I sat down late last night to write another blog entry. I started writing and had to stop. I didn’t even have a chance to publish it (I’ll finish it and publish it tomorrow night). My son had come down with an earache and was very uncomfortable. He cried and cried. We asked him if he wanted something, and he would first answer yes and then immediately changed his mind. He is a very healthy boy and is rarely ever ill, so we weren’t equipped to treat his earache. He didn’t have a fever and looked fine. His nose had been running, so I suspected that his nasal congestion had backed up into his ears. The poor kid was miserable. But all we really could do was make him as comfortable as possible.
My wife insisted that we bring him to the hospital emergency room. I said no, it’s a waste of time. We had hosted a colleague from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for dinner earlier that evening, and he seemed fine at the time. I explained that children at my son’s age get earaches all the time and that the hospital would do little, if anything, for him. I told her that we should take care of him as best we could and get him in to see the children’s nurse the next morning. I thought, there are billions of parents in the world–if they could, would all of them take their child to the emergency room when their child has an earache? No, I don’t think so. Most American parents would not. Chinese parents such as my wife are much more likely to because Chinese are more likely to rely on hospital care (hospital care is free in China–people can stay for weeks on end in the hospital). Earaches are very common occurrences in young children, and they’re usually not serious. They can be serious when they’re recurring or symptomatic of a more serious problem such as malnutrition. My wife was distraught and insisted that we take my son in to see the doctor at 12:30 a.m. in the morning. He could not sleep, and we were all still wide awake trying to figure out what to do in the wee hours of the night. I reluctantly agreed to her demands, although I protested, arguing that it would be a wasted trip and would only leave my son even more uncomfortable. I was right.
We drove to the hospital emergency room. The attendant took my son’s blood pressure and measured his temperature. Both were normal. Unfortunately, they insisted on taking his temperature rectally (for a more accurate measure), and we would have to wait at least 45 minutes to see an attending physician. My son wanted nothing more than to go home, and he kept trying to pull us out the door. My wife relented, and we left without seeing the doctor. She acknowledged that I was right on this occasion. Sure enough, following a generally sleepless night in which my son slept fitfully and acquired a slight fever, my wife took my son in to the nurse. The nurse subscribed antibiotics and another medication. My wife was at wit’s end trying to get my son to take his medicine, but he eventually cooperated. When I got home from work tonight, my son ran to me, very happy to see daddy. It warmed my heart. He still had a slight fever, but he looked so much better. We played and had a great time. Everything transpired just as I thought it would. Right now he is sleeping soundly, well on his way to recovery.
I usually try to make decisions based on reason. When it comes to my son, my wife usually follows her instinct. Usually, she’s right. She’s much more tuned in to his needs than I am. Sometimes I feel like I’m clueless and a reactor when it comes to anticipating his needed. Fathers usually don’t share the innate instinct that mothers have when it comes to caring for their children. At times, instinct clashes with reason. In this case, my wife’s first instinct was to rush out and treat our son immediately, getting him whatever he needed to feel better right away. I thought this through, and based on past experience in hospital emergency rooms and what I knew about children’s earaches, I was convinced that going to the emergency room at midnight for an earache was overkill. I think that the interplay between instinct and reason is vital to coming up with an optimal solution. Sometimes reason is right, sometimes instinct is the better option. In this instance, dad got it right.