Are You Pregnant?

“No I am not pregnant!”

One of the unwritten laws of the universe is never to mistakenly ask a woman if she is pregnant.  I learned this lesson early in my career as a pediatrician.  

It can take many months or years for some mothers to lose their “baby weight” after giving birth.  One mother, after I asked her the third time, made me write it on her son’s chart.  This was back in the old days when we had paper charts.  In bold letters, she instructed me to write, “MRS. S. IS NOT PREGNANT.”

Some twenty-five years later before I retired, she came to my office and we shared a good laugh about this. 

Sick and Well Waiting Rooms

An essay in the “World Through a Lens” series appeared in the New York Times Travel Section recently which reminded me of something that happened soon after I moved to West Palm Beach, Florida over 40 years ago.    It was written by a Seattle-based photographer, Richard Frishman, who traveled across the United States “to document the vestiges of racism in America” in a stunning piece called “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Ghosts of Segregation.”    

In 1980, I was new to “the South.”  Having spent my entire childhood in New Jersey and all my undergraduate and post-graduate years “up North” in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland, I definitely had preconceived notions of what it would be like to live and work in Florida.

When I came to South Florida, I found it a curious combination of North and South.  Given that there were many retirees from the North, many people viewed the tri-county area of Dade (Miami), Broward (Ft. Lauderdale) and Palm Beach as “the sixth borough of New York City.”  I soon found out that my county, Palm Beach, had an unusual mixture of different demographic elements.  On the Atlantic side on the east lay the town of Palm Beach was a mostly elite class of very wealthy people.  The middle of the county was a mixture of working-class and professional people made up of geographically separated whites, Blacks and Hispanics.  The majority of the Hispanic population during those early years were middle-class Cubans who had migrated from the counties further south. 

But fifty miles inland, the primarily agricultural area called “The Glades” was located.  Except for the small number of mostly white and Hispanic landowners, the population was made up of poor Blacks of American and Caribbean origin. There was a striking difference compared to the rest of the people in the county.  During those years, I often saw diseases among the children from that area that I had not seen except in underdeveloped countries which I had visited.  Conditions in the Glades were so abysmal that they rivaled other poverty zones in the “Deep South” of the United States and third-world countries.

I present this background because I was very naïve to the conditions in which I would be working in my first job in Florida. After all, I was a young, idealistic doctor whose sole experience up to that point was working in an inner-city hospital in New York and in a government-sponsored clinic in Baltimore.  Like most new doctors, I thought “I had seen it all.” 

On my first site visit before I was hired, I was pleased to see a new concept in pediatric offices.  There were two waiting rooms:  One for “Sick” and the other for “Well” patients. 

Later that year, when I entered my new workplace on my first day, I wasn’t prepared for something that truly shocked me.  As the office manager led me through the two adjacent waiting rooms on our way back to the inner area of the office, I told her that I was so impressed that I would be part of such a forward-thinking office with a two waiting rooms.

“Oh,” she paused, waiting to deliver me the shocking news.  “You obviously come from up North.  Those were the white patients’ waiting room and the colored patients’ waiting room, as it was back in the 50s when I first started working here.” 

You could have blown me over with that explanation! 


As a pediatrician, I would routinely examine newborn babies in the hospital rooms where their mothers were recuperating from the delivery. I would always knock on a closed door to avoid any embarrassing situations.

One time, a mother answered the knock on the door with “Come in,” only for me to find her standing totally naked in front of the sink within the room (not the bathroom). She was shaving her legs and underarms with a total lack of modesty.

I quickly closed the door and told her that I would come back when she was dressed. “ Oh, that’s all right,” she replied, “You can come in now.”  I did request that she at least put on a hospital gown so that I could examine her baby.

It turned out that she was from Brazil and believed that covering up was unnecessary. I remember warning my male partner about this since he was making rounds the next day.

I was never put off by mothers nursing in front of me, but I felt that it was strange and somewhat inconsiderate for anyone to be totally naked when I would walk into the room.

Tickle, Tickle

In my 40 years as a pediatrician, I only saw this once.

I was examining a child, and as I began to palpate his abdomen, his mother, seated a few feet away, started to laugh hysterically. She said that whenever she saw anyone being touched, she would feel as if she were being tickled.

I called it “Sympathetic Tickling Syndrome. “ (It is a rare form of synesthesia.)

An Embarrassing Moment

I was examining four young children in a family for possible strep throat. Their mother and father both accompanied them in the small exam room.

As I proceeded with the throat cultures with all four seated on the exam table, the father fell asleep, started to snore loudly and then, suddenly, farted.  And a loud one! And no one reacted at all!

I still chuckle when I think about that poor mother and those kids!  

A New Birthmark

A mother brought her child in for a “new birthmark” on his neck. It was a circular brown spot about one inch in diameter.

Upon looking at it, I was embarrassed to reveal to the mother that the “birthmark” was nothing more than dirt. If I had noticed something similar on one of my own children, I would have wet my finger with my own saliva and miraculously it would have disappeared. Considering that this would not have been professional with someone else’s child, I took an alcohol swab from the drawer and I performed the birthmark removal.

As the mother left the exam room, she thanked me and said, “I didn’t know that alcohol could get rid of birthmarks.” I didn’t have the heart to disagree with her.