrived in my email box last week for my baby boy. “Everyone at the Pediatrician Office wishes you health and happiness on your birthday!” I chuckled a little as I forwarded the birthday greeting to my six foot two, bearded 23 year old who is in his senior year in college. His sweet pediatrician was wishing him a happy birthday. What I love about this doctor is that she continues to see her growing patients through college, before “promoting” them on to grown up doctors. I am sure some patients leave before their feet hang off the edge of the child size examining tables, but many do not. The relationship between doctor and growing patient (and family) is special; especially if you have been coming to the office for years then those nurses and doctors have been with you through stages of growth, illnesses, shots, stickers, and well checks measuring your development. So even though Luke could sign himself in at the front desk before sitting near the toy table on the “well” side and did not pick up the Dr. Seuss books in the basket, he still was welcomed. He needed his booster shots before returning to college after all.
The family doctor played an important role in my years of motherhood. Whether it was my ob-gyn, the pediatrician or the veterinarian, I needed to feel comfortable, not judged, and able to ask anything. Some people live in the same community for years and have the same doctors. That was my life growing up in California. Dr. Cook was my doctor from preschool until my long legs sprawled over the edge of the crinkly-papered examining table. He took care of my ear infections from swim-team, my bout with chicken pox, my fevers, aches and pains, and even my nightmares in middle school. My memories of our visits are from the waiting room where I would lean my head into the soft space under my mothers arm at her side, as she read to me the Goofus and Gallant section in the worn Highlights magazine.
What I know all these years later is that Dr. Cook was not just there to take care of me or my sisters. He was there for our mother. She needed him as she raised four girls. He gave more than booster shots and prescriptions, he gave my mother sage advice. When parenthood brings up frustration and questions, a trusted caring professional is what is needed most. With no internet to search back in those days my mother relied on her instincts, advice from friends and family or possibly the Dr. Benjamin Spock book (who said,”Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do”). But when you doubt yourself or have the questions that you would prefer not to be talked about around the neighborhood, like “How can I get my six year old to stop throwing tantrums when her older sister teases her?” It is a trusted professional like Dr. Cook that you need. His advice for my mother was to take this third daughter on walks alone, to give her some undivided attention. It worked. All I needed was one-on-one time with my mom.
As the mother of four kids myself, I understand what my mother needed in our pediatrician. We moved several times over the years which meant finding new doctors each time. Some were better than others. Walking into the small room with four little children in tow I could see right away if this was going to be a good fit. One of the best was Dr. Cigno in Connecticut. He was patient, thorough in examination and talking through any problems. All the the while, the active siblings of the sick child would be chit chatting and playing with the dogeared pages of the books and puzzles in the toy basket. He somehow tuned out the chaos of my active family squished into the small examining room, and never passed judgement went I got pregnant with our fourth child. He gave me great advice, instilled confidence in me as a mother, and was reliable as a valuable resource when it came to all concerns and questions about the children.
Four years later we moved. The new family doctor search began again. It may have been one of the hardest parts of moving. Starting over. The pediatricians and veterinarians we found needed to be large-family welcoming. Sometimes that meant changing offices when it was not a good fit. I was not going to get a babysitter just to bring in our puppy for shots. So into the tiny vet examining room the whole group would go. Those outings stand out so crystal clear in my mind. “Jack, don’t touch that. Colton, just sit down.” I felt like the veterinarian was looking at my crew and wondering how I’d ever be able to train a puppy. He was probably right, except we found the perfect dog for this family, an Australian shepherd who was a natural herding dog. Dot was as close as I ever got to having a nanny.
Those years of crowded examining rooms are long gone. The valuable words I relied upon from our trusted doctors are what helped me navigate through the toughest times of motherhood. Rashes, fevers, bedwetting, ADHD, alopecia, anxiety, accidents, stitches, concussions, broken bones, terrible twos, nightmares, insomnia, and probably even more that slip my mind today. Doctors helped me, my mom, and other moms and dads through the challenges of raising children (and puppies and kittens). I am truly grateful.
The cartoon covered bandaid on my son’s arm last year when he went in for a booster shot before returning to college was the reminder I needed. He smiled and said, “I got a lollypop too!”