I take care of patients of all ages, but a substantial amount of my time is devoted to routine pediatrics. I try to make a good impression on the kids, knowing that my care will be a lot easier if they aren’t terrified by my presence. Those who don’t do pediatrics often say the reason they don’t want to care for children is to avoid “all those screaming kids.” I want to avoid “all those screaming kids too,” but I do it through good PR. I joke with them, tickle them, find peanut butter in their ears, and other tactics to make them comfortable.
This approach has an added benefit regarding the other reason doctors don’t want to see kids: the parents. If the kids like me, the parents are much more likely to listen to me. One of my favorite things to hear is for a parent to say how their child wants to come and “see Dr. Yamberts” when they are sick. I periodically have kids running to me at the hardware or grocery stores, throwing their arms around my legs in a tight hug. It’s my tranquilizer/blood pressure drug of choice. Life is good when my patients love me.
It is strange to think about me being the image these children have of my profession. When the word “doctor” comes up, they picture me. They think of doctors examining under their arms for fictional problems as an excuse to tickle. They think of doctors having Scooby Doo stickers on their stethoscope. They think of the doctors office as a place where they can laugh and where they are cared for.
OK, it also helps that I am juvenile in my humor and that I actually enjoy playing with them. It’s not just PR; it’s self-indulgence. It’s definitely a win-win.
But I was met with a different reaction from one of my regular patients recently. I was joking around with this intelligent boy who was at my office with his mother for her visit. He was telling me about school and about how he likes math problems, but doesn’t like taking the tests. I started teasing him about the girls in the class - something I take great pleasure doing to boys of a certain age. They react as if girls are covered with radioactive Ebola virus. It’s hilarious.
Perhaps it was out of spite, or perhaps he was just being a typical guileless kid, but he interrupted my teasing: “You know what, Dr. Lamberts?” he said, sounding serious in his tone.
“What?” I answered, waiting for his words of wisdom.
“You really need to take care of something…a situation,” he continued.
“And what is that?” I asked.
“You need to cut your nose hair.”
His mom let out a yelp and I started laughing, suddenly self-conscious about my hirsute nares. He sat there, still serious, as if he had said something profound.
“I’ll take care of that as soon as possible,” I responded when I caught my breath. “Thank you for letting me know about that.”
Upon leaving the room I went immediately to my office, got a pair of scissors, and trimmed the locks in my schnoz. It wasn’t all that bad, was it?
It left me wondering how many kids had noticed this and not told me. How many kids were disturbed by my nasal foliage? How many kids out there didn’t see me as the funny doctor, or the one who tickles, but the one with the creepy nose hair?
I’ve been obsessing about it ever since.