Say Aaaah! Say Ouch!

Dr. Duane Wooten could have chosen a safe, cushy field of medicine. He could have become a veterinarian, for example, specializing in psychotic pit bulls or rabid Doberman pinschers.

But no. This Tempe physician dedicated his professional life to the care and treatment of the wildest, most unpredictable creatures in creation. Evoking the adventurous spirit of Frank "Bring 'Em Back Alive" Buck and the fearlessness of Sigfried and Roy, Wooten became . . . a pediatrician.

As any parent knows, a trip to the doctor can turn the mildest-mannered moppet into Bomba the Jungle Child. And not without reason; many adults go ape at the mere thought of being perforated with hypodermic needles big enough to knit sweaters.

But while the more mature grown- ups among us are usually compelled to feign bravery, there's nothing so painfully honest as a kid in a doctor's office. Just ask Dr. Wooten, who's been hit, slapped, whacked, bitten and kicked in the shins 'til he had tears in his eyes.

"Once, a two-year-old girl punched me in the face so hard I literally saw stars!" Wooten recalls, laughing and wincing at the same time. "I was listening to her chest. I looked up and winked at her, and she just reared back and KA-POW!"

Despite such horrors, Wooten swears that he loves kids. "In this job, you have to," he says, still laughing and wincing.

Until recently, Dr. William Gelfand was laughing, wincing and running. "For a while there it seemed like I was always chasing my patients around the furniture," he reports. "But we solved that problem. We got rid of the furniture." Gelfand boasts that everyone in his optometrist's office knows him by name. "I have to go in there about two or three times a week to repair my glasses, which kids just love to yank off and throw across the room."

If you'd advise Gelfand to wear contact lenses, you're obviously not a seasoned medico like Dr. Arthur Goldberg of Scottsdale. "Pediatricians should always wear glasses, even if they've got 20/20 vision," he says, "so those one- and two-month-olds can't squirt you in the eye. And since some babies have lower aim than others, you should only wear polyester ties. Not silk. I learned that the hard way."

When Dr. Ronald Jones of Tempe checks his morning schedule and sees the names of his least favorite patients, he says, "I have to go off for a moment of silence. You know they're going to give you the fight of their life. Just to look in their ears takes three people to hold them down. And they all tend to come in bunches--usually after you've been on call all night and don't have the energy to deal with them."

Jones' worst memory, however, doesn't involve violence or destruction, but humiliation: "Last winter, everyone in my building ended up in the parking lot because one of my little guys climbed up on a chair and pulled the fire alarm. I still get a lot of ribbing about that."

On the bright side, Jones is the rare pediatrician who's never been mistaken for a mid-checkup meal. "But one of my nurses was chomped so badly she had to have a tetanus shot. As it turned out, the kid wasn't rabid--which surprised the heck out of me."

Years ago, when Mesa's Dr. Terry Wood was an intern, he grabbed a chart the other doctors on duty seemed to be ignoring. "As I stepped into the room, the child was sitting in the corner," he remembers. "I turned to talk to his mother--and the boy threw his chair at me! The mother didn't blink an eye. She acted like this happened every day. Finally she said, `Where's the other doctor?' And I said, `What's he look like? I'll go find him immediately!'"

Do kids respond more agreeably to female pediatricians? "That's what many mothers believe," says Dr. Kay Pickard of Phoenix, "but I'm not so sure. I think most children simply view you as a doctor, and that's all they need to know."

To add credence to her observation, Pickard recalls being in training when she saw another doctor holding a little boy between her legs. "I asked, `Why are you doing that?' She said, `Oh, he kicks.' I was wondering if her method was a bit too extreme when the kid broke loose and booted me square in the chest. I felt like I'd been rammed by a quarterback."

Finally, to close this pediatric version of "Can You Top This?" let's return to Dr. Wooten--whose patients don't always wait until they're on his examining table to cause mayhem.

"I had one four-year-old who didn't even get past the aquarium in my waiting room," says the good, battle- scarred doctor. "The nurse went out to get him, and there he was, standing next to the tank with a little squished fish corpse in his hand. He'd reached in, grabbed one and killed it!

"Aw, well," Wooten sighs. "You've at least got to give kids credit for imagination."