PAL – Parents Against Leeches

No matter what brought you to his office, your doctor has probably not prescribed leeches or blood-letting. Thinking of those once-common medical remedies may even make you question whether George Washington and others might have survived longer without medical assistance.

That doesn’t mean that the medical advice we get today is necessarily foolproof. Yes, there have been innumerable advances, but new challenges arise and medicine is a field that is constantly developing. How does a parent decide to listen to medical direction or to ignore it?

I was thinking of this when re-reading Small Steps by Peg Kehret.  The author tells her story of contracting polio in 1949 when she was in seventh grade. It is a book worth sharing with our pre-teens and teenagers both as a depiction of a polio epidemic that, thankfully, we no longer see and as an evocative piece of writing. As a mother, one section particularly resonates with me.

Shortly after Peg was first diagnosed and hospitalized, she was running a fever. Worried about dehydration, the nurses encouraged her to drink. After she aspirated some soda, they restricted her to water and juice. However, largely from fear of aspirating again and being put in an iron lung, Peg barely swallowed anything. Day after day, her parents watched her grow weaker. Finally, they asked Peg if there was anything she would like to drink and she responded, “A chocolate milkshake.”

The nurse on duty told Peg’s parents that she was forbidden to have either milk or ice-cream as they would cause her to choke. The nurse held up the specter of their daughter choking to death because of their actions. Her parents responded that they were watching her slowly die anyway and went out and got her a milkshake. Within an hour of sipping the shake, Peg’s temperature dropped and she began her road to recovery.

I know that we now have IVs and that if parents today tried to behave in that way, social services would be called. But I still find myself asking if I would be so confident that expert advice was wrong and able to accept responsibility for ignoring it. This question isn’t limited to medical advice. We are besieged by authorities ranging from politicians to psychologists to schools pronouncing what is best for our children and families. Sometimes they are right; oftentimes they are wrong.

Here is my blessing to parents. May God guide you to have the humility to listen to advice and the wisdom and courage to know when to pay attention and when to ignore it.

4 thoughts on “PAL – Parents Against Leeches”

  1. Peg Kehret lives in my community and is a regular visitor to the library I worked at for many years. Thanks for sharing her special story. I have a friend who took similar gutsy actions to save her hospitalized baby and another friend who didn’t listen to her gut and ended up with a severely brain damaged child. I’m sure the providers were doing their best for these children, but sometimes parents are given wisdom and insight for their child in a particular situation that is outside the box of medical/psychological/educational,etc. protocol.

    1. What fun to hear from someone who knows Peg Kehret, Terri. I do worry that our society discourages us from taking responsibility for ourselves and that parents’ internal voices are increasingly subdued.

  2. That brought back bad memories of our oldest daughter almost dying from having her tonsils removed a few years ago…it went from bad to worse , dehydration , blood clots , fever , her throat hemorrhaging , her kidneys shutting down and being in ICU on a ventilator for 3 days…but when the bleeding started and I could see the young doctor panic , he called for help because “he didn’t know what to do” ,my husband was crying , I barked orders at nurses and demanded they call the surgeon NOW., stop the blood thinner NOW surprised me how they followed my every command , and looked grateful…….I had no idea if I was demanding the correct thing but I felt I had to act right now! She recovered ,and is fine today , but the surgeon worked on her for about 3 hours….scary . I felt unstoppable , it was a weird to feel so strong over something I knew nothing about.

    1. What a traumatic and amazing story, Karen! God does give parents added insight and you paid attention.

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