Dr. Whatley Knows Best


By Vicki Brown

When I was expecting my first child, we were living in a tiny community in North Carolina. It was 30 to 45 minutes from just about anywhere. Durham was the nearest city and that is where I found my pediatrician, Dr. Whatley.

Dr. Whatley found himself in an interesting position. He originally had been a small town pediatrician, but as Durham rapidly grew into a major city with a teaching hospital, his practice had exploded. He had been forced to take on other doctors to help him, and most were much younger than he was.

Most of the new mothers had chosen the younger doctors as their primary pediatrician, probably thinking that they knew more about upcoming and innovative medicine. I was different.

The day I met Dr. Whatley, I fell in love. He was adorable. He reminded me of Uncle Joe on “Petticoat Junction”. He was in his 60s, gruff, chubby, and a no-nonsense doctor. He told it like it was, and with no filter. I’m that way myself, so we immediately clicked.

In 1982, the medical profession had the bright idea that newborns needed to be home with parents and that no other immediate family members should be invited or allowed for two weeks. This was so the baby could bond, parents get comfortable with their infant, and so that no distractions, advice, or germs could get in the way. It was stupid, and unfortunately, we followed the rules.

After my son was born that June, I was scared to death. I needed my mom and my mother-in-law, but we were trying to follow medical advice, and so we struggled on.

My son was less than a week old when I noticed that he was covered from head to toe in a rash. I was hysterical.

Panicked, we drove to see Dr. Whatley.

The moment he came into the room, he took one look at me, reached over the counter, found a box of tissues, and pluncked them down in front of me and waited.

I looked at the box, back at him, back at the box, and then I burst into tears, just like he expected. He let me wail for a while as I poured out my fears, frustrations, and worries. Then he patted me on the shoulder and began to examine my baby.

“Heat rash,” said Dr. Whatley. “Dress the baby up in any cute way you want, then take half of it off.” Okay, good advice. It was June, therefore, no blanket and hat needed. Check.

The next week I was back. Dr. Whatley set the box of tissues next to me, and the wailing commenced.

Green stuff was coming out of my baby’s eye.

“Do you want a fancy prescription or a home remedy,” asked Dr. Whatley. I told him I wanted whatever was cheap. “Boil a quart of water, throw in some salt. Put all that in a clean jar. Dip a cotton ball in the salt water and swab the eye several times a day. It will be gone in two days,” he said.

It worked, and I’ve used that same remedy ever since.

A week later I was back…same Dr. Whatley, same box of tissues.

“I’m exhausted. The baby cries at night, and I’m not getting any sleep!” I wailed.

“Who’s gonna run your house…you or the baby?” asked Dr. Whatley.

“Well, ME,” I said.

“Then put that clean baby with a full belly in the crib in another room at night and don’t go back in there until morning,” he said. “He will figure out that you won’t jump immediately to give him everything he wants, and he will go back to sleep. Don’t put him in the bed with you.”

It was the worst three days of my life, but sure enough, the baby began sleeping all night.

Recently, my son was telling me how happy he was that his daughter was finally sleeping in her own bed. She is 6 years old. They started putting their newborn in bed with them, and now, with another infant, the queen sized bed just wouldn’t hold everyone. So someone had to go….it was the 6 year old.

I just laughed at them…I had told them years ago that they needed to “put that clean baby with a full belly in the crib in another room at night and don’t go back in there until morning,” but they didn’t listen. It’s taken 6 years to fix the situation.

I guess all they needed was a Dr. Whatley. Too bad there aren’t more just like him.


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