Pediatrics Day with Professor Charlie
Charlie is just over two feet tall. He can’t walk. He can’t even talk, outside of a few cooing noises and some seemingly-experimental blubbering. Yet, despite his physical limitations, Charlie breezed into Butler-Haney Hall as confident as ever on Tuesday, sporting wide eyes and a drool-soaked shirt. Before drifting too far from the car, we did one final check of his vital work supplies.
Extra pacifier for when the first one inevitably hit the floor? Check.
Socks? Half-check. Return to the car for sock search? Successful (sock discovered under passenger’s side seat). They really should revisit the design of baby socks…
Binky in place and feet warm and cozy, we were ready to enter BHH, where a collection of Pacific Northwest University osteopathic medical students awaited our arrival, ready to soak up all they could from their newest teacher.
It was pediatrics day, and Charlie had a job to do. Talk about a proud dad moment….
To be honest, however, pride wasn’t the only emotion running through me as I carried my son into the PNWU osteopathic principals and practice (OPP) lab.
There was something about volunteering my little boy for such an unusual experience that made my palms sweat and my mind race. But there was something more — something about the opportunity to spend time with him doing something that was so beneficial — that made the pediatrics day invitation email too appealing to pass by.
Entering into a massive room filled with manipulation tables and focused medical students, the sounds of a pediatrics lecture flowing from the speakers around us, didn’t help my nerves. I didn’t know what I was getting us into, honestly.
I’m not a doctor. I’ve never spent a day in medical school. I’ve never even gone to a doctor’s appointment alone with Charlie. But as I pulled Charlie from his car seat, his puff of blonde hair abounding above his big, curious blue eyes, I heard the most reassuring sound. I’d expected to spend our time surrounded by the cold clinks of medical equipment. I expected to hear the sounds of beeping monitors.
Instead, I was suddenly cloaked in the unmistakable “aww” that seems to be the soundtrack of puppy appearances everywhere. As I looked up, Charlie’s chest resting on my shoulder, I was greeted by the kind-hearted eyes of what seemed like the entire class.
A student sitting immediately to my left leaned in and hung his index finger out, offering an introduction to his miniature teacher.
“Hey big guy,” he said, “what’s your name?” I smiled and said, “This is Charlie.” I don’t think that smile left my face for the remainder of our experience.
We were assigned to a station with a group of students who smiled, waved and made funny faces as we approached. Before I even had a chance to introduce him, they told us how happy they were to have us, and thanked us for the opportunity to learn. They were warm and welcoming, and their cheerful demeanors put me at complete ease.
After a few questions about Charlie — his age, his birth weight, what kind of foods he’s eating — the exam portion began.
One by one, the students stepped up to introduce themselves to him. Some adopted baby voices. Some tickled his (now sock-less…) feet. One student even handed him a measuring tape to play with as he listened to what he described as Charlie’s “little mouse” of a heart. The measuring tape quickly replaced his pacifier as the preferred chewing toy, but the student didn’t mind at all. He laughed as he eventually retrieved it, dripping in drool, before borrowing another studen’ts tape to measure Charlie’s head circumference.
Parenthood seems to be accompanied by an uninhibited vigilance. I'm always on alert for the next thing that could bonk him in the head or end up in his mouth. It seems that my hands are always tensed, ready to swoop in and save him from tipping over as he learns to move. It’s rare that I ever feel safe enough to step away from Charlie, especially in unfamiliar places. However, looking back, there was something about these students that put my mind at ease.
They seemed to genuinely care about him. They seemed to love his curiosity. Their smiles seemed as permanent as my own.
Before I knew it, an instructor came over and told us we were free to go. The mock-appointment was completed, and we could head out of this unusual place anytime we wanted. But we didn’t rush out.
I watched from a distance as they held him in their arms and crinkled their noses at him. I laughed along as they handed him their stethoscopes. We all laughed when he tried to turn those into pacifiers as well.
They sat beside him as he crawled around, pawing foam blocks and other toys his way. They liked him, and he liked them.
The next generation of physicians — the same ones who may very well be taking care of my family and I some day — was gathered before me, bringing joy to the most important thing in my life. Their childlike playfulness was balanced with curiosity and intelligence. Their genuine commitment to care was unmistakable. Their passion was obvious, and their kindness was radiant.
They were the exact people I’d want taking care of the most important parts of my life, and they were being formed right before my eyes.
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences