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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Trust me, I've done this before.

So, I spent Monday afternoon at the doctor's office with Bunny who - as all of you know because you stalk me on Twitter - is sick. She'd been running a fever off and on since Friday night, had the cough, the runny nose, the upset stomach... you know, The Plague.

To top it off, I was pretty sure the head cold plus the teething had combined to Bunny an ear infection. Why did I think this? Because she had all the necessary elements for breeding an ear infection and was running a fever. The doctor's office never likes this explanation. The triage nurse wants to hear the child is clutching their ear, pawing at the side of their head, or screaming in pain before they allow a child with an untreatable virus into the office. Trust me, I know this. Bunny is #4. I've spent ten years learning all the secret phrases that get you a doctor's appointment within three hours. "Fever" - "Lethargic" - "Pulling at her ear." It works every time.

We checked her vitals, and yes Bunny had a low grade temp, but aside from not wanting to play with the nurse because she was tired, my kid looked pretty happy and healthy. No green ooze dripping from her nose, no neon orange vomit spraying the walls. The nurse gave me a skeptical once over, shrugged, and took me to see the doctor.

The doctor sat down. The baby smiled. The doctor gave me a patient look she's undoubtedly refined on hundreds of newbie parents who rush to her office for every single cough. "You said she had a fever?"

"Around 101, for three days. It broke this morning," I said.

"And you took her temperature how?"

I could have lied, but I didn't. "I felt her head."

The doctor stared at me.

I get it, I know better. And hand isn't an accurate gauge for checking temperature. With an infant the preferred method is a rectal thermometer because it's accurate. And accuracy means the doctor can narrow down the long list of symptoms and treat the right thing. I shrugged. "Her temp never went over 102, it was around 101 off and on."

The doctor took a deep breath. "And you think she has an ear infection because...?"

"Because," I agreed.

"Is she pulling at her ear or anything?"

"Nope, but I'm pretty sure she has an ear infection."

The doctor sighed, probably regretting her decision to spend twelve years in medical school instead of having a promising career as an accountant. No one buys stock, "Because." Reluctantly, she started the exam. She checked Bunny's pulse, listened to her lungs, checked her growing teeth, and then peeked at her ears. "Double ear infection."

I hid a smirk and politely contained my, "I told you so."

Here's the information the doctor was missing: Bunny is Number Four.

Experience breeds understanding.

After so many times where you feel a feverish head and check the temp and see it's 101.2 you learn what 101 feels like. After enough ear infections, you learn to look for the smaller symptoms, like the way the baby likes to sleep with a certain ear pressed to a warm chest or how they don't like laying on a certain side. After enough doctor's visits a parent learns the difference between a virus (which the doctor really can't do much for) and a bacterial infection (where amoxicillin is the wonder drug of choice).

This same truth spills over into every facet of life. The more you do something, the better you get at it. The more familiar you are with a subject, the better you understand.

The first book you ever write and edit, it's going to suck. It's going to be an unmerciful slog through drek and cliche. You're going to hate it. That might go on for books, or years, or decades, and that's okay, because it's all a learning experience. JANE DOE was ... gosh... I don't even know what number novel it was, eight maybe? And the first draft sucks. It's nothing like the final draft I'm querying, and it'll be light years different than the draft you see on the shelf in a few years. I'm okay with that. I learned a lot while writing and editing JANE DOE.

I'm working on a draft of another project right now, it's not fantastic, but it's better than previous rough drafts. My skills as an author are improving, not just in a "I type faster!" sense, but in a feel for what goes where and how to spin a line. Building a world and constructing a character are becoming things I can do more on instinct and less on meticulous planning like I did with my first novels.

Just like I can look at my kids and tell when they're sick (are they holding still? They're sick.), I can tell when a scene is working... or the caramel on the stove is ready to burn... or the jelly is ready to set ... or the car needs its brakes changed. All those are things I've learned from repeating the same experience again, and again, and again. Because practice makes (very nearly) perfect!


And that's why I wasn't on Twitter or writing on Monday. How did your week kick off?

1 comment:

  1. I always like to see how long it takes a doctor to realize that: 1) yes, I do understand my body and know when something is wrong; 2) my husband understands his body and knows when something is wrong; 3) my daughter knows her body and knows when something is wrong; and 4) we have all too much experience with repeating problems - ear infections, throat infections, colds, flareups - that we know exactly what is wrong and what we need from the doctor. Some doctors are bright enough to realize their patients do know themselves, these are usually doctors with several years experience and are well on the way to being that "old family doctor who can tell what someone has by looking at them". It's the new ones, fresh from med school or still in their first five years of solo practice, that don't believe their patients know what's wrong with themselves.

    Experience does teach us to recognize things. I know when I am coming down with something. I know when my husband or daughter is getting sick. I know how much flour to add to a recipe without using the measuring cup. I know when I make a mistake in my crocheting or any other craft. I know when my characters or scenes are flat and need life.

    Luckily, I've got a good sense of humour and tons of patience so I can deal with people who still haven't learned that experience gives knowledge to people who aren't trained in a field. Just don't tell me I don't know what I'm talking about.

    There are subjects I don't know much about. I admit this at the start of any conversation on them. But...when we're talking about something I do have experience with, don't ever tell me I know nothing. That's a sure-fire way to get "The Look" and a comment about age bringing knowledge (not always wisdom which is a separate thing). If the person is really dense, they get a lecture. :)

    Hope Bunny feels better soon.