E stuck a Band-aid up his nose.
I shot bolt upright in bed as I read my daughter’s late-night text about our five-year-old grandson.
Since this news abruptly stopped any hope for sleep, to calm myself I tried that minimizing mental trick where you deconstruct a catastrophe with logic. Besides, I thought, doesn’t every kid do something ridiculous that ends up as a family legend?
Like my daughter, for instance, who swallowed a piece of jewellery when she was about the same age her son E is now. I arrived home from work one Friday evening, tired and happy to be home to start the weekend and there she was, standing in the front hallway with Mrs. S’s arm around her shoulders, she beaming proudly at me, the nanny smiling nervously.
“Hello, my sweet girl,” I said kneeling with open arms for a hug, which, simply by the gentle touch of her love, dissolved any worries I may have brought home.
She ran into my arms and everything was as it should be until, that is, Mrs. S stepped forward to say, with some trepidation I thought, “Kate swallowed a small trinket but she’s just fine.”
That bolt upright posture thing happened, as I quickly stood up with Kate in my arms and asked, “What small trinket, Mrs. S?”
This soft-spoken woman had five grown children, that many more grandchildren and she knew what she was doing. I remember how the first time I met her, I saw kind smiling eyes through the window of my home as she sat on the sofa waiting for me to arrive. Beside her was Mrs. Evans, our beloved first caregiver who, after reluctantly giving in to her senior years gave her notice but not without insisting that she participate in hiring and approving her replacement. As I walked through the door Mrs. Evans, with her back to Mrs. S. nodded and quietly said She’s the one.
I knew that the moment I saw her through the window.
“She was playing with a small star. I think it was blue and silver,” this gentle woman explained.
Her voice was shaky as she tried to minimize the event knowing I probably wouldn’t, knowing that for reasons unknown to even me, I had yet to master a well-honed child-choking phobia.
“And before I could do a thing,” she continued, “she popped it in her mouth and swallowed it. But she’s fine,” she repeated.
She may have been…I was not. I knew exactly what trinket it was. A five-point star of hammered turquoise set in silver that I bought in Arizona years before. It was from a necklace and long-since detached from any chain. It sat collecting dust in a small china dish onmy bureau, along with random earrings and a ring or two.
While feigning calm, as a precaution I called Emergency while my little girl, with her cornflower blue eyes that matched the turquoise she had snacked on, stared up at me and realized something wasn’t right.
“Based on the shape, you better bring her in to make sure it doesn’t get caught somewhere. Let’s make sure it can pass right through.”
We were in Emergency within twenty minutes, me, a worried mother and Kate, a sweet little girl with absolutely zero signs of any illness or injury. They sent us to a small waiting room where four or five adults waited to be seen. Now those folks needed immediate attention, with bloodstained, loosely dressed wounds and broken limbs. Let’s just say it took some mean mothering skills to navigate my nausea.
But an amazing thing happened in that room when Kate walked in. Somehow the attention immediately went to her. The broken arm asked me if she was okay while the bloody wound asked for more details. The story charmed them and laughter and kindness filled the room.
I was surprised, somewhat embarrassed, a lot horrified when the nurse came and called us first before any of the others.
“Shouldn’t these people go first?” I protested.
“They’re not here for x-rays. You are. Come.”
I looked back at them, mouthing I’m sorry and they all laughed and sent us on our way.
The x-ray took minutes after which we went back to the same room where the same people still waited.
“Well?” said the broken arm, the most vocal and kind of them all, ignoring her agony as she cradled her wounded limb with her other arm.
“We have to wait for the film to be processed,” I explained as the conversation carried on again. My sweet curly-blonde-haired jewellery-eating little girl whose story helped them escape their pain mesmerized this group of strangers.
Fifteen minutes later, the same curt nurse, no doubt exposed daily to countless horrors and clearly not amused by us, came back and stood at the door of the small room with a giant manila envelope in her hands. She pulled out an equally huge x-ray.
“Here it is. Perfectly positioned.” Her face broke into a smile. “You can go home now but watch over the weekend to make sure it passes through.”
And there it was, to the cheers of all the wounded, a beautiful five-point star shining brightly, perfectly centred in her stomach. Those that could clapped.
“Could I keep that film?” I asked.
“Certainly not,” she replied, terse again. “Hospital property.”
She left the room to muted jeers from our new friends who pleaded with her to let us have it. Her backside and the door closing on it gave us the final answer.
Kate hugged those that she could goodbye and with thanks and gratitude, we went home.
“Mummy, I have to go,” she announced two days later.
I’d been waiting all weekend for the damn thing to go through her. That she picked a moment while swimming where we had to use a public bathroom in which I had to, let’s just say, search for the star…well, no further details are necessary. But that damn thing came out of her more polished than ever before and to this day, almost thirty years later, has still not lost its shine.
Text back: A bandaid? Did you get it out?
Her reply: NO. It disappeared.
Of all the kids, it would be this boy who would do this. This boy, who has spent too much time already with doctors, in hospitals, an operation that at first glance failed, then next glance succeeded; this boy who has weekly speech therapy, who is smart and wily, the ultimate daredevil adventurer. It had to be this one that would stick a Bandaid up his schnooter and lose the thing altogether.
The fear of aspiration was actually significant and of course in his grandmother’s mind, came automatically paired with catastrophic outcomes thanks to my choking phobia, which delightfully chose to reenter my life after a two and a half decade break when our first grandson was born. If I had to chase those demon thoughts away all night long, I could only imagine how his parents coped as they took turns watching him sleep, as per the doctor’s orders.
An emergency visit the next morning to an ENT found nothing, which meant he probably swallowed the plastic strip at some point in the night.
“He’ll poop it out,” the doctor told them.
Of course, in my pathetic imagination, it was stuck to something they missed. I kept that thought to myself.
He’s back at camp, happy as a clam came Kate’s final text as I sat at my writing table drinking my second cup of coffee. He’d only missed the first part of the morning.
That brought me the day’s first smile. Like mother like son, I thought. Into the pool he would go. I whispered into the sweet summer air, ‘Perhaps this too shall pass’.