The Challenges Of Raising A Child When You Don’t Know Your Own Medical History
There is a pink sheet at every pediatrician’s office that I’ve ever taken my daughter to that comes from the depths of hell itself:
The medical history form.
On it, there’s a slew of options for your extended family’s medical history, to give the doctors a better idea of what to look out for as your child grows.
Four of these options are easily filled in: cancer (who doesn’t check this box?) asthma, all up and down the paternal family tree, heart disease (my grandfather never did stop eating kielbasa) and alcohol/substance abuse.
The rest I just stare blankly at, trying to decide what I should check off. Once, my mother told me I was allergic to sulfa drugs. For years, I checked that little box religiously, until one day a doctor asked me what happened when I took them. I didn’t know.
She prescribed them to my daughter for her eye funk, and while I waited with bated breath to see what awful reaction she’d inherited, I started to wonder what I should even look for. Hives? Expliding eyeballs? Maldorous sputum?
So I called my mother, and she was bewildered. “I never told you that,” she said. “You must have imagined it.”
I’ve never had a complete medical history. Growing up without a dad makes for a fantastic after school special but it’s a hassle as a kid that couldn’t seem to stay healthy. Did a grandmother of mine have PCOS? Is there an uncle with Meniere’s?
On the maternal side, the only thing that seems to be of concern is pathological lying.
My mother would make up wildly tragic illnesses that she suffered from, or that a cousin suffered from, or that one of my ancestors’ beloved Pekingnese suffered from, and I took each as gospel truth. It raised eyebrows, to be sure. Nurses wondered how much one family could take; Turner’s syndrome AND Jumping Frenchman’s Syndrome AND Endometriosis AND Rapidly Increasing Myopia AND Leukemia?
I never gave any of it much thought until I had a kid; her first horrible respiratory episode resulted in trying to nail down who had what and what medicines she could safely take. Her declining eye sight could have been strabismus or might have been related to something much, much worse. (It was strabismus).
Her happy home in the 3rd percentile of growth was almost certainly genetic, but what if it was related to one of those mysterious terrifying illnesses? Turner’s is certainly nothing to sneeze at, and then there were the chronic but hazy reports of “something with the thyroid” that would require extensive blood work and potential medication.
The more I began to realize how impossibly, laughably fraudulent my own medical history was, the less I felt like I could advocate for my kid, and I became dejected. On the one hand I knew it was impossible for my child to have the ancestral medical history of Baron von Munchhausen, but on the other, what if I dismissed something that was legit?
In time, I learned to relax a little. My daughter isn’t in any danger. No one will judge me for not knowing the past four generations of physical ailments, will they? How important can a medical history be? The fact is, a cough is usually just a cough. A short kid is generally just short. As for the rest, well, we just have to take it as it comes.
I recently had to take my child to yet another pediatrician when we moved to a new town. I didn’t even fill out the medical history form.
I told the LPN that examined my daughter that I was sorry, but I just didn’t know a whole lot about it.
“Most people don’t even fill that out,” she said, shrugging. “Don’t worry about it.”
Okay then, I won’t.