Laughing Matters


Blepharitis, Ichthyophthirius and you

By Dave Jaffe

When the high school involves students and their families in a health class project they create an enriching experience that satisfies two important educational goals: terrifying children and generating family stress.

"Dad, you're not going to eat the skin on that piece of chicken, are you?"

"Well, Brian, at this point the chicken hasn't much use for it."

"It contains nothing but fat. And Mom, you didn't make that gravy with chicken hearts or livers, did you?"

"Actually Brian, it's made from chicken broth."

"Son, let's go back to the chicken heart question. It's a known fact that eating their hearts fills you with all the strength, courage and wisdom of a chicken. Right, Hon?"

"Yes, Dr. Phil did a show about that."

"This isn't a joke, you guys! Nutrition is important. I mean, these green beans are overcooked. How are we supposed to get all their vitamins and nutrients?" "Eat their hearts?"

"Fine, Dad. Have your fun. I just want us all to live past 30." "Son, I'm 49."

"Get off my back! I'm going to my room!" (Angry sound of chair scraping. Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp! Slam!) "There's pie."

The focus of health class has changed dramatically since my high school days when the curriculum was limited to sex education and fallout shelter protocol. Today's health classes explore in an open, honest and supportive manner all the horrible and potentially fatal diseases for which there are no cures. Parents are, of course, an important factor in their child's health, ranking just above plenty of green, leafy vegetables. For this reason health teachers often request the involvement of parents in health class projects through letters like this one:

Dear Parent or Nearest Living Relative,

Understanding health is everyone's business, especially us health teachers. . In order for students to identify their health risk factors we would like you to help them complete a family medical history in the hope you'll reveal highly personal and potentially embarrassing information about your relatives. We'll keep that to ourselves, though. I mean we are health professionals, after all. Our goal is to help students develop life-long illness preventative behaviors so that they can remain (to put it in health professional terms) well.

Thanking you in advance for honoring this invasion of privacy, I remain,

Some Total Stranger in the High School Health Department.

As with so many school-related family projects, the most efficient approach to completing a family medical history in a timely manner is to lie. Over the years, my wife and I have become quite skilled.

"All right Hon, let's start with Brian's great grandparents on your side. How was their health?" "Dave, I know nothing about them except their names. I assume their health was good up until they died."

"And you don't know how that happened. So let's just say that they succumbed during The Great European Persecution. Everybody has ancestors who were persecuted."

"Alright Dave, what about your family? Great grandparents?"

"Lizzie and, uh, Rudolph. No, no, make that Hezekiah."

"You don't know their names?"

"Hezekiah Angus Jaffe. Surveyor. Died working in a textile mill."

"He was a surveyor but died in a mill?"

"Yes, he succumbed to blepharitis, which he contracted from working with textiles."


"A disease common to gallinaceous birds, parrots and canaries. It was in this morning's crossword. Anyway, after Hezekiah's death, the mill paid Lizzie a small stipend with which she purchased steamer tickets and eventually settled in Oregon."

"Why Oregon?"

"In those days Oregon was rife with opportunity for those with both textile and surveying skills. Hezekiah had trained her in surveying techniques and how to use textiles. Say, what exactly are textiles? Anyway, Lizzie opened a small shop and did right well for herself and her six children up until her death of Ichthyophthirius, which is a tropical fish disease that attacks the gills and fins. Twenty-three down."

"I'll just put down ‘cause of death, unknown,' OK Dave?"

"Let's move on to your father."

"Who died with his hand on the throttle of a runaway locomotive."

"Who is in good health, except..."

"Except that he died storming the beaches at Normandy."

"Except for elevated cholesterol."

"Dad's cholesterol is high? I thought he had that under control."

"Not according to your mom."

"Who perished in the Chicago Fire."

"Who I talked to this morning."

In the interest of providing the most up-to-date family medical history, I called my father.

"Dad, what's this about your cholesterol being elevated? Mom's concerned."

Don't worry. I've seen my doctor. It's under control. I feel great. Well, except..."


"Except for this constant aching around my gills and fins."

Dave Jaffe, Chicago Parent's humor columnist, lives in Deerfield with his wife, two sons, and one or two dogs.

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