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Protecting the Child, Preserving the Family, and Honoring Life

Welcome to the Blog page of the American College of Pediatricians, which we call Scribit Veritas.  Each issue of the Blog is intended to assist parents, encourage children, and enrich the family.  Read our most recent issue below, and scroll to the bottom of this page to read earlier issues.

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Faith in Medicine

FAITHMany of us in healthcare still believe in the power of prayer, especially for our patients. We see this as a way of life – not a replacement for medicine and therapy but, rather, a complement to both.  In society, however, many have abandoned the notion of prayer and are more likely to express their concern with statements such as “my thoughts are with you.”

Such offers are typically made by those either with no faith or with a misguided notion of “tolerance” bordering on paranoia in which secular (and, sometimes, religious) leaders bend over backward to “not offend.”  When someone offers to spend time “thinking” of you or offers up a moment of silence in your honor, what exactly are they providing?

Thoughts, on a biological level, are simply electrical impulses powered by chemical neurotransmitters.  Silence, strictly speaking, is the lack of sound waves moving across a medium (such as our atmosphere).   Personally, I’d prefer to know that someone was spending those chemical reactions soliciting the aid of a higher power that can actually help me in my time of need.  Yes, it gives one a warm, fuzzy feeling to know that a “special someone” is thinking of them…heck, even the idea of strangers offering up some of their precious ATPs to produce images of yours truly dance around in their head makes me smile a bit.  But is that it? Is that all we can expect from others?

And therein lays the irony.  Non-believers, the clear minority in this nation, by definition, don’t believe in prayer.  They also recognize the futility of spending thoughts or marking time in “honor” of some specific person or persons.  Believers, on the other hand, aren’t going to waste their time on silence or random thoughts when they know the benefit of intercessory prayer. So why don’t we cut the p.c. talk and return to an era where our prayers are offered up on behalf of those in need?  People don’t need our silence, they need our help.  Letters of consolation, monetary donations, time spent listening to the heartbreak of others – those are all worthy deeds made for the benefit of someone in need:  As is prayer.

Those of us in this nation who claim a faith in God – and that is apparently more than 80% of us – recognize the benefit of prayer.  We can personally do little directly for most of the people in the world who are currently suffering from one cross or another – such as the victims of violence in the Middle East or the young American physician stricken with the Ebola virus – but we CAN offer up our prayers.  Petitions to God turn our simple, even frail, efforts into effective tools of comfort and, in some cases, avenues of resolution.

As G.K. Chesterton observed, tolerance is the virtue of those without convictions and atheists are people capable of believing anything rather than someone who believes in nothing.   I’m afraid, in the end, that’s all of what’s left when you strip down prayer to words – mere thoughts, even:  Nothing.  Let’s offer the hurting something of value. They deserve nothing less.


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Fender Benders

fender benderI have been in enough fender-benders to earn the moniker “crash dummy” from my family. One of these fender benders occurred when I hit a parked car in an office complex. I dutifully sought out and found the owner of the red sports car that I had damaged.

Unbeknownst to me, her fine looking automobile had been retrieved from the body shop five days earlier.  When the owner saw the damage I created and saw that my old clunker was not damaged in the least, she was livid. She informed me in a loud voice what a horrible person I was. She could not believe that I was treating her this way!

My response was to speak softly and apologize. For a period of time, she would yell loudly and I would apologize softly. Finally, her anger was spent and she asked me in a normal voice “are you a psychiatrist?” She could not believe my lack of reaction to her anger and thought it must have been due to some special training.

I am not a psychiatrist. I do know that a fire that does not receive fuel will die out and that an angry person who is met with calmness will eventually lose their anger. Choose carefully how you respond to anger directed your way – diffusing that anger is often a better choice than fueling it.


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Food for the Journey

canoeingI survived another overnight canoe retreat with my kids.  Mind you, I enjoy these outings; both because they give me an opportunity to spend quality time – and quantity time – with my boys and because I also, by nature of the father/son character of the group, get to visit with men of stellar character who, like me, are attempting to raise their families to appreciate the importance of faith in a world that has by and large decided to do without.  People ask me if I’m ready to go back and I answer with an emphatic: “well, I guess so.”

