I’ve been thinking lately about answers in unexpected places. One of the first unexpected places that comes to mind is the garbage, where (I’ve heard) Alexander Fleming, a British bacteriologist, found a discarded Petri dish with the mold penicillin holding staphylococcus bacteria at bay. So began the answer to treating infectious bacteria.
I think often of another unexpected answer that came two years ago, the year my older son missed eighteen days of fifth grade. Germs seemed to flock to him, and, by extension, the rest of our family. The school office started dropping hints about his truancy.
I looked for answers in the expected place: his pediatrician. Could we do anything to boost his immunity, I asked. No, she said, some kids just come like that.
A few months later I took the kids in for their routine dental checkup during a rare break when no one was sick. The dentist called me in to look at my son’s teeth. “They’re eroding too fast,” she said, and suggested either pop or stomach acid as the culprit. To my children’s chagrin, about the only time we have pop in the house is after they’ve gone to Safeway with their dad for a frozen pizza run and detoured through the soda aisle. Therefore I knew stomach acid must be the guilty party in my son’s mouth.
The dentist sent us to a gastroenterologist to check for acid reflux. What the GI found was eosinophilic esophagitis, a food allergy disease in which white blood cells attack the esophagus when allergens are present. Acid reflux is a side effect.
So my son spent all of the fifth grade sick because his immune system was busy somewhere else.
And the answer to the problem, or at least the beginning of the answer, came from the dentist.
Of course answers in unexpected places aren't always so dramatic; they may simply come as quiet direction, like a soft breeze on a still day. Whatever the case, I find the thought of unexpected answers both inspiring and comforting. Maybe, if I’m living well, I can be someone’s unexpected answer. And hopefully, if I’m living well, I can recognize the unexpected answers in my life.
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