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I Will Never Eat Another Apple

Troy Johnson introduces our annual Top Doctors issue and shares his recent waiting room scare


About four weeks ago, Claire noticed a large white spot on the roof of our son Jasper’s mouth—about the size of a nickel. She stuck her finger in there, tried to see if it was food or one of the many nonsensical objects that naturally migrate into childrens’ mouths.

It didn’t budge. She brought him to me in a panic. I tried to get my finger in there to dislodge it. Felt hard, but didn’t budge or rub off. Over the next few days, family and friends tried. This white spot was part of him.

With a child at Jasper’s stage of development—nine months old, eight teeth, strong jaw, and strong opinions about adults prodding their fingers in his face—it was hard to get a great look at it without him properly freaking out, wailing, biting, calling the cops. We managed to make him laugh, and snapped a blurry pic. Sent it to everyone we knew. A flurry of Google searches revealed he had at least a few dozen diseases.

My dad, a retired dentist who over 50 years saw almost every form of mouth trauma, was stumped. He showed it to other dentists. All of them, baffled. Was it exposed bone? A malformed palate? My dad said he “didn’t think it was malignant, because there’s no inflammation around the edges.” He was right. Jasper’s mouth was just a normal pink little baby mouth. And he remained happy, content, active, never complained when he ate or stuck a remote control in his mouth.

I have a natural optimism. I tend to not freak out until a few independent sources suggest I should lose it. “It’ll probably go away in a couple days,” I offered.

It didn’t go away. The “what ifs” started to eat holes in us. Claire made an appointment with an ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialist. They could see Jasper a week later. That week was a terrible week. Each time Jasper laughed you’d see that spot. So every time he laughed it was an awful mix of joy and terror.

The first ENT specialist was stumped; said he’d never seen anything like it in all his years. He suggested Jasper get an MRI and a CT scan immediately. Claire had a pretty strong hell-no reaction to that advice. She was not going to radiate our son without a second opinion.



So we went to Rady’s, one of the best children’s hospitals on the planet. The ENT there was fantastic, but he was also stumped. He managed to get his finger in there before being bit, said it merely felt like the roof of Jasper’s mouth. But it wouldn’t budge and no part of it came off when scratched or prodded. Without causing the child undue stress, the best solution was to put Jasper under anesthesia to let the doctors get a good look at it, have it biopsied.

We agreed. At some point, you have to trust the smartest person in the room. Another stretch of days passed between then and the procedure. Each day, Claire aged 27 years. On the day of his procedure, it had been three weeks since this terrible white spot first entered our lives. The nurses and staff were kind and helpful, seemed to intuitively know how to prevent parents from free-falling into madness. We watched as nurses wheeled him into the operating room, which cratered us.

In the waiting room, I saw the other families. Nothing puts your own minor concerns into perspective like standing in the waiting room of a children’s hospital; some families here were going through things I don’t believe I could ever have the emotional fortitude to withstand.

After about ten minutes, the nurse emerged. The doctor was ready to see us. We were ushered into a consultation room. Longest few minutes of our lives. Finally, the doctor entered. He placed a specimen jar on the table. Inside, I could see the white spot.

“It’s a sticker,” he says.

Like a Scratch n Sniff. Or one that identifies “this apple is Gala.” It was the best sticker in the world. One that could fuse in a wet environment, and despite a very active young tongue wiggling about—managed to adhere perfectly to Jasper’s mouth and would not relinquish its job. After weeks of chewing and drinking, it didn’t even dissolve. Even if we had known it was a sticker, we would have had to put Jasper under, because, the doctor said, “it was stuck so well I had to pry it out a bit—it took some work.”

At the news, I start to laugh uncontrollably. The sheer relief. I look at Claire. She gives me a look that clearly states the time for laughing has not yet arrived. I cease and desist.

Later, in the car, she says, “I turned 100 today.”

Jasper was a little tired for the rest of the day, but fine and sticker-free. The next morning, completely happy and his normal self.

The point of this story is, at every step in this process, I was comforted by one thing. As a native San Diegan, seeing the national rankings and reports come out every year—I just know San Diego has some of the best doctors on the planet. Rady’s, Scripps, Palomar, Sharp, UCSD, Kaiser, Tri-City, docs with private practices. At every turn of this emotional roller coaster, I knew that Jasper’s health was safest right here.

The point of this story is also to say there is a sticker company we should all invest in—or burn to the ground.

By Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson is the magazine’s award-winning food writer and humorist, and a long-standing expert on Food Network. His work has been featured on NatGeo, Travel Channel, NPR, and in Food Matters, a textbook of the best American food writing.

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