Asking so soon whether I’m ready to brave such an adventure again is akin to asking a woman who has just spent 18 hours in hard labor – including 30 minutes of painful pushing – to give birth to the beautiful baby she’s holding in her arms whether she’s “ready for another one.” I mean, eating stale MREs (meals ready to eat), sleeping on rocky beaches (bad back and all) and picking off ticks two days after the return home may not be nearly as traumatic as giving birth, but it’s still too close to the drama for me to think of such a thing.  Like a new mom, however, given enough time, I’m sure only the warm memories will shine through and I’ll be back in the saddle, or uncomfortable canoe seat, again.

Having been on this particular journey so many times, you might think I’ve gotten all the kinks worked out and that I’m a veritable pro at tent camping/canoeing. Well, you would be wrong.  I don’t know if it’s laziness, poor memory or inattention, but for some reason I never seem to be fully prepared for the journey.

It’s a similar story when discussing that final “journey” we must all take.  Those without faith don’t have to think about it.  Sometimes, those of us with faith aren’t much better.

In the end, I’m glad I’ve got godly men – and a loving wife – to challenge me along the way.  They will no doubt help me “pack” what I really need.  Who knows, when the time comes, I may be better prepared than I give myself credit for.  Heck, I sometimes even look forward to it.  Well…kind of.

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Tree Surgeon

tree surgeonI had a summer job during college working with tree surgeons. This was a crew of three – Jim who climbed trees and cut them down, Bill who went to prospective clients, gave estimates, and lined up future jobs and me. My job was to pick up the logs and put them on the truck to then be hauled away.

On my first day of work, it exhausted me to pick up these logs and get them on the truck. I had to drag these heavy logs to the truck and then strain mightily to lift them onto the flatbed. As I was working, Bill, the fellow who lined up future jobs, came by and helped pick up logs. Only instead of dragging the logs to the truck and straining to lift them, he picked them up with one hand and threw them 20 or more feet into the truck. I was amazed at how strong he was.

As the summer came to an end, I put in my two weeks’ notice and they hired a new guy to take my place. During the entire time working I always struggled to get the logs on the truck. When this new hire started, I was suddenly able to pick up the logs and throw them 20 or more feet just like Bill did on my first day on the job.

What changed? What changed was that every day I worked, Jim would cut the logs a little longer and they were thus heavier. This meant that I always had to work hard to get the logs on the flatbed. When the new guy started, Jim went back to smaller, lighter logs and I could throw those into the truck with ease.

While not many will have a career as a tree surgeon helper, most of us are or will be parents. Consider using this gradual approach when teaching your children new skills.

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fireI was a young child playing Cowboys and Indians with my friend down the street. At the same moment I shot my cap gun, I heard a siren. I looked down the street and saw a fire truck pulling into my driveway and flames pouring out of the back of my house.

My two year old twin sisters had been sent to their room for a nap. They didn’t want to go to sleep, and instead quietly played with the lamp in their room. Somehow they created a short and started the house on fire.

Fortunately everyone got out safely. My mom says that after she got everyone out of the house, she called my dad to let him know what was happening. The receptionist at his office explained that dad had given instructions not to be disturbed.  “Ok,” she said “when he gets free, let him know his house is on fire!” Then she hung up the phone.

The receptionist didn’t interrupt dad. She let him know what was going on as soon as he was free.  And he dropped everything and came home.

So, watch out for twins – they really are double trouble! And make arrangements to respond to your family when they call you at work!

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Hedge Trimming

trimmingI always welcome offers of help from my children. While their help might mean that whatever I am working on will likely take longer to complete and might not be as elegant as if I did it myself, I value the time together and the opportunity to teach them new skills.

One day I was using an electric cord powered hedge trimmer and my 12 year old asked if he could help. Of course I said yes and instructed him in how to trim the hedge I was working on. As he was doing this, he wasn’t paying careful attention to where the cord was.  I warned him three times to pay attention to the cord – otherwise he might cut the cord. Each time he was careful for a while. The fourth time he wasn’t paying attention, I didn’t say anything and sure enough, he cut the cord. Sparks flew and he jumped. Lesson learned!

We all learn lessons from the school of hard knocks as my son did in this case – and we can learn by embracing what others before us have learned. I have learned plenty in the school of hard knocks. With the passage of time I’ve become better at learning from others’ experiences. I hope my children will learn more often from the mistakes of others rather than their own.

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Booty duty

surprised boyOne of the more frustrating pests parents deal with is the dreaded pinworm.  Even pediatricians’ kids are prone seeing as how they are no less likely to play in the dirt and put those same dirty hands in their mouths throughout the day.  Soon they’re scratching their backsides before bed and, following a quick peek to verify the diagnosis, it’s off to the drugstore to pick up the appropriate prescription.  Even with proper treatment, however, the itch doesn’t disappear over night and I recall one such evening when this particular son of mine was in just such a predicament.  Now, one of the time-saving moves my wife and I came up with over the years was to place a toothbrush for each child in both their usual bathroom and our own, since you never could predict where they might be come bedtime. As I entered my room to gather up the little ones for bed my then three year old passed me by with the business end of a toothbrush shoved up his you-know-what.  Though his pajama bottoms were in their proper position it still made for an amusing if somewhat disturbing sight. Not one to let a teaching moment go by, I quickly chimed in with “Matthew, you’re not supposed to scratch your booty with your toothbrush”.  To which he promptly replied with an innocent smile on his face: “it’s not my toothbrush, Dad…it’s yours.”

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imagineOne night, during a visit to New York City, my family was walking along the western edge of Central Park with some college friends of mine who had moved to Manhattan many years earlier. We stopped at an intersection along the way and my friend pointed out that we were just a few yards away from the spot where John Lennon was killed some 32 years earlier.

One of Lennon’s most famous songs is “Imagine.”  It’s a beautiful tune that somewhat sums up the liberal mantra of the 60s & 70s:  “imagine there’s no heaven…no hell below us, above us only sky.”  It was during this period that America started moving away from a country of faith toward a more secular state.  The idea, according to Lennon, was that without a god to distract them, one that compelled people to fight and kill, there would be a “brotherhood of man” because people would be “living for today.”

I think John Lennon got it wrong. Right outside our hotel window was a huge billboard for a popular soft drink filled with pictures of scantily clad women and depicting heavy duty partying.  There were only three words in the ad:  Live For Now.  You see, when God is removed from the picture, something else must fill the void.  John Lennon “imagined” that it would be love and brotherhood.  That’s not likely.

G. K. Chesterton said that the only truly provable theological teaching is the fact of Original Sin.  When left to his own ways, man lives not for others but for himself. If peace and brotherhood are what liberals are looking for, they would be better off hoping for an increase, rather than a decrease in faith.  Imagine that.

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Wait Times

waitingOccasionally, I will find myself running an hour or more behind in clinic.  Sometimes the delay may be the result of a particularly ill child requiring more of my time or an urgent C-section at the hospital where a pediatrician was needed. Most parents understand and while no one wants to wait to see their doctor they are typically sympathetic to the situation and, quite honestly, they would rather not trade places with the patient in dire need.  The same can’t be said when I’m just too busy in the first place and don’t have openings in my schedule for same day appointments.  It always irks me when I hear that a patient felt the need to take their child to a “doc-in-the-box” center (or Emergency Department) because our office was unable (or unwilling) to see them that day in our clinic. Though their particular problem may not have been truly urgent, in their mind it was and they wanted their child seen. As a fellow parent, I can’t blame them.

On a national and international level, however, problems involving delays in seeing patients is nothing new.  Long before its current woes, the Veterans Administration formed a national task force eleven years ago to look into this complaint  and noted that over a quarter of a million veterans waited more than six months for an initial doctor visit or first follow-up.  Overseas, the British National Health Service, where wait times for both specialists and primary care providers are at a five year high, gives us an idea of what our own looming National Health Care scene might look like since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.  While we are always looking to improve scheduling problems, suddenly my own office wait-time issues don’t look so bad.

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siblings fightingI felt like I was in one of those contests to see how many folks can fit in a phone booth or VW bug.  I was trying to obtain the history of a sick 9 month old child.  In the background, the 3 year old sister was grabbing the 2 year old brother’s pacifier.  The five year old would wait to see whatever toy the 2 and 3 year old wanted so he could grab it and make them cry.  There seemed to be a lot of punching, eye gouging and ear biting going on (or was that the Mike Tyson fight?).  Eventually we got to the end of the bout…er… I mean visit and I was looking forward to escaping to a little quiet.  However the mom had one of those “by the way questions” that we all hate as I was edging toward the door.  “Doctor, we’re thinking about having another child but we are wondering what the best spacing between children should be.” To be honest, I didn’t know how to answer such a personal question with so many unknown variables.  However, as the 3 year old stomped on the 2 year old’s foot, I came up with the perfect reply: “About 10 feet.”

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