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    Diagnostic Medicine

    March 28, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    Last week, I discovered a nasty rash on A.’s leg. The next day, it had faded so I figured it was nothing, perhaps a bug bite or something. Two days later, it was back, and though it covered much of both of her legs, it was obviously concentrated in one spot, about the size of a half-dollar, that was beginning to look suspiciously like eczema.

    I have met a number of moms that would race the child to the doctor at this point. And really, there isn’t anything wrong with that, unless we consider gas prices. But I approach “sickness” the way I approach homeschooling: diagnosis and treatment are first and foremost my responsibility, and the doctor is one of many tools who may help me help my child.

    So, I put on my Diagnostic Medicine Hat, otherwise known as my Detective Hat.

    With my children’s history of food allergies, I knew that there was a good chance this was a sign of another allergy. However, I couldn’t help but notice that the rash had appeared around the time she had started wearing shorts outside.

    This was a clue!

    But what did it mean? Was she developing an allergy to grass? Was it a heat rash from a week of high temperatures to which she was not accustomed? I knew the shorts were the key to the mystery, but I decided to watch, wait, and file that little clue away in my memory until I could put it together with other clues.

    In the meantime, we started covering the eczema-like spot with organic coconut oil, which helped immensely. I tried to keep myself from getting too hopeful. Just because the oil helped in the healing didn’t mean I could ignore the cause. We weren’t going to spend all summer oiling the three-year-old!

    I think it was Sunday night that it hit me. I was giving her a bath and I noticed that the rash was back, but this time it was coupled with a distinct line around her calf.

    Her boots!

    A. has an adorable pair of pink boots that she wears when she plays outside. All winter long, however, these boots haven’t touched her skin due to the barrier of socks, jeans and other clothing. When we brought out the shorts and ditched the socks, the boots began to cause the skin problems we were seeing.

    Was it an allergy? Was it some sort of contamination?

    I didn’t care, truth be told. I knew the culprit {the boots} and I knew the antidote {no boots touching skin}. That was enough for me. I didn’t need to know it all, I only needed to know enough.

    So our “prescription” for A.’s full recovery from this particular skin rash is to either go barefoot, or dress in such a way that the boots do not touch her skin.

    Would a doctor have been able to do this? Not really. This isn’t to say that the doctor is incompetent. It is just to say that the doctor would have had a very hard time discovering the root cause, especially in this situation. The doctor would have given us creams to treat the problem, but they wouldn’t have been a real, true solution, and a lot of prescription creams have side-effects of their own.

    The important lesson in this is similar to what I once said about preschool. A preschool teacher may specialize in teaching 3- and 4-year-olds, but I specialize in teaching my 3- and 4-year-olds. Likewise, my doctor might specialize in diagnosing medical problems for children, but I specialize in diagnosing medical problems for my children.

    This isn’t because I’m cut out to be a doctor. It’s just because God gives parents a certain instinct when it comes to their own child, an instinct which should never be ignored.

    Some doctors, however, are able to have an accurate diagnosis of a mystery illness based upon their repeated exposure to the patient. As they come to know the patient, their own instincts in regard to that particular patient improve. For instance:

    Dr. Clifton came. He listened to my heart and asked me lots of questions. “Insomnia? Irregular sleep? Nightmares?”

    I nodded three times.

    “I thought so.”

    He took a thermometer and instructed me to place it under my tongue, then rose and strode to the window. With his back to me, he asked, “And what do you read?”

    With the thermometer in my mouth I could not reply.

    Wuthering Heights–you’ve read that?”


    “And Jane Eyre?”


    Sense and Sensibility?”


    He turned and looked gravely at me. “And I suppose you’ve read these books more than once?”

    I nodded and he frowned.

    “Read and reread? Many times?”

    Once more I nodded, and his frown deepened.

    “Since childhood?”

    I was baffled by his questions, but compelled by the gravity of his gaze, nodded once again.

    Beneath his dark brow his eyes narrowed to slits. I could quite see how he might frighten his patients into getting well, just to be rid of him.

    And then he leaned close to me to read the thermometer.


    He removed the thermometer from my mouth, folded his arms and delivered his diagnosis. “You are suffering from an ailment that afflicts ladies of romantic imagination. Symptoms include fainting, weariness, loss of appetite, low spirits. While on one level the crisis can be ascribed to wandering about in freezing rain without the benefit of adequate waterproofing, the deeper cause is more likely to be found in some emotional trauma. However, unlike the heroines of your favorite novels, your constitution has not been weakened by the privations of life in earlier, harsher centuries. No tuberculosis, no childhood polio, no unhygienic living conditions. You’ll survive.”


    “Treatment is not complicated: eat, rest and take this…”–he made quick notes on a pad, tore out a page and placed it on my bedside table…


    From the door he saluted me and was gone.

    I reached for the prescription. In a vigorous scrawl, he had inked: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes. Take ten pages, twice a day, till end of course. {The Thirteenth Tale}

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  • Reply Brandy March 29, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Thanks, Kerry. 🙂

  • Reply Kerry March 29, 2008 at 8:31 am


    I really enjoy your writing. I especially like your view (in my opinion, the correct view) of children and how they should be brought up. I thank God for mothers like you. Keep up the good work.

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