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The Well Baby Maintenance Check-Up

Using Car Talk Get's a Better Baby Check-up
When the Doctor is a Car Nut

by Faith Resnick-Foyil

My son's pediatrician lives a few blocks away from us in a five-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath house. A giant, amoebic pool highlights his perfectly landscaped Chinese garden.

Sometimes you need to put things in carspeak to be heard.

Dr. Ackley is a real sports-car freak. He alternates trips to the office in a sleek, black Porsche and a cherry-red Alfa Romeo. His yellow DeTomaso Pantera sees sunshine only on the weekends. Rumor has it his wife Alice finally caught the car bug and soon will be seen in a white Jaguar.

Dr. Ackley can be found perched over the hood of one of his automotive babies every Sunday afternoon with a wrench clenched between his teeth. I once saw him washing the Alfa at 8 a.m. At 4 p.m., he was just getting around to polishing the hubcaps. His classic sports cars certainly seem to get more attention than my one year old baby does when we go in for one of our "Well Baby" checkups. If my son were composed of a steel chassis and could race up to 140 miles per hour, maybe we'd rate, too.

It's s a real bone of contention with me, these Jiffy-Lube-style baby visits. I'd like to see Ackley's face if his mechanic gave the Porsche a perfunctory seven-minute once over, then demanded an exorbitant sum. That's how I view our Well Baby checkups.

With this jaded perspective, I arrived at the good doctor's office for D.J.'s milestone one-year checkup. Bonnie, the nurse, weighed and measured D.J., and jabbed him with a TB test. Dr. Ackley strolled in a few minutes later, and majestically parting my sons flailing arms and legs, examined his mouth, ears, and nose in less time than it takes to unscrew an oil filter.

"I saw you working on your Porsche last Sunday," I offered, a lame attempt at starting conversation.

"Yes, there's always something that needs tuning up or fixing," he politely replied, wiggling off his examination stool and heading toward the door. "You can dress him now. I'll be back in a minute to answer any questions you may have," he said.

I dangled a rattle in front of D.J. to distract him and remembered Dr. Ackley's comment about the car always needing tuning up or fixing.

I had an idea.

Dr. Ackley came back into the room, leaned on the counter, and made notes on a clipboard. "Was there anything else you needed to ask, Mrs. Foyil?" he murmured while jotting down some notes. (Translation: There's nothing wrong with your child, don't take up my time if you don't have to, and aren't I about to make some big bucks from this visit?) But it wasn't going to be so simple this time.

"Everything seems okay, Dr. Ackley, but D.J. has been giving off some pretty foul emissions lately." I winked at the squirming baby on my lap and pretended not to notice Ackley spinning a 180 at the sink. He stopped writing and peered at me from behind cocked eyebrows. "Foul emissions, you say?" He sat back down, smiling. "From your son?" He was toying with his stethoscope.

"Foul emissions," I repeated, gazing up at him seriously.

"You think they may be a problem with his exhaust system?" He was either playing along nicely, or maybe I had really succeeded in gaining his attention for once.

"Not exactly, doctor. I guess I was just wondering if maybe I'm not putting in the right type of fuel, if you know what I mean. Could that be what's causing the pollution?"

He laid down the clipboard on the counter and loosened his jacket. "Excess apple juice could be the culprit."

"Well tie my tubes," I said, "I never thought of that, doctor. Thanks a lot," I continued. "Uh, also, I sometimes find he starts a bit sluggishly first thing in the morning. He kind of hesitates on acceleration and stalls frequently." I was on a roll.

"You may need to adjust his vitamin level. Or it could be as simple as checking his resting schedule and putting him into Park earlier in the night."

"Put him into Park earlier; hmmm," I nodded. "Err...what can I do about a transmission that overheats in hot weather; a sort of cooling system malfunction?" I could see the grease-monkey in him coming through the medical professional exterior. Wouldn't this guy just love to trade in his lab coat for some blue overalls at this moment? I was giving him a great gift this day — escape. He no longer was simply James Ackley III, pediatrician, stuck in a buttercup-yellow examination room looking over his 23rd child of the day. The was Jim Ackley, mechanic supreme, inside his well-equipped garage, tinkering with his beloved cars.

"Hmm," he said, sitting back down, rubbing his chin thoughtfully "Overheating is unavoidable in the average crawler/early walker, Mrs. Foyil, especially in the summer. I suggest you go with the flow — no pun intended — and try to replace his fluids regularly. Simply allowing for extra coolant in the form of water should help."

We already were 10 minutes into the visit. Dr. Ackley was mine — hook, line, and shifter. "How about those buzzing and whining noises? And that loud chattering?

He shook his head emphatically. "Those whining noises aren't unusual in the one to three year old models, The problem may lessen with age."

"Sometimes he has an uncomfortable seat," I reported.

"Diaper rash," he replied, shaking his head as if I had left wax on the Alfa too long. "Jack up the rear chassis. Check the area for water leakage. Adjust the diaper accordingly." I nodded my head. "Next, wipe the rear surface, thoroughly removing all deposits. Finish with lubricant. The output shaft should be examined carefully several times each day and thoroughly lubricated."

He was so caught up in our little diversion that he didn't see the flashing red light on the wall warning him that 16 other patients were awaiting his attention. "How about slippage?" I threw in, not wanting to lose the momentum. "Slippage, er, uh," he stumbled, scratching his ear. "Wait, I know! Rubber-soled booties provide better tread on slippery surfaces."

I threw another one at him. Another two minutes and I would have reached the all-time record for length of a Well Baby checkup. "Sometimes he stalls in reverse; he even appears out of alignment."

He pointed an admonishing finger. "Give the kid a break, Mrs. Foyil. He'll adapt to an even cruising speed before you know it."

"Actually, that's not what I mean, Dr. Ackley. See, he's still in four-wheel drive," I admitted, rather defensively.

"Not walking yet, huh? Not to worry. That's not unusual at all for his age. Just give him a few weeks or months, and he'll be racing around the track," said Dr. Ackley.

I sighed with relief. It was nearly lunch time, I still had a number of errands to run, and D.J. would be needing his afternoon nap. Dr. Ackley must have seen me stall. "Mrs. Foyil," he said, "I'm happy to report that your son is in mint condition." He rubbed his stethoscope methodically and leaned forward to lay a fatherly hand upon my shoulder. "But you look as if you could use an overhaul yourself." My God, this man was reading me like an owner's manual.

"You know," I confided with a sigh, "on most days I just run out of gas by mid-day." He patted me a bit too patronizingly on the same shoulder, then rose to stand by the door.

"My wife said the same thing when she left her job and stayed home full time with our daughter."

I threw my son over one shoulder, my diaper bag/pocketbook over the other, and headed for the receptionist to pay the bill. There was a hand-penned note on the bottom of my standard receipt that Dr. Ackley must have just scribbled. "Children are indeed a lot like cars, Mrs. Foyil. No warranties, lots of checkups, and no such thing as maintenance free!"