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  Any pediatrician can tell you: Treating the child doesn’t cure the parent. Not when we demand a mix of intimacy, empathy—and brilliance.  

At first, I liked my pediatrician for his social conscience. I’d already interviewed maybe five highly recommended pediatricians before the birth of my first child, and none of them took insurance. Which on the Upper East Side meant that all of the children in the waiting room were wearing navy blazers with either khakis (boys) or gray wool jumpers (girls). Unfortunately, I’d asked for it by living there. The pediatrician I finally chose, on the very afternoon I went into labor, took insurance because, he said, he did not believe that only the wealthy deserved decent health care. I respected this, as did my husband, and, nodding to each other, teary-eyed, we envisioned hours of annoyed waiting among the teeming masses. There’s nothing like being p.c. and saving money at the same time.

Well, masses, shmasses. Three and a half years and two children later, my biggest complaint is that my doctor never seems to think my kid is sick enough to merit treatment. I ask myself: Is that what those fancy people have been paying for all this time—antibiotics? I poll the parents of the children in navy blazers. “No,” they whisper furtively, shaking their heads sadly, maybe shivering slightly, even though it is 75 degrees in the playground. “We never get antibiotics, either.”

I realize that this does not mean that my pediatrician doesn’t care about my child. He does. He just doesn’t really care about me. My pediatrician sees me as a time-sucking alarmist with no respect for boundaries, the boundaries being at one end “It’s the croup” and at the other “It’s a virus.” Neither of which typically benefits from medication. The horrifying truth is that, except for inoculations, your child’s health care is primarily up to you, unless you have the kind of pediatrician who will come over at two in the morning to take a shvitz with your hacking baby. I don’t. And this scares the crap out of me. It is not enough to wait for the barfing to pass—somebody must do something. When my pediatrician—a tad more concerned about the growing resistance to antibiotics than he is about my emotional welfare—tells me that my child will get better on his own, I say, “Uh, um, okay, well, thanks, well, sorry to bother you.” What I want to say is “101 degrees is a fever, jerk. Now, give me a goddamned prescription.”

This is warped, but I actually feel just the tiniest bit triumphant when my child’s illness requires one. Sure, strep throat is a drag, but at least it validates my co-pay. And I don’t feel like a total Munchausen’s-by-proxy case. (For those of you who missed that episode of ER, Munchausen’s-by-proxy is this horrible syndrome where parents create medical dramas for their children in order to get attention for themselves.) Conversely, on the rare occasion when the doctor recommends antibiotics, I immediately panic and balk. I say, “I really don’t want to give her anything if I don’t have to. Are you absolutely sure it’s necessary?” This is the great conundrum of child care. It is not much different from the rest of life, though. I want what I can’t have, and then as soon as I can have it, I grab my hair with both hands and run screaming into the night.

Perhaps, once, in some deluded state of mind, I thought that my socially simpatico pediatrician and I might be conjoined in a happy partnership, that our meetings would straddle the middle ground between mutual concern and aren’t-kids-funny jocularity. I thought wrong—and not because there isn’t such a ground. There is. For everyone except me. Perhaps there’s something about the panic in my voice every time I turn up at the pediatrician’s office that puts him on edge. Or maybe I just don’t get my pediatrician’s sense of humor. He certainly doesn’t appreciate my God-given gift of sarcasm. Either way, when I hear that someone is on a first-name basis with her pediatrician, I sigh longingly, wistful for what I know I’ll never have.

But for now, I try to just be grateful. Grateful for the important things, like the way the pediatrician takes care of my children, on the occasions when they actually require taking care of. The rest of the time, I’m just going to have to suck it up and try not to be such a train wreck, because it’s getting embarrassing. The last time I took my kids to see the pediatrician, he actually gave me the lollipop.

From the Fall 2003 edition of the New York Family Guide
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