It was the one time I didn’t panic and I should have. Nelson had been saying all day that he was in pain. His belly, down low. “On your right side?” I asked, my first thought: Appendix!
“No, all over,” he said.
“Use the bathroom,” I said calmly.
Then, he didn’t want to jump on the trampoline with his brother. Even though I had dragged 100 feet of green garden hose out to spray them with while they jumped. (A mother’s game of revenge.)
Then I noticed he was doing, could it be, Lamaze breathing? One breath in, two long breaths out, a slow, low hoot almost.
“Why are you breathing like a woman in labor?” I asked, appendix, appendix, appendix.
“WHAT?” he was furious.
“Just go to the bathroom!” I said, sidelining a birds and bees talk.
“Mom, why is everything about poop with you?”
I said nothing. He was 10 after all. Soon enough he would know that a lot of life actually was about poop.
By 9 p.m., he wasn’t any better. I searched “appendicitis” online. One symptom: Walking hunched forward.
A slow crawl started over my skin. Nelson had conducted the last few hours of train playing curved over like a little monkey.
Next, it said that the area below his belly button might be tender. So I poked him.
And he positively yelped.
I shot a quick look at my husband. We were on our way to the ER not 10 minutes later.
I tried not to panic, but, at this point, I was panicking that I hadn’t panicked sooner.
Amateur! For 10 years I’d been trusted with this kid and the one day he finally needed me, I was fiddling with a hose attachment and spraying his older brother in the face with ice water, wondering what I’d make for dinner. My mom credibility was shattered in a single moment of letting my guard down.
A man met us with a wheelchair at the ER entrance. Nelson hobbled out of the car and we took a moment to watch the true horror unfolding. His appendix about to burst! A strange man with a wheelchair! An inept mother!
Once inside, Nelson waited until we were almost, but not quite, in the room to puke. I caught most of it in a little bag they had given me. It was bad, but it was good. With one swift catch, my mom credibility was restored in full.
Next, he needed an ultrasound.
“Those don’t hurt,” I reassured him. “You’ll get to see your insides! It’s fun!”
Turns out ultrasounds DO hurt when your appendix is inflated like a balloon and the technician is pushing around trying to determine which is appendix and which is poop. (When she said this, I met Nelson’s eyes with authority.)
As I watched his face contort in pain, I knew what he was thinking. He said it the minute we were out of the room: “You said it wouldn’t hurt!”
My mom credibility crashed to the sterilized floor.
When the doctor determined it was, in fact, his appendix, something even worse happened: I realized I was going to have to cancel my hair appointment the next morning. My gray hair had reached critical mass in my part a week ago. Things were (literally) looking to go from bad to worse.
For a moment, I saw myself tiptoeing out of the room while Nelson slept and climbing into the salon chair, fussed over, telling them all about the night from hell, and, oh, could I also get highlights before Nelson wakes up?
No, I took hold of myself. My mom credibility would be forever shot if I fumbled this.
Of course, just as I got out my phone to message the salon, Nelson came out of his haze. “Are you on Facebook?” he asked, insulted. I scrambled to explain myself, noting my amazing mothering skills while doing so.
He looked me up and down, unmoved, and said, “Granny,” before falling back into a drugged sleep.
At 3 a.m. he was prepped for surgery. Things got real about then. And as we waited for the $1,200 anesthesia, I started thinking about insurance deductibles in a real and practical way.
The nurse put a blue, poufy hair net on Nelson. I stared at him and more heart broke open. That’s when the nurse asked, “Do you want a picture?”
How had she known I was thinking how adorable he was at the most inappropriate moment? I loved her. I was so pleased to get a picture of him in his $1,200 hat.
And off we went to the waiting room with pillows and blankets. Tim and I pushed some chairs together and built a fort. In a way, it was a sweet, unlikely night spent bonding as parents, dulled only by sheer, sickening terror.
The doctor arrived at 4 a.m. to report that surgery went fine except… with a long pause during which my heart rose up and exploded in my throat… he marveled that it was one of the worst cases he’d ever seen.
Nelson’s appendix hadn’t burst, he reassured us. It was just, more marveling, HUGE! I didn’t care what size it was. In fact, I was so relieved, I didn’t even care that I was clocking thousands out of pocket at this point.
We spent the next few days at the hospital, where I barely slept on a fold-out chair and Nelson barely slept from being poked and prodded by the nurses.
Finally, we were ready for release. The nurse had only one more question for Nelson: And it had to do with poop.
When she left, he hissed, “What kind of question was that?”
I could barely keep from shouting my reply: “See, I told you!”
And with that, I sat with my mom credibility (and gray hair) intact, awaiting the wheelchair that would escort my son out, one appendix lighter.