My daughter was diagnosed with an ear infection this past weekend. Since she’s sixteen and taking three AP classes, the “Wait and See” approach that our pediatrician’s office usually recommends was just not going to fly.
“We could try giving her some Amoxy . . .” her doctor started to suggest.
“You can stop right there,” I cut him off. “That pink crap hasn’t worked since she was three. She needs the hardcore stuff. Give her the strongest one you got.”
Confident I had single-handedly saved my daughter’s GPA, I filled the prescription for the horse pill-sized antibiotics. But after three days, she felt even worse. She said her head hurt and her ears felt like she was underwater. She also said she felt like her head was stuck in a bowl full of popcorn. (I wondered how she knew what that would feel like, but I was too scared to ask.)
She couldn’t miss any more school so I filled her with Tylenol and sent her on her way. Then I Googled her list of symptoms.
I quickly came upon something called Mastoiditis, which can occur when the ear infection moves into the mastoid, the area of the skull behind the ear. Left untreated it could result in hearing loss, facial paralysis and death. Death! What the hell?
I sent her a text immediately; “We’re going to the doctor right after school. Your ear pain could be very serious.”
Seconds after the dismissal bell rang, she jumped into my car. Apparently my text message had really rattled her. “So what’s going on? Am I dying of cancer?” she asked.
“No! Cancer? Honestly, why do you overreact like that? I can assure you that you’re not dying of cancer, but you could go deaf. And, since your grandma is already deaf and I’m well on my way, the cards are stacked against you. We can’t take any chances.”
“Seriously,” I continued. “You can never ignore problems with your ears, or your eyes. I knew a guy at work who ignored an eye infection and you know what happened? He went blind! That’s what happened!”
My daughter and her sisters, already in the backseat, were captivated. So then it hit me, this was what those parenting experts refer to as a “teachable moment.” I had their complete and undivided attention – a rare thing indeed. I don’t think I’ve had their undivided attention since . . . well, frankly I can’t remember ever having their undivided attention.
I had to use this moment wisely. I needed to impart some parenting wisdom – words that could possibly help them for the rest of their lives.
“Okay girls, listen. Seriously. These are very important medical words to live by. Number one – Eyes. Never ignore problems with your eyes. Number two – Ears. Never ignore problems with your ears. And number 3, um . . . Breathing! Very important! If you ever have a problem with your breathing, don’t ignore it. It could very well be pneumonia and that will kill you dead.”
I was on a parenting high. Who knew how many future medical maladies I might have prevented with my sage advice? My children were lucky to have me.
“What if your heart stops beating? Is that something we need to worry about?” the older one asked, dryly.
“Okay, yes. Make that number four. Now you have four rules to live by. Keep it simple.”
“What if one of your limbs suddenly falls off? Can you ignore that?” the middle one added.
“Fine. Five. Five rules to live by: don’t ignore your eyes, your ears, your breathing, your non-beating heart, or your falling off limbs. That’s it. Five things to remember.”
I knew they were mocking me, but I didn’t care. I was sure that my impromptu teachable moment had been a success. What’s more, my kids were going to see proper healthcare behavior modeled, as they witnessed me rushing my eldest to the pediatrician to save her from a life of permanent silence.
But then, as I confidently explained to the doctor the reasons for my diagnosis of mastoiditis, my medical authority came in to question. It seems, the doctor explained, that had my daughter had this particular ailment she would have had giant bulges protruding from the side of her skull, and her ears would have stuck out from her head much like an old Howdy Doody doll. The doctor even pushed his own ears forward to demonstrate, a la Dumbo.
Though he explained this to me with the patience of a man who’s spent a long career reassuring worried parents, I’m pretty sure that the cough he pretended to suppress was really a very large giggle.
My kids, on the other hand, were suppressing nothing. They giggled away at their mother’s over-active imagination. It turned out that my daughter’s ear infection was just that – an ear infection that, upon further inspection, was greatly improved.
I didn’t care. Maybe today my mothering didn’t prevent a serious malady, but I’m sure that some day it will.
I’ll just have to wait and see.