THE BLOG
10/09/2012 12:30 pm ET Updated Dec 09, 2012

Paging Dr. Johnnie Walker

The year is 1970 and a first-time mother takes her baby to the pediatrician for a checkup. She's worried about the child's teething pains and asks his advice. The pediatrician, who'd been practicing for decades and had a half-pack-a-day habit, tells her to rub some whiskey on the baby's gums.

The young mother nods her head, and then, after a moment of thoughtful silence, asks, "What kind of whiskey?"

Not missing a beat, the doctor replies, "Why, good whiskey, of course!"

The mother was satisfied, and to this day maintains that it was a very quiet night for all.

I'm pretty sure the current position of the American Academy of Pediatrics is that under no circumstances should you give a child good whiskey. And the parents I know would never consider it anyway. That being said, I would have liked this pediatrician.

Pediatrics is an art unique in the medical profession. It is the simultaneous treatment of two discrete patients, each with different, often conflicting, needs -- a child who is either sick or healthy, and a parent who may or may not know the difference. Anybody with an MD and a tub of bubble-gum-flavored amoxicillin can treat the former; the doctor you want is someone who specializes in the latter.

The best pediatricians for first-time parents have a mystic ability to make you feel like a good parent while at the same time mitigating the damage of your incompetence.

Our first pediatrician, for example, would deftly fold our baby over and over in his hands while giving us a running commentary on all the things we were doing wrong -- and yet his manner was so soothing that we felt like we were being booked on a Disney cruise. "Here on the Fiesta Deck, we usually put the diaper under baby's clothes." Or: "I've never seen such a beautiful sunset orange on a human being! I'm so glad it finally caught your eye. What say we have guest services upgrade this little fella' to a suite in the pediatrics unit and check his bilirubin?"

Good pediatricians also know when it's time for a more direct approach. Our current doctor is a gem in this regard. When it comes to our children's health, my wife and I have different mindsets, and our pediatrician's got us both dialed in.

As a parent, I've graduated from clueless to careless. I've never known a visit to the ER to be worth the hassle. I say as long as the child is still bleeding and crying, all systems are working as they should. My wife is much less cavalier. She's a physician herself, so she's naturally attuned to illness and injury. However, she's not a pediatrician and admits she knows little about sick kids. Still, as a mother, she doesn't let that stop her from racing to the conclusion that every cough is some terrible, unpronounceable disease (and she knows quite a few of them).

Yes, of course I defer to her judgment. This means, however, that I often find myself sitting sheepishly with my kid in the exam room, trying to find the right balance between relaying my wife's concern and letting the doctor know that I know it's nothing and that we really don't need to be here (you know, kinda like the proper way to pull over and ask for directions).

Fortunately, I found the perfect doctor. I knew I had a true comrade-in-arms when I once tried to explain to her my wife's concern about a persistent rash, and she cut me off, saying, "Well, I suppose you could call this a rash, but frankly, I'm underwhelmed... Tell your wife I said to stop examining her own children."

I am so vindicated.

Our doc also comes out with diagnostic beauties like "tetchy lungs," "odd little lumpy things," and my favorite, "some kids are just funny that way." Her usual treatment recommendation? "Wait three days." But because she knows my wife, she adds, "if it would make her feel better, she can apply a hot towel, rub ointment, stand on her head, open a window -- whatever, I'll leave it to her professional judgment."

I know our pediatrician adheres to current ethical and medical standards, but I can't help thinking that back in the days before bike helmets she would have prescribed the good stuff.