Mysterious Maladies


My toddler woke up with small red blotches covering his chest. Measles? An allergic reaction to a food? Poison ivy? What caused this mysterious rash? I wasn’t sure but my son was scratching vigorously.


We headed to the doctor’s office in search of answers. Entering the room, wearing his white lab coat, the doctor exuded an air of authority. He scrutinized each spot and asked a few questions. Then he pronounced his solemn diagnosis: “erythemia punctalis.”


My knowledge of Latin is limited but it was sufficient to translate this brilliant piece of medical insight. My son had “red itchy spots.” For this wisdom I could now proceed to the check-out desk and render up a co-pay. The spots disappeared on their own several days later.


Fast forward through twenty-three years of scientific research and medical advances.


One day early one winter, my son discovered that his torso was again covered with red itchy spots. He observed them over several days. They did not spread. But they did not go away. They itched and distracted my son whenever he wore a shirt.


Once again my son headed to the doctor’s examination room. Once again, an all-wise physician entered, exuding confidence.


My son removed his shirt to reveal the full extent of the rash. The doctor hemmed and hawed. He peered at the back and walked around to the front. With a sagacious nod of his head, he helpfully announced, “It’s pityriasis rosea.”


That is Latin for “inflammatory skin rash.”


And what caused the rash?” my son asked.


We don’t know what causes it.”


How did I get it?”


We don’t know. It is not contagious.”


So it’s a mystery?”


Oh, no. It’s not a mystery. It’s pityriasis rosea.”


But no one knows how I got it.”


Right. It just happens to some people when they become young adults.”


So it is a mystery.”


No, no. I tell you it’s pityriasis rosea.”


How long will I have it?”


No one can say. It might go away in a few days. It might last six weeks. It might come back again. No one knows.”


So it really is a mystery, right?”


The doctor shook his head vigorously. “No, no! I told you it was pityriasis rosea.”


The wise physician removed his latex gloves, jotted a note on my son’s chart and walked out of the room.


And my son? He put on his shirt, picked up his paperwork and headed to the check-out desk to pay his bill. His rash cleared up after a few more weeks of therapeutic scratching.


Medicine–with or without Latin–it’s a mystery.


“Laughter is good medicine for the soul” Proverbs 17:22 paraphrased




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