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In Doctors We Trust ... Right?
"No mother wants her child to suffer," Haleh Rabizadeh Resnick states in the beginning of her story, introducing the duality she explores in her new book, Little Patient, Big Doctor: One Mother's Journey.
On the surface, it would appear that Resnick -- a Cherry Hill, N.J., Jewish mother of Iranian decent -- is responding to the blotchy rash that covered most of her infant son's face and body, leaving him itchy, mottled and distressed for the first few years of his life.
We meet a likable, but sleep-deprived Resnick, a stay-at-home mom who will learn to recognize in herself not only her emotional, but visceral reactions regarding her hesitation to apply the medicines prescribed or the treatments strenuously recommended by well-meaning doctors, despite their dubious side effects.
"I did not set out to write all about me," said Resnick, an outgoing woman who allows an intimate glimpse into her family's odyssey. "It is hard to trust your own instincts when we trust doctors more than we trust what we ourselves believe."
When the frequency and severity of the rashes, hives, allergic reactions and bouts of asthma compromised the well-being of her fourth child, she sought help from a steady stream of allergists, dermatologists, nutritionists and pediatricians.
The former attorney and Hebrew-school teacher was ready to try just about anything to help her son become healthy and comfortable -- qualities that were completely eluding him.
Although her son did not grow and thrive as her other children had, Resnick was unwilling to keep this badly underweight and chronically ailing boy constantly medicated. But how else could she prevent him from ripping at his skin, while at the same time expand his diet and help her baby grow?
"At one point, a highly recommended nutritionist at a well-known teaching hospital urged me to keep him on formula as the mainstay of his diet, and I found that so tempting," she confessed.
"It was easy, and nothing about my son was easy," said Resnick. "He cried. He scratched. He never slept. Just one easy thing was all I wanted."
To offset the stress, and encourage the experience of joy and delight, she would tickle her little son for five minutes just to infuse happiness into the time they spent together. In fact, Resnick tried hard to keep things in perspective, maintaining her need for humor and as normal a babyhood as possible under the circumstances: "He might have been sick, but I never wanted him to think of himself as a victim."
Resnick described their first encounter with alternative medicine when a babysitter she employed asked if she could try Reike, a method that she said would harness healing energy.
"I watched from the hallway as the babysitter waved her hands over the crib, and then walked all around the room waving her arms. Then she came back to the crib and held her arms above the baby. I thought maybe she was praying," said Resnick.
"That could be good too," thought the Jewish mother, even though she was imagining that the half-hour arm waving session would ultimately make a good "Saturday Night Live" skit.
Before the rash had a chance to disappear, the babysitter moved out of town, and the Reike was discontinued. Soon, new alternative health practitioners that supplemented the traditional doctors helped realize an excellent result.
Included in the slim volume, Resnick devotes three condensed summaries: how to expand patient/doctor communication; a view of the healing potential; and navigating different possibilities.
As Resnick knows, "it can be difficult not to follow everything a doctor tells you, and equally difficult to question everything you're told. But if something doesn't feel right, you have to keep pursuing it, and satisfy your every concern or you won't follow through on what you're being told."
At the age of 31/2, the son who failed to thrive began sleeping through the night, and his chronic illnesses were better managed. Luckily, these positive breakthroughs occurred before Resnick's fifth child was 3 months old.
This baby, another wonderful son, was diagnosed with moderate to severe hearing loss in both ears. Resnick was not only devastated by the news, she simply couldn't believe it.
Said the author: "The scary part was that with the baby's diagnosed hearing loss, we were dealing with a six-month window of time. It was so difficult to decide on treatment because we got such different perspectives from the specialists we dealt with."
Three years later, Resnick is still baffled by the difficulty they had getting their youngest son properly diagnosed.
"After it was published, one of my friends, a convert to Judaism, read the book and told me she thinks that questioning doctors is a very Jewish concept. It was definitely something that was never done in her family."
But Resnick was coming from a different place.