Sometimes I bemoan the fact that, though people regularly call me “Dr.,” I do not have a medical degree. It’s not because I have any desire to practice medicine (I get queasy at the sight of blood) or that my parents wanted me to go to medical school (they still get to tell their friends I’m a Dr.), but because sometimes I feel so ill-equipped for the medical side of mothering. In the middle of the night with the high fever or a child complaining of odd symptoms, I feel my extensive knowledge of the history of the printing press is pretty much useless.
This week, a mysterious rash invaded our household, which resulted in various trips to the pediatrician and ended with a patronizing physician assistant at a dermatology practice telling me she can’t indicate what she was testing for because the words were too big for me. I wanted to “professor” her. I know lots of big words (incunabular, hegemony, cognitive dissonance) but because I know nothing about medicine, my deferential mode kicked in, and I begged for what little information she was willing to divulge.
Once home, I went into scholar mode. I now believe I know everything there is to know about skin rashes and their potential causes. I earned an A in a Google-based education in dermatology, and I’ve become familiar with some of the more serious medical journals. Of course, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, because I know everything while knowing nothing. I had fallen down the academic rabbit hole.
Finally, I decided to simply trust my gut. I felt that I was over-treating the mysterious rash, creating more problems because I could no longer identify the independent variable. The same thing sometimes happens in my research. I get bogged down and can no longer sift through the evidence. Sometimes you can’t find an answer and have to live with uncertainty. I made the decision to do nothing for my son for a few days and see if his body solved the problem itself. I’m still in the waiting phase, but I guess part of being a mother, and an academic, is always having a foot in the unknown.