Saturday, July 08, 2006

you had a bad day

"I'll be back. Really I will."

Famous last words.

Circumstances conspired against me. Very covert bunch, those Circumstances. They lurk on street corners like delinquent youths and skulk about thinking up new ways to eat up multiple hours of my day.

It was an innocent enough beginning. We all slept in and then I got up first and let the dog out and floated around in my fuzzy pajamas and long robe yawning and making stagey yawns over my insipidly decaf coffee. Read some email and surfed the Web and then finished my coffee in the TV room watching a woman in Turkey discuss a Byzantine art display.

The kids awakened and had a few minor skirmishes, nothing traumatic or emergent, just spirited enough to get their dander up.

Six-year-old and I had a date with a doctor to follow up on his ER visit last week. I know, I didn't write about it, but that's because I didn't have the strength and I still don't. He was projectile vomiting and that's all anyone need know. The kid utilized multiple facial orifices to accomplish this task and the only one I've ever known to do this besides him; is me. So I rushed him to the ER because resembling me in any way is truly an emergency.

The doctor didn't like something on the radiologist's report from the X ray they'd taken and she sent us to the hospital for a CAT scan to rule out sub-acute appendicitis. She told me the kid was still a little dehydrated and a little tachycardic and I jumped.

"Don't say that." Tachycardia is a bad word in this house. So is atrial flutter and bradycardia. In fact, don't use anything ending in -cardia at all. Don't even play cards. Just forget they exist.

She raised her eyebrows. I leaned over conspiratorially.

"I have transient atrial flutter. I don't want to think the boys could inherit it," I whispered.

She smiled.

"Atrial flutter is much more common in women," she said. "Very unlikely they'd end up with it."

I slumped back in the chair. I felt exhausted, suddenly. As if I'd just set down a very heavy box.

"His tachycardia is doubtless from the dehydration. Also, he'd just walked in when we took the readings."

Off to the hospital. When you have CAT scans you have to drink a 2-liter jug of barium. Lab techs probably buy it at Sam's Warehouse, family size: in vats, 20% off. This is the pickiest eater in the house, a kid who (I'm not lying!) seems to live on hot dogs (no bun), American cheese slices and marshmallows. He does love milk. Everyone in this house is a milk junkie (except for me. I hate milk). I even tried lying to him as he looked upon the tall cup in dismay.

"Look! It's milk."

"It smells like oranges."

"It's ....not! It's... milk!"

I don't like giving advice, but I have a tip for the childless: Children know when you lie. They know it the way your cat knows it when it's going to storm. If the kid's ears were foldable they would have been flattened backward from his head like Spock's as he stared me down suspiciously.

They let us sit in the employee's cafeteria as I poured milk into the kid's cup and made a big show of stirring it around (Okay, so it wasn't milk, but what if I put milk in it? See me putting in the milk? I'm not a liar, you can trust me now. Just DRINK IT! DRINK IT! DRINK IT!) Meanwhile I'm envisioning his tiny little appendix swelling dangerously, flying under the radar where no one can save it because my child is as stubborn as I am if not more so and his throat has suddenly, inexplicably, closed up.

I sat next to him cheerfully. "Look, dear heart. We're in a cafeteria! Just like school! Now you just pretend I'm your best friend, and we're having lunch together. I have short hair and everything. And you just drink your milk while I'm talking." I curled my fingers around the edge of the table and chattered happily:

"Hi! Last night guess what? I have five hundred knives because my dad's really cool? And there was this wolf in my backyard and I cut it up and my mom cooked it for dinner! Then we watched The Exorcist! D'ya wanna come spend the night this weekend? Huh?"

(An old man sitting at the next table drinking from a styrofoam cup actually set it down heavily and turned very slowly around to stare at me.)

"I can't drink it! I can't take you nagging at me like this! I can't drink it! I can't! I CAN'T!"

Tears, rolling steadily down his flushed little face.

"Sweetie, if you don't drink it, they'll have to tube you. They'll have to put a tube down your nose and force the liquid into your stomach so they can get the picture."


"Then drink it! DRINK IT! DRINK IT!" All of a sudden I'm the Gipper, or my dad.

He tipped the cup precariously and fed it to his shirt. The tech mopped up the spilled liquid from the floor and a new cup was produced. More tears. Finally they admit us to the ER because it's obvious this is going nowhere.

"I thought that this was going to be fun," the kid said bitterly, lying there in a limp greyish-blue hospital gown.

"Kid," I said with a heavy sigh. "Rule number one: Nothing, and I mean nothing, that ever happens in a hospital is fun."

"What's that machine over there?" He pointed at a defibrillator on his left.

"It's a heart machine."

"How do you know?"

I looked at him archly. He giggled.



I studied a list taped to the wall. The very top of the list read:

Priority I for emergent trauma:

Confirmed BP of (less than) 90 systolic

I smiled.

Thinking of all the times mine reads 88/50 at home.

ER doctor comes in brisk and energetic. They must teach you how to walk like that in med school, the way models practice the catwalk. You never see a doctor coming in with his knuckles scraping the ground. They're always Up! Moving! Full of Vigor!

We talk. He examines. He orders bloodwork. He tells me it isn't appendicitis and we don't have to do the CAT scan; he can just go home and rest and drink a lot of fluids and take some Bentyl for his tummy. And all will be well. Really.

"By the way," he says. In the same conspiratorial tone I used in the other doctor's office untold hours ago. "Your son is what I would call....a gut reactor."

"I don't know what that is." Is this a medical term?

"I mean that he seems to be hit harder by things than is usual. He seems...hypersensitive, maybe, or more likely to take things harder than others. Don't you notice when he's sick that he gets sicker and it lasts longer than his brothers?"

"Yes." That's true.

"And he's just wired that's way. It's not his fault. When he's forty he'll still react with his gut and take things hard when they happen. It's just something I thought you might want to know for the future. I'm just curious, though. Is there anyone else in the family who's like this?"

I draw myself up from years of refusing to swallow pills because they might choke me, and flus that lasted for weeks, stand tall, look him in the eye and admit:


And barium tastes like milk, too! It does. Really! Don't you believe me?