To the pediatrician? Or not to the pediatrician?
Of all the many parenting dilemmas, that question has been one of the toughest for me. Runny noses, hacking coughs, raspy breathing, itchy rashes -- how do you know when something goes from usual yuck to seriously sick?
Today I took Pippi in after listening to her cough up goodness-knows-what for the past three nights. Our sweet pediatrician listened patiently as I described the symptoms that surely meant she has asthma or a respiratory infection or SARS. He checked her lungs, ears, nose and so on, chatting with her as he went. Then he looked at me and said, "I've got good news and bad news."
"The good news is it's just a cold. The bad news is it's just a cold."
And then he outlined the things to watch for in case she got worse and suggested I try saline nose spray, if she would let me. As I listened, I realized he had given me the exact same speech when I brought Pippi into his office with the exact same symptoms about two months ago.
Three years earlier, when Junius was born, I was determined not to be one of Those Moms. You know, the ones who rush into the doctor's office for every sniffle and scrape. I would be a Relaxed Mom, a Cool-Calm-and-Collected Mom. The little snorts and bumps that come with babies wouldn't freak me out. And although we had the occasional sick-baby visit, Junius obliged by generally being a healthy baby (a fact I like to attribute to my magical breastmilk, but it's probably just because he was mostly around grown-ups for his first year).
When I took him to the pediatrician around age three for a runny nose and cough that just wouldn't go away, I fully expected the doctor to say, "He has a cold. Use saline nose spray. Love him. Feed him. Wait for him to get better." Instead, the doctor started asking me other questions... "What's going on with those scabs on his chin?" (He scratched himself and won't stop picking at it, but that's not why we're here.) "How long has his eye looked like that?" (Hmm, not sure. Is that gunk from naptime?) Turns out, Junius needed two weeks of broad-spectrum antibiotic to help heal the impetigo in his chin, the conjunctivitis in his eye, and, oh yes, the raging infection in his right ear. (And no, I had never heard of impetigo before that moment.)
Then, as if that weren't bad enough, we were back three months later for a diaper rash spot that just wouldn't heal. Despite all the creams and ointments I could find, this one spot kept getting worse and was threatening to bleed. Long story short, that doctor's visit was our first of what would become three bouts with Community-Associated MRSA. I won't gross you out with the details, but trust me when I tell you it's not fun to hold your toddler still while a doctor squeezes puss out of a boil on the toddler's tushie.
So yes, I took Pippi to the ped twice in two months for the same ordinary symptoms that would send me looking for cold medicine for myself. But I no longer trust my Relaxed-Mom radar to tell me when my kids need a doctor. I just take them in and then count my blessings everytime one of our wonderful pediatricians sends us home saying: "Nose spray and love -- that's all you need."