Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Treating Asthma

Last night we took my mom and dad to dinner for my mom’s birthday and then went to their friend’s house to play dominoes. On the way to dinner, we got to talking about my brother’s children, with whom Mom had spent the day “playing.” The topic of asthma came up: all three of the kids have moderate asthma. The two older ones (4 and 9) have been taken on numerous midnight visits to the hospital emergency room after waking up unable to breathe. The four year old takes steroids. So, in the midst of this discussion, my mom mentions that yesterday the youngest of the three had gone for his “asthma treatment,” and I ask, “what treatment?” I’m thinking fancifully to myself of iron lungs, giant syringes, and gurneys lined up on a beach. My dad says, “You haven’t heard? Ben (the two year old) goes and sits in a room while someone else gets a backrub,” and my mom hushes him in an exasperated voice and then tells me that the two year old goes with his other grandma once a week to an accupressurist who puts vials full of allergens in his socks, which she rests against his foot. Then, the accupressurist applies pressure to points on the other grandma’s back while the other grandma holds Ben in her lap. When I finally stop guffawing, my dad says, “that’s what I thought, too,” and my mom acts offended and says she guesses she must be more “open minded about alternative treatments.” I try to point out some distinctions between “alternative treatments” and “magical thinking.” I also ask if they’ve tried faith-healing or at least a good dousing in chicken blood. Have they tried mailing toenail clippings to the Pope? I ask if he even has to go to the appointments—could the other grandma go get the massage and Ben still enjoy the relief, maybe while standing on a box of cat hair at home? I go on and on, until my otherwise highly rational mother tells me I can laugh all I want but it works. And like every poor skeptic who runs up against the broad, dumb wall of faith, I can only sit and stare out into the night.

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