Photo Credit: Thomas van de Vosse Flickr via Compfight cc
“We knew something was wrong when he asked for Mommy. He never asks for you.”
I’d just arrived to pick up my three year old from daycare and that’s what his teacher tells me. I laugh, and she apologizes, but it’s fine because I know what she meant.
He’s my tough guy. I held him the first time and couldn’t get over this sense thatsomething was wrong. A week after his birth I couldn’t shake it and told my mom.
“He just doesn’t seem as hearty as his older brother always seemed.”
We agreed it was just because his brother was born a mini linebacker and so the 1.5 pound difference was throwing me for a loop.
Over the next three years he was chronically sick. Thankfully nothing life threatening. But by the age of three he’d already had two surgeries and anitbiotics were becoming a concern. He’d had so many of them, so frequently, that we were worried about him building an immunity to them.
All of which solidified for me the trust I feel for my intuition when it comes to my kids. The connection I feel to them.
He’d been relatively well though the previous six months. “He doesn’t have a fever,” his teacher said, “And it was almost time for you to arrive anyway, so we didn’t call.”
He was lying on a cot, all mushy and tired. I scooped him up and, together with his older brother, we made our way home.
Once there, he seemed fine. A bit tired. He was resting on the couch but laughed and played with his brother. I was getting ready to cook when I heard it.
I ran into the living room in time to see him leap up from the couch clutching his right lower back.
Within two minutes we were in the car and I was on the phone with my husband telling him we were headed to the hospital.
My gut reaction was that it was his appendix. The whole ride to the hospital I only half watched the road. My eyes pulled to the rearview mirror that I’d aimed at his car seat in the back. I hated that I really had no idea where the appendix was in the human body at that moment. What kind of mother am I? It’s in the general lower back area, right?
That voice returned. Loud. Something is wrong with him. Relentless, the entire ride there. The entire time we waited to be seen. Even as he perked up in the waiting room and started horsing around with his brother. Climbing up the plastic burnt orange chairs and leaping off to land in a squat on two feet.
When we were called into triage the nurse gave me side eye. “His appendix, you say,” she said with a smirk. Then she asked him to stand on the table and she held his little hands. He was never afraid of people. Of anything really. He took her hands without hesitation and she asked him to jump in place. He obliged, with his grin that lit up any room that tried to hold it.
The nurse looked back at me as he hopped like a kangaroo while holding her hands. “Typically the first sign of an appendix problem is that when they jump, they scream in pain.”
I gave her a wan smile. He didn’t have a fever. He didn’t have any pain. Right now. Yes, he’s got quite a bit of energy for a sick kid. But I repeated what happened, from the daycare pickup to the living room.
“Always trust your gut, Mom,” she said. “We’ll call him back soon.”
Once called back he was given a gown and we waited. My husband arrived and I told him to go home and eat with our older son because I was sure we’d be waiting. And I was half sure we’d be sent home with a diagnosis of neurotic mom.
A doctor examined him and at this point he’d started to run a bit of a fever. They drew some blood and gave him some tylenol.
A family arrived in the next bed. A grandmother who’d fallen ill, with her daughter, son-in-law, and grown granddaughter. We exchanged smiles whenever our eyes met. All of us waiting for test results or more tests ordered. They thought the grandmother may have had a stroke. They couldn’t get my son’s fever down. His blood tests came back normal. Hers came back inconclusive.
The doctor returned to tell me they wanted a CAT scan. Despite thinking it wasn’t his appendix, they wanted to be sure. He would have to drink half a bottle of oral contrast. A thick, white, chalky drink that I kept trying to convince him was a milkshake.
He knew I was straight up lying to his face after the first sip.
With every sip he looked at me like I was nuts. “It will help the doctor figure out how to make you feel better,” I told him. The moments between sips started lasting longer. It became harder and harder to convince him to take just a few more.
Before long, the young girl from the family in the next bed area joined us. Her mother soon after. The three of us laughing and cajoling my son into drinking the heinous substance. Performing like circus monkeys.
My stomach turned watching him struggle to work up the fortitude to bring the bottle to his mouth once more. The mother would sneak off to go check on her elderly mother in the next bed. She’d tell her mother, in Spanish, about the little boy and how cute he was, even though the old woman never responded. The young girl would translate for me.
It felt like days, but I’m sure was just 20 – 30 minutes or so, before a nurse came by to say he had to drink just a little bit more. At this point he was lying back on the bed, his cheeks flushed. Despite the tylenol doses they had repeated, his fever kept rising. They needed him to consume enough contrast to get into the CAT scan as soon as possible.
The young girl leaned in and told my son about her tiny green pig.
She held up her key chain so that it dangled before him.
There, among the keys and a few other random keychains, hung a squat, almost circular, see through plastic pig the color of emeralds. It was a thick acrylic, solid, but only about one inch in size.
She told my son that it was her favorite thing in the world and that it had always been there for her, ever since she was a little girl. But if he drank just a bit more, he could have it.
As long as he promised to one day give it to someone else who needed it more.
So he did. He promised and he gulped down more of his drink. She handed him the pig and she and her parents celebrated, clapping and gushing over what a brave, big boy he was being.
Minutes later we were wheeled in for the CAT scan. They shot dye through his IV and the very second it hit his arm he started screaming. My boy who hadn’t uttered a peep through the blood tests and drinking that awful shit they made him drink and getting an IV and taking tylenol, was now screaming blue bloody murder.
By the time we were wheeled back to our bed area, he was spent. Flushed, exhausted, whimpering, and with a fever they couldn’t bring down. The nurses took the blanket off him, pushed his gown down past his shoulders, and brought him ice pops he had no interest in. He sat and shivered, silent fat tears rolling down his bright red cheeks.
The family from next door cooed over him and frowned. He clutched the green pig in his burning hand, but didn’t have any smiles left to offer them when they tried to make him laugh.
A few minutes later the grandmother was wheeled away. We all wished each other luck, and the young girl told my son she knew he would be fine. “Take care of the pig,” she said. “But give it away when he’s needed.”
The doctor returned with the CAT scan results.
“It isn’t his appendix,” he said, “But we did find something.”
Only a split second between that statement and the next. Between the vague we found something and the reality of that something. Between my life as I knew it and what could possibly come next. Between my son, the beat of my heart, andsomething.
“The scan ended up picking up the very, very bottom of his right lung and it’s filled with fluid. He has pneumonia.”
He stayed in the hospital for three days, as a precaution they said. Over and over again, nurses told me what a tough guy he must be for him to have pneumonia like that and not complain. That’s just how he was. Brave and stoic. Through all the illnesses he had up to that point. The two surgeries. All the medicine, some of it vile, that he’d taken in his short three years.
He held the pig the entire time he was in the hospital.
After getting back home, when the newness of the pig wore off and I frequently found it laying around, I took the pig from him. We kept it on a shelf in his room and often he’d ask to hear the story of the pig. Of the young girl who gave up her “prized possession” and what it meant. How she thought of him even while she was worried for her grandmother. How she trusted him to give the pig away when he decided someone needed it.
In the years since, the pig was lost. I admit to being upset when I first discovered it was missing. But I’ve never, ever forgotten about that pig. We still tell the story of the pig. And I know now the pig itself doesn’t need to be in our hands. We don’t need to give it away.
We just need to never forget it. What it meant for her to give it away and for us to receive it.
I give that pig away every chance I get.
Until writing this, I’d never thought before of googling “green acrylic pig keychain” just to see if actually popped up. Google never disappoints. Same pig, minus the lettering.