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When your gut is wrong

Sometimes the doctor really does know best when it comes to kids' health

'Trust your gut." It's often the first and certainly the most common advice veteran parents give to the newbies cradling a helpless infant. Read the parenting books, listen to your friends and mother, talk to your doctor - but in the end, you are the parent of that child. Listen to that inner voice when you feel something isn't quite right.

I've always given that advice, and I've always followed it, especially when it comes to my kids' health. I am that parent in doctor's offices and hospitals - the one who reads and understands the medication bags attached to the IV pole, the one who needs to know the details of every diagnosis and "what if," the one who will quietly correct the doctor or nurse when they're wrong and I know it.

This week, however, my gut let me down.

Eddie had a skin condition and needed to be treated with an over-the counter medication. I treated him as directed, and worried when the condition seemed to get worse instead of better.

I took my little guy to the clinic, where the doctor told me he was having an allergic reaction to the medication. She gave us other medications, and told me not to give him the original again.

The medication she gave me wasn't working. The problem seemed to be spreading. I was convinced it was the original condition and not an allergic reaction.

My gut was telling me to treat him again. I took him to the doctor again - and this doctor said the same thing. Allergic reaction. I argued. He insisted.

I went home that night, determined to treat him again, but still worried. I got onto the Internet and did one last search for a similar allergic reaction - and found pictures of someone who had the same reaction to the same medication.

I later learned Eddie could have had a life-threatening reaction if I had put the first medication on him again. My gut had let me down, and I could have seriously harmed him.

Anyone who knows me knows this admission is painful. I covered health for six years as a reporter and have always been an informed patient. I knew more about the illness I suffered during my last two pregnancies than any doctor who treated me - and the physicians admitted it. When it comes to my kids, there's only one person who knows them as well as I do, and that's my husband.

But I haven't gone to medical school or nursing school. I am not a pharmacist or a chiropractor or an herbalist. I am not a research scientist. I know almost nothing about the physiology of the skin and how the largest organ of our bodies handles an allergic reaction.

The doctors I saw this week have been to medical school and see hundreds of patients a week. They know what an allergic reaction looks like.

And although doctors can sometimes be wrong, they are most often right. My past experiences coloured my judgment.

Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, "All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes."

From now on, when I tell other parents to "trust their gut," I'm going to add a proviso: Be willing to admit when you've been wrong and to learn from it.

None of us are perfect. Being willing to accept that will make things easier, I think, when our kids are teens and point out every fault we have and every bad decision we've made.

I take comfort from the fact Eddie is well on his way to recovery.

It's also a relief that I remember so few of the things my folks did wrong.

I sure remember all the things they did right.

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