Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Importance of Explanations

S had an appointment with an endocrinologist the other day. At her last well-check, she was not on the growth chart and since her growth progression has leveled off, our pediatrician thought it wouldn't hurt to have her see a specialist. As some of you know, she has also been experiencing some delays in her gross motor development for which she has been receiving physical therapy twice a week.

I any case, the endocrinologist was running through a preliminary list of issues that might be causing her slow growth, one of which was low hormone levels. This, he said, might account for her small size and some lack of muscle tone--perhaps a factor in her gross motor skills. Obviously, this is all preliminary and we'll have to await test results over a much longer period of time. You can't make a diagnosis on the basis of one set of lab work in a one year-old and even a diagnosis wouldn't necessarily involve treatment for a while. Doctors don't just start giving babies hormones.

All that said, when I heard that might be a possibility, I had the following reaction: I kind of hope she has low hormone levels.

This is an odd thing to wish for your child. We want our loved ones to be healthy, not to have medical issues that require long-term treatment. (My though actually brought to mind the episode of The Cosby Show where Theo is having trouble in school. They eventually find out that he is dyslexic and the Huxtable's reaction is happiness, laughter, and hugs: "You're dyslexic!" "Yes! I'm dyslexic.) But then I thought about it a little more and perhaps my reaction isn't so odd.

Explanations are important to us because they help us understand why things are the way they are. And as long as we can get a grip on that, I think human beings are capable of dealing with pretty much anything. Life's problems are easier to handle if we can get a grip on their underlying rationale. And if understanding that rationale gives us some way to remedy the problem, all the better. If we understand why S still can't crawl, then maybe we can fix it.

The problem is that so much of our experience resists this kind of explanation. More often we have a partial explanation that provides absolutely no comfort because it leaves what we really want to understand just as murky as it was before. A teenager dies in a car crash because he made an alcohol-influenced decision to run a red light. On one level, that can be an obvious enough explanation. But why did he choose to drink and get behind the wheel in the first place? And why did he have to suffer so drastically for his mistake when thousands of people never reap the fruits of their bad decisions? Those questions don't seem to have any satisfying answer and those answers are the only ones that might possibly offer comfort.

So what can we do in those situations? I suppose we can either continue to seek answers, realizing that they might never come or we can become more comfortable with the ambiguity of uncertainty and learn to live with it--kind of like learning to live with a chronic disease. I'm not sure that either response is always better than the other. But I think they both show the significance we place on understanding as a human ideal.

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