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Can We Please Bring Back the Wild Things?

written by Thu Tran, MD,FACOG
on Wednesday, 16th December ,2015

Twenty-five years ago when I started practicing ObGyn, I had to use my creativity to calm down the children who came with their mothers for their office visits.  Some of them would have been perfectly cast for the characters in Maurice Sendak’s children’s book “ Where the Wild Things Are.”  The wild things were in our office’s waiting or exam rooms.  Their mothers would be quickly ushered into the exam rooms before the children would “destroy” our waiting room.  One five year-old boy ran through an exam room, pulled down the roll of paper lining our exam bed, held it by the edge, opened the door of the exam room and started running in the hallway of our office with the paper trailing behind him.  It was a nightmare for our staff to chase after him.  After this unfortunate incident, his mom was the first to be seen every time she came to our office!

One morning, I walked into an exam room after hearing the loud cry of a child.  This little girl was sitting and spinning on my stool, the movable stool I sit on while doing pelvic exams.  She fell off the stool and was cradled in her mother’s arms while her older brother was pulling down our curtain.  Every now and then, we have to replace these curtains as the hooks keep coming off from the children playing hide and seek.  

The moms always tried to make up for their children’s menace.  One day, I walked into an exam room, seeing how my patient, in her patient paper gown, was kneeling on the floor picking up pieces of cheerios scattered all over, while her toddler stood grinning nearby.  I muttered to myself, like the main character in a TV commercial advertizing Calgon bubble bath:

“Calgon, take ME away!” 

The toddlers or younger children were also disruptive with their crying or, to be exact, shrieking, every time I was about to do a pelvic exam on their mothers.  I would do all kind of tricks to calm them down, such as giving them the big Q-tips to play drums on the chair in the room, or handed them a brush similar to the one I was about to use to perform the “Pap smear” test on for their moms’ cervix, to brush their hair.  One toddler was too smart to stop shrieking, to his mom’s embarrassment, until I pulled out a speculum, an instrument used to open a woman’s vagina to expose the cervix for the pap smear test, and turned it into “Donald Duck.”  I made noises as if Donald Duck was talking to him.  To his mother’s amazement, the boy stopped crying, wiping his eyes while staring at the talking speculum.  With babies, the easiest way to quiet them down is to turn on the exam light and aim the light back and forth toward their direction.  Babies, as I learned, always seemed to be attracted to bright lights.  They gaze intensively at the light, as I turn its switch on and off. 

Nowadays, children are no longer a “burden” to our office staff.  The modern gadgets such as their mothers’ iPhones or Ipads have captured their attention.  The exam rooms are totally quiet except for the babies who are still attracted to the bright light of the exam lamp and still cry now and then when they can’t see their moms.  The toddlers play all kind of simple and colorful games, while middle school children looked as if they are at war with their strategy games.  Not even a sound from these children, and no more hand holding with their mothers while I am performing the pap test.  They only protest whenever the exam is over and their mothers take back their cell phones or iPads so that they can go home.  Many children have their own phones, and it’s difficult for their mothers to order them to put away the gadgets before leaving the room.

It’s peaceful for me as a physician in this era to do my job without the noisy children, but I often miss the interactions with them.  The world used to be simple where children found wonders in the lamp of an exam room or a pair of Q-tips that could be turned into drum sticks.  They found wonders in a talking speculum, or the chicken head I made for them by blowing air into a glove.  There were interactions between us.  They now sit silently like adults, into their own world, working on some games as if they were at a faraway war.  They play adults, serious and aloof, at such an early age.  They no longer get curious whenever they see another toddler or middle school child walking by, as they don’t look up from their gadgets while in the waiting room.

Researchers have found that children are aware differences in race by the time they are four to five years old.  Before that age, they can play with anybody without prejudice or noticing differences in skin color or other ethnic features.  Nowadays, school children don’t spend as much time playing with each other.  Most schools encourage even young children to be familiar with computers.  A teacher recently lamented in a Washington Post blog how her middle school students no longer talk with each other.  They are in their own world doing their own “things” with the computers.  They get annoyed when the computers are shut down.   

In a world where there are so much division between social classes, religions, races, is it wise to let the gadgets take over people’s life at such a young age?  Are they turning these children into unsociable beings who will grow up as unsociable adults? Will they stop seeing wonders in a flower about to bloom, the sun about to set, a leaf about to turn golden in the autumn?  Will they find wonder when the rain falls softly on the windshield of the car, or the lightning that lights up the sky outside, or the moon which seems to always be running ahead of their car?  The world is still so wide, with so many wonders, yet their world is limited to whatever is in their palms.

I am at least grateful to the fetal doppler machine in my exam room, a little computerized machine I use to listen to the baby’s heart beats.  It’s the only instrument left in the modern obstetrical office which still draws attention from the toddlers and middle school children.  When the sound of the baby heart is booming, many of these children will stop in their tracks.  The human heart beats from a tiny baby have brought their siblings back to “life,” to a real world where we are supposed to live lively and not sit silently like a Michelangelo statue.  We parents need to find other distractions, whether it’s a full moon in the sky or a butterfly landing on a flower, a walk in the woods or a hike on the mountain.  It’s time to distract the young children from their gadgets, even if it means they will run wildly around the doctors’ office again.

In a world full of gadgets and games, don’t you wonder where the adorable wild things are? Don’t you miss them?

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