I just knew. There was that notice that came home from kindergarten in his backpack – the generic "a child in your child’s class has tested positive for strep" form to give all the other parents a head’s up. That was earlier in the week.
But there could have been other causes for the sore throat – at least I thought so initially.
First of all, there’s this: Peppa Pig. Just watch – or, rather LISTEN to – the beginning part of one of the little "Peppa Pig" videos. Where she introduces herself and her family. Hear the British accent? My son can do this whole bit perfectly. And has been doing so. All the time. Complete with loud piggy snorts.
And it makes me laugh every time. Not only is it hysterical to hear an English accent piped out in my American son’s little voice, but there’s also the snorting. Done with great gusto. And not just any old piggy snorting, either. No. If you listen to the little video clip there, you’ll note that Peppa pig has one small snort. Her little brother George – two quick little snorts. Her Mummy pig – a louder, grown-up piggy snort. And Daddy Pig? For Daddy Pig’s great loud piggy snort, Alex has to take a great gulp of air first and then he releases a loud Daddy Pig snort with every ounce of energy in his skinny little body. He actually goes up on tiptoe and clenches his fists and trembles a bit with the effort. It’s quite a show.
Anyway, he’d been doing that over and over and over lately – so much so that he’d sometimes have these little coughing episodes after the Daddy Pig blast. I kept telling him not to do it so much (while giggling, so I admit, I wasn’t all that effective) because he’d get a sore throat. But sore throat was so hypothetical as to be just one of mommy’s caffeine-induced halucinations (much like her dreams of typing for five minutes without one or the other kid hollering about what the other one just did…dream on) that he just ignored me and kept on with the Peppa Pig rehearals.
So there was that.
And then, let’s see…Wednesday night. I put them to bed, read them a couple of stories, but Julia, as usual, just wasn’t ready to lie down quietly and go to sleep. I warned her. And left. Went downstairs and was making a late dinner/snack for Bill and myself, and then suddenly I could hear it. The Crying. Sigh. I aimed myself at the stairs and flew up to the second floor and hooked a right, toward the kids’ room. Julia was in her bed, crying. Alex was in his bed, looking worried. I asked what had happened.
"Alex bit me on the hand!" Julia wailed.
"Well she was messing with my bed!" Alex countered.
"You BIT her?" I looked at Alex’s little face, peeking out from beneath his blankets. He cowered a bit. Julia stopped crying. It was clear that messing with Alex’s bed was the lesser crime and she was probably safe from THE WRATH.
I was just plain tired and fed up with all the (very typical) sibling squabbles of the day, and I just pulled the blankets down a bit and snapped "DON’T! BITE!" at Alex and then flipped the blankets back up. And left the room.
And before I got to the stairs, the real crying began.
If it had been Julia doing the biting (which used to be the case), she would have said "yeah, whatever," snapped her gum a few times and swilled some apple juice from her pink leather flask. She tolerates me because I’m tall enough to cook scrambled eggs for her. Once she can see the top of the stove, we’re done.
Alex, on the other hand, is very sensitive. So even though he’s perfectly capable of doing horrible big brother things to his annoying little sister (who, to be fair, often deserves what she gets), he feels enormous remorse afterward. Even when we don’t get all that mad at him. He just takes it upon himself to feel terrible, beat himself up ("I’m just not a very good big brother!" he will wail), and basically condemn himself to one of Dante’s 9 circles of Hell. The one for not very good big brothers, whichever that one was. I don’t remember.
So he cried. Loud, aching, unrelenting sobs of anguish. For a long time. With no sign of stopping. Ever. Until the end of time.
And I was (still) trying to put together dinner (I tried making Coconut Shrimp, and it didn’t come out the way I’d hoped, but that had nothing to do with Alex) and so right before I started frying up the coconut-battered shrimp, I went upstairs to check on Alex.
He was still crying. Sobbing. Loudly. From the gut.
Julia was snoring.
So I hugged him and tried to get him to calm down and breathe deeply and stop crying. His face was bright red, his eyes were bloodshot, and there were slime trails running from his nostrils and the corners of his gaping mouth. It took some time, but I finally got him to relax and breathe and stop the crying. And we talked about how even when your little sister is very, very annoying, you still can’t bite her. But even though he did bite her, it didn’t make him a bad big brother. It’s normal to get angry because of things your baby sister does. Just like it’s normal for her to sometimes get upset about things her older brother does. That’s just part of being brother and sister. And it’s not okay to hurt each other…but it’s understandable, sometimes, to want to. And then I tickled him a bunch of times to make him laugh and snap him out of the last of his self-flagellation phase so he could finally fall asleep. And so Bill and I could have our dinner.
The next morning, Alex woke up with a sore throat. I assumed, then, that it was because of all the crying he did the night before, so I figured it would sort itself out over the course of the day.
But it didn’t. He still had a sore throat after kindergarten…still had it later in the day. I tried looking in his throat, but he wasn’t all that cooperative.
Next morning, Friday, I kept him home from school because it wasn’t any better and he was wincing every time he swallowed. And even though he hadn’t had a fever, I made an appointment with the doctor to have THE DREADED STREP TEST. But I didn’t tell him that part. Because of the last time.
Well, we went. And the nurse took his temperature and took a peek in his throat…and then she gave him the bad news. "I’m just going to tap the back of your throat…" Alex’s face squinched up and he pressed his lips together resolutely. He wasn’t buying it.
And the nurse tried. She really did. But reasoning won’t work on a five-almost-six-year-old veteran of the throat culture. Once swabbed, twice stubborn. I could tell she was getting frustrated. "We could have been done by now" she pointed out, a bit of strain in her voice. So we had no choice but to put Alex in my lap. He’s pretty tall. I turned my head away so that when he jerked back reflexively he wouldn’t break my nose. I crossed my arms around his body and pinned his arms to his sides. And the nurse approached with the second or third sterile double-q-tip stