Yesterday my son had another allergic reaction. We left the restaurant where we had eaten a late lunch. My son had ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and fries. The restaurant does not serve calamari nor is the shrimp on the menu deep fried—which should have made the fries safe. We have eaten there dozens of times and didn’t even consider the possibility of cross-contamination from shrimp or fish on the grill, which the restaurant later confirmed. We left the establishment intent on doing some school shopping and drove to a store to look for shoes. By the time we arrived my son had begun to cough. As we debated styles and sizes I looked at my son whose cough was worsening and realized he was swelling and having trouble breathing.
“You DO have your EpiPens?” I asked. (He is customarily very good.)
“I don’t like the pockets in these pants,” he responded with a hint of panic. We left immediately. I had some Benadryl in the first aid kit in the car that was two years out of date, but I had his sister give it to him anyway.
Ten minutes later we arrived at home. The coughing was worse. He was wheezing.
“I think you should take the epi,” I said. He hates needles. He has been known to hide under the doctor’s desk at immunization time and to require a team of orderlies to hold him down to draw blood.
“Yeah,” he conceded, gasping. “Can you do it?”
He handed me the device, removing the blue safety cap.
He signaled to me in the same way he does if we are diving into the swimming pool simultaneously, with his fingers—one, two, “Ow!” he shouted, wincing. (I knew better than to wait for three.) Then he started counting again, down the ten seconds the needle was to remain embedded in his thigh per the instructions.
We gathered ourselves and our things for an emergency room visit. I am supposed to call 911 if we use an epi, but the boy was breathing better almost instantly and I had another poke ready if it was necessary. I drove ten minutes extra to a hospital with a pediatric ER and stellar reputation, ten minutes that was made up for by not having to wait forty minutes in the waiting room as we did several years ago when Little Man was bleeding and crying with an puncture wound clear through his foot.
During that episode, Ex (remember him? I barely do) was more concerned with who the caregiver was at the time of the accident than he was with the condition of the child. His response to any such trauma once he determines no one will die is ‘whose fault was it?’ (Surely, not his.) Even last summer, as soon as he had ascertained that Little Man would not die, he started working overtime to avoid responsibility.
As we were leaving, I sent Ex a text message that we were en route to the emergency room with an anaphylactic episode. I will say quite honestly that among the worst parts of any real drama in our lives is the prospect of having to inform Ex. It requires an interaction that still—even after all this time—can upset my peace and disturb our family equilibrium.
Ex replied, “Please keep month [sic] posted. You never told me that any allergies were confirmed before. What is he allergic to?”
Jesus H. Christ. (Sorry to offend sensitive readers.) Ex responded to “son’s life may be in jeopardy” with “you haven’t properly informed me of the probable cause.”
No, I haven’t, because I still don’t know exactly which among the suspected proteins he is allergic to. Oh, and let me point out that when I do find out, it won’t be because Ex helped one iota. He won’t have haunted a single waiting room. He won’t have attended a single appointment, and in all likelihood he won’t have spent a thin dime.
“Is he okay now?” Ex wrote.
Define okay. He’s not dead. For Ex, not dead = okay. I don’t even know what to say about that. Is there a psychiatrist in the house? This is just more of his black-and-white thinking? It’s just weird. I replied from the emergency room with just the facts ma’am: “…steroids …coughing …observation …several hours …more difficulty …seems less severe…”
To which he responded presumably having discerned for himself that the boy was not dead and therefore okay: “Thanks for the update. I will wait a while and call him afer [sic] he has rested some.”
Oh, did someone invite him to call and make my son uncomfortable on top of all this?
Just to be clear I wrote: “Anaphylactic shock can be life threatening. That is why we are here.”
To which he responded: “That is why he would probably like some voice time with his Pop and why I am respectfully waiting a bit to call.”
What an F-bomb A-hole. (Apologies to more sensitive readers, the cursing is a direct measure of my annoyance.)
Of course, Ex had not been mentioned at all in this crisis, not by anyone. “I might die, I’d like to call the man whom I frequently refer to as “idiot” despite being encouraged to resolve such negative feelings by my mother and other significant adults,” the boy was not not likely to have said.
“…he would probably like some voice time with his Pop…” It bugged me. It bugged me like something in my eye or a blister worsening with each step and a long way to go. It bugged me while I watched Up with my son while waiting in the ER to make sure that he could breathe once the steroids kicked in and the Benadryl and epinephrine wore off. It bugged me as I drove home with my increasingly groggy son. It bugged me because his “Pop” wasn’t thinking of the child at all, the child who frequently avoids phone calls with him, the child who was in crisis.
Bad Mommy. I finally wrote that we were at home and my son was asleep. I probably shouldn’t have, but I included: “I’m sorry. [He] hasn’t mentioned you.”
That’s when it got ugly. Ex replied: “Of course he hasn’t mentioned me. You punish him every time he does. Don’t ask me to pretend I don’t know your particular brand of insanity.” He also promised to call the other children “later.”
I did not immediately reply. I called a friend to defuse. Then, I texted: “[Ex], you are paranoid and delusional. I don’t ‘punish’ the children at all, especially not for expressing their feelings. They are free to discuss whatever they wish and unlike you, I do not view their love for [the other parent] as a betrayal. (To do that as you do is a cruelty to them.) Do not reply or I will block you from texting me at all.”
The phone rang within five minutes. It was him and I passed the phone to my daughter without answering. “It’s your father.”
“Hello?” She came to me afterward.
“That was weird,” she said. Ex had asked after my sick son and been told the same details I had already related, and that he was sleeping.
“So he’s okay then?” Ex had asked her. (Remember, okay=not dead.)
“It’s anaphylactic shock,” she had said, “it’s pretty serious. It was scary—he could die from that, you know.”
He said it was strange that her brother had never had any allergies before and all of the sudden in the last couple of months, this… (Five minutes on Google could have resolved that bit of ignorance without troubling us at all, but no…)
It’s more likely that I must be making this sh*t up. Obviously, I am just aching for ways to spend our time and money in drama and suffering, probably for no other reason than to torment him [Ex]. It’s all part of my evil plan. BWAA HA HA HA HA. Ex has probably arm-chair diagnosed munchausen syndrome by proxy from nine hundred miles away with fifteen minutes on the phone per week (assuming he is functioning well enough at any given time to make the calls).
“Don’t ask me to pretend I don’t know your particular brand of insanity.”
God, do I wish I didn’t know his particular brand!
Later, when I woke my son to give him another dose of Benadryl, I mentioned that I had communicated with his father.
“He had hoped to talk with you and wishes you well,” I said.
“That’s nice,” my son said dreamily, closing his eyes again and pulling the covers back up over his bare shoulder—a shoulder that is more a man’s and less a boy’s with each passing day.
I tell myself that the boy is on track to becoming a worthy man—and not one like Ex. It’s really all that I can do.