Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Child’s Play and Evolving Medicine

When I was a kid, we played doctor with a toy stethoscope. My grandkids play doctor using telemedicine.

Toy stethoscopeOn a visit over the holidays to Scottsdale to see our grandkids, I overheard Dr. Ava listen intently to the make-believe ailments of her siblings. But instead of an in-person consultation, Dr. Ava was in another room listening via smartphone.

With the aplomb of a 7-year-old medical professional, Dr. Ava explained her diagnosis and directed her young patients to a website for directions on how to be cured. The patients – ages 6 to 3 – agilely used an iPad to access the make-believe website.

Without the benefit of untold years of medical training. Dr. Ava intuited the essence of telemedicine.

Of course I’m prejudiced, but Dr. Ava is a pretty precocious young girl. Even so, it serves as an endearing reminder of how far medicine itself has come in the last 50 years.

In my childhood, pretend doctors checked a heartbeat, took a pulse and made pretend patients say “Ahhhhh.” Cruel pretend doctors made pretend patients say “Ahhhhh” over and over until they were hoarse.

While we knew the tools of doctors, I don’t recall venturing opinions on how to heal our pretend patients. Maybe we presumed nothing was wrong and we were just performing check-ups. Or maybe we just didn’t understand the point of the check-up was to find out what needed to be cured.

Another element of child doctoring today is the introduction of the Emergency Room. At another stage of the medical encounter, Dr. Ava warned brother Hunter that his behavior could lead to yet another visit to the Emergency Room.

“Oh no,” Hunter said. “I don’t want to go there again.” Suffice to say, he has been there before. His younger brother went to Emergency Rooms while in Hawaii and at Disneyland.

I have absolutely no recollection of Emergency Rooms in our childhood medical play. Our medical play always occurred in a doctor’s office. That’s probably because our real medical encounters occurred in doctor’s offices.

When I broke my arm playing football in seventh grade, I went to the doctor’s office. When I broke my collar bone wrestling, I went to the doctor’s office. When I ripped the cartilage from a rib in high school, I went to the doctor’s office. Based on my childhood experience, I never knew Emergency Rooms even existed.

Nowadays, many doctors don’t have separate offices. They work in clinics. And you can email your doctor instead of waiting in their waiting room. If you have to wait these days, it is usually at an Emergency Room where people with gunshot wounds get priority over your case of sniffles.

Kid nurseDr. Ava’s younger sister, Andrey, emerged later in the medical play as her assistant. You might call her a physician’s assistant or a nurse practitioner. Like the real physician assistants, Audrey began dispensing medical advice to her sibling patients, telling them what cough medicine to take and administering shots. Lots of shots.

Again the play patterned after evolved actual medical practices today. The roles of physician assistants have greatly expanded, providing more personalized and empathetic care for patients. When doctors are unavailable, a PA answers your call and many times can steer you through a minor illness as well or better than the doctor.

Imaginative child’s play is always a delight to watch. In the case of Dr. Ava and her medical entourage of siblings playing doctor, it also was enlightening.


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