The poor boy inherited his mother’s bad throat.
A crummy night’s sleep, an overtaxing day, a demanding week, and there they go: the tonsils. Swelling, scratching, kissing, and aching–tender tonsils manifest the stress.
My life has been peppered by throat ailments. They must have become more persistent in adulthood, as having my tonsils removed was never a conversation until I reached the age of 29 and talked to an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor about the possibility. Her advice was to live with the grotty tonsils, if I thought I could weather it, as getting one’s tonsils removed as an adult is a particular kind of hell that often involves three weeks of recovery on the couch accompanied by vomiting various foodstuffs out the nose.
I decided to live with the tonsils.
Now I have this delightful pip of a son who is plagued by frequent throat complaints. To give him full credit, he upped my throat issues by also having myriad ear infections in his first five years, so many that he ended up with two sets of long-term tubes. These days, now that he’s eleven, the ears are more of an adjacent complaint when the throat turns red.
Every few months, his voice will become thick, he’ll have trouble swallowing, and it’s off to the clinic we go. There, a nice lady takes a long Q-tip and swabs his tonsils. Invariably, the quick test results indicate that, indeed, he has strep throat. This happened a couple months ago after Paco had a weekend away at a friend’s cabin; as soon as he came home and noted that the tubing on the lake had been a bit fast and rough for him, I went out and fired up the car, readying it for the drive up the hill to the clinic.
Then, this past weekend, he was invited to a sleepover. Excitedly, he packed up his overnight bag–remembering his toothbrush while vetoing the suggestion of a hairbrush because why would a person need a hairbrush at a sleepover?–before he started worrying that he would be the first one there. Then he recalled that sometimes he wakes up at sleepovers and can’t get back to sleep, so he packed a book and a headlamp. After that was some talk about who else would be attending (hopefully not too many boys he didn’t know), what they might have for dinner, if they’d watch a movie. Eventually, it was time. Bravely, he shouldered his bag NO HAIRBRUSH and set off for the party. A minute later, he had covered the thirty-five feet to his friend’s house, and the sleeping over commenced.
The next morning he returned home, tired and wan, recounting how they’d taken turns playing Minecraft on the computer, had pizza, stayed up until almost midnight, and he hadn’t had a pillow, so it was hard to sleep. Listening to this rundown, I realized suggesting a hairbrush had been silly when, instead, I should have insisted he pack his health insurance card and money for a taxi to the clinic.
Yes, his voice was thick. His throat was really hurting him. He had a fever of 100.6 degrees. He just wanted to lie down on the couch and let the ibuprofen kick in. He knew his grandma and grandpa were stopping by for a few hours on their way through town, so he would just rest until they got there.
Once they arrived, however, he stayed on the couch, eventually calling me over to whisper, “How long until we can go to the doctor?” With that, it was clear: we should just go.
Leaving Byron and Allegra home with the grandparents, Paco and I drove to the grocery store that houses a clinic with weekend hours. Knowing that the wait can sometimes be hours, we took our books.
Fortunately, there was no line. Paperwork completed on clipboard, insurance card and photo ID scanned, co-pay shelled out, rating of pain on a scale of 1-10, questions about allergies answered, it was time for the swab. Paco braced himself for the gag, got through it, and then we both marveled at the deep golden color of the gunk on the swab. My, my, but Paco’s tonsils were doing some fine work down in the mines.
Minutes later, we sat in the waiting area, biding our time until we were called in to see the doctor and get the results. Hugging his book to his chest, Paco croaked out, “My friend Ty’s mom is a doctor and won’t ever let him get his tonsils out because I guess if strep can’t go to the easy target of the tonsils, it will go into the chest, which is even worse. So that’s interesting, right?”
Continuing to wait, I reminded him that a sick kid gets any treat he wants, so while his prescription was being filled at the pharmacy, we could go get a milkshake or a smoothie or a blended unicorn or a hot cup of magic.
The boy next to me, the boy who almost looks me in the eye these days but who has the softest skin I’ve ever touched, shook his head. “No, thank you. Nothing sounds good right now.”
Then I told him I had more ibuprofen in my purse and that he was due for another dose.
The boy next to me, the boy who offers back rubs to his parents and makes fried-egg sandwiches for his sister, shook his head. “No, thank you. I want to wait until we get home so I can use a cup to drink from when I wash it down.”
Wanting to make him feel better, to take the edge of a pain I empathized with, I offered, “I can go buy you a water right now, and you can use that. It’s like drinking from a cup, and the sooner you can get ibuprofen into you again, the sooner you can start to feel a little bit better.”
The boy next to me, the boy who just learned to throw a frisbee this summer and who works very hard on folding origami figures of Star Wars characters, shook his head. “No, thank you. I just want to get the test results, get the antibiotics, and go home. I just want to go home. I would like to be home now.”
My heart crackling a tiny bit, I hugged his head to my shoulder and said, “Oh, pup. You’re just barely hanging in there, aren’t you?”
His head nodded against my shoulder, and his hands–managing somehow to look woebegone–slowly stroked the cover of his book as he whispered, each syllable dripping slowly out of his thick, red throat,