In the proud tradition of nearly all the women in my family, I thought I had ground out my husband’s penchant for hypochondria by our seventh year of marriage. No longer did he complain about various aches and pains, knowing that it would yield no sympathy, no respite from the duties and joys of marriage.
However, the syndrome I thought I had eliminated apparently had merely lay dormant all those years. When Sonny Boy was born, it emerged in a virulent, altered, misshapen form. Though HOB (Husband of Betty) could no longer arouse my sympathy for his perceived ailments, he could bring to my attention various ailments that might be visiting our home through our son. I choose to believe it was unconscious.
The fact was he was a nervous Daddy with a penchant for medical drama and in possession of the most dangerous of all literature for this particular kind of man: The Medical Encyclopedia of Child Health. If Sonny Boy felt too warm the to touch, HOB looked it up and declared it to be the flu. If Sunny Boy hiccuped or sighed too heavily, he turned to his tome proclaimed it was asthma or another form of respiratory distress.
Even though I was a new mother and somewhat nervous about my role, I was on the other end of the spectrum when it came to health alerts. When Sonny Boy was around one year old, I started teaching night classes. One morning after a late night of teaching, I was hoping beyond hope to sleep until the glorious hour of 7:00am. However, it was around 6:00 that the bedroom door flew open and I heard HOB’s voice boom out, “The worst possible scenario has just played itself out!” I lifted my head from the pillow and saw Sonny Boy in his fuzzy footed pajamas grinning down at me from HOB’s arms. “He has just eaten cat vomit!” HOB announced. “I think we should take him to the emergency room immediately!” I rubbed my eyes. “Was it new or old?” I asked calmly. “DOES IT MATTER?” HOB asked loudly, rolling his eyes, handing me the baby and going to find his Medical Encyclopedia. I snuggled there on the bed with my little one, his baby smell definitely spiked with more than just a tinge of Chicken Fiesta in Gravy.
The breaking point for me came one night when HOB was changing Sonny Boy’s diaper and yelled out, “His kidneys have completely shut down!” I hurried to the room and saw HOB shaking the diaper he had just pulled off. “This thing should be wet and it’s not!” “OK,” I said. “That’s it. You are not allowed to say these dramatic kinds of things anymore AND I want the book.” He ignored me. “Turn it over to me right now and nobody will get hurt,” I said. He glanced towards the bookshelf and I saw the volume of subversive literature. I took it and hid it behind all the cookbooks—a place where man does not tread in this household.
It worked, sort of. The lack of a reference book did damper the father-as-alarmist a bit. The creature did, however, emerge from time to time, but it took more to elicit now. Sonny Boy cracked open his head on the car door when he was about three. The cut was deep and the blood was heavy as we loaded him in the car seat. HOB sat in the back with Sonny Boy and I drove to the hospital. Sonny Boy stopped crying as the car moved and was soon completely silent. “He’s gone into shock!” HOB said just as we were almost past the fire station near our house. I was nervously maneuvering traffic to get to the hospital as fast as I could, but at HOB’s words, I pressed on the accelerator even harder. That’s when I heard the sweetest thing I could have heard at that time: my son’s bird-like voice from the backseat. “Fire truck!” he said, "Fire truck!” pointing and smiling to the red vehicle. I glared at HOB in the rearview mirror. Complete shock, huh?
(An hour later, HOB stood beside Sonny Boy as the doctor wove the needle in and out of the skin of his forehead. I stood at HOB’s side, closer to Sonny Boy’s feet. Every once in awhile I glanced up at the sight of the skin being pierced by the curved needle. After about five minutes I felt light-headed and thought I might have to step away. Then, I heard the nurse say, “Sir, you need to come with me. You’re just about two seconds from fainting and we don’t need that right now." HOB was white and shaking as they led him away to go lie down. “Move up there, Mother,” the nurse commanded and I did as I was told.)
A year later, Sonny Boy had another head crack while jumping on a hotel room bed. We found the emergency room in the city we were visiting, got through the stitches and were back on the road to home in no time. We were getting pretty good at this medical stuff we thought.
Then along came Evan.
At 18 months he climbed up on the coffee table and fell off. He cried, but then seemed to recover. Two days later (yeah, so I won’t win Mother-of-the-Year award, OK?) I discovered it as I watched him try to crawl across the floor. He got a dinosaur cast for that one.
About two years later Sonny Boy and Evan were wrestling one night while I was making dinner and I glanced over to see Sonny Boy holding on to Evan who was straining to get away. “Let go of your brother,” I called. Sonny Boy did and Evan went flying into the corner of the wall, cracking open his forehead. The blood gushed out and I scrambled with a kitchen towel to staunch it. I turned off all the burners, and wrote a note with blood covered hands, “At hospital” and left it on the table. Poor HOB came home to find the bloody scene—the towel, the note that had gotten blood on it, the bloody stove knobs. We were still in the waiting room, Evan now calm and smiling waiting for his stitches when HOB raced through the double doors, panting and sweating, causing two nurses to come to his aide.
Then there was the broken arm in second grade (monkey bars).
Then the broken arm in fifth grade (monkey bars).
Then the skateboarding incident that required an ambulance and CAT scan.
Then the broken wrist in Colorado requiring major surgery (snowboarding).
Along the way there were multiple head wounds, more trips for both boys to the emergency room. Needless to say HOB eventually had to calm down concerning the various cuts and bruises. He had no choice. His body and mind could only take so much. I became a little more willing to stop under-reacting as well.
We knew we had reached middle ground one Sunday evening when Evan was racing around a corner, fell and came to us with yet another cut to the forehead. We both looked at it. It was not too deep, not too long. “You know,” I said. “Last time we went in for something like this, they just steri-stripped it.” HOB looked at me and said, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I nodded, like the wizened old cowboy out on the range, “We’ve seen it done enough. I reckon we can fix this thing ourselves.”
HOB went to the store, got the steri-strips and we cleaned the wound, I held it together while HOB cut the strips and applied them one by one, cross-crossing them like a real pro, ending with a flourish of tape that connected them all in straight, beautiful line.
He’s come along way.
But he’s still not getting the book back.