I’ve been meditating all week long on my inability to navigate the choppy waters of modern medicine.
“Why?” I ask myself, “Why do you have an unerring instinct to make the wrong choice about whether or not to pursue medical care for your child every. blinking. time?”
The only thing I can come up with is the fact that I myself never had to go to the doctor except every now and then to get immunizations to enroll in a new school. I never spent a night in a hospital until my first child was born. I used to take pride in the fact that I never broke a bone or even so much as twisted an ankle, seeing this as evidence of my superior constitution. Now I realize that I never got hurt as a child, because of the extremely low probability of injury when you spend every day lying on a couch reading a book.
The other reason we never had to seek outside medical care was because we had my aunt, whom we (fondly) call “the witch doctor” and my dad.
First: my aunt. My aunt studied Western-style pharmacology as well as traditional Chinese medicine. She’s so good at what she does that the whole Redskins team would come to her for acupuncture and other treatments. At the height of their glory back in the 80s, when they actually cancelled school for a day so that kids could go to their Superbowl victory parade, every member of the team signed a football for her two young boys. With someone like that in your family, why would you bother with baby aspirins or visiting a doctor?
Our aunt would treat us with suspicious and exotic ingredients that she would wrap neatly in plain white paper packets. Heartburn? White paper packet. Acne? White paper packet. Too short? White paper packet. Moral shortcoming? White paper packet.
The ingredients would be simmered on the stove for hours until all that was left would be a black sludgy distillation that looked, smelled, and tasted exactly the same, no matter the combination of ingredients or the complaint they were to address. There were two strategies for choking these vile concoctions down. You could hold your nose and gulp down the mugful of medicine as fast as possible. Or, you could hold your nose and take molecular sips while your mother stood over you with a cattle prod and bullwhip urging you to HURRY UP and drink it!!
As for what was actually in the packets, we could only speculate. My aunt would pull each ingredient out of one of those ancient apothecary chests with millions of tiny drawers labelled with Chinese characters. The one constant was that every mixture always included what looked like bits of mulch. As for the rest: ground moose antlers, tiger testicles, rhinoceros belly button lint? Who could tell?
For more acute problems, my dad would take matters into his own untrained hands. His sub-specialty was acupuncture. For a really bad stomach ache, he would wrap our right index finger with a thread until it turned blue. The next step was to sterilize a needle by holding it over a burning match, or sometimes just by running it through his hair. He explained once that he was harnessing the power of static electricity, which would create a spark that would sterilize the needle just as effectively as would the flame from a burning match. (I don’t think he took into consideration the fact that his hair was always slick with a generous dollop of Vitalis). Finally, he would jab the needle into the lower left corner, right where flesh meets nail, until a drop of purple blood oozed out.
To be perfectly honest, the result was instantaneous pain relief. But the cure was so bad that we all became precociously adept at deception and subterfuge. We were like herd animals that hide their illlness so they won’t be left behind until the very moment they keel over dead.
“Oh no, Dad,” I’d gasp with a weak grin shakily pasted on my grey face, “I’m O.K. My stomach doesn’t hurt…I was just bending over to look for something I dropped on the floor.”
I became so frightened of my dad and his trusty, Vitalis-soaked needle that I once hid the fact that I had gotten a splinter in my stomach from a rickety old wooden seesaw. It remained lodged in my stomach for over a year until it worked its way out in a nasty little explosion of pus.
So after a full work up and thorough analysis, my self-diagnosis is that I’m suffering from a fairly severe and probably incurable case of IMC: Impaired Medical Cognition. I simply can’t make reasonable judgments about modern health care, having only had experience with the ancient variety. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’m hoping to put this unhappy chapter behind me now. Or at least until the next ER visit anyway…
Hope your weekend is out of all whooping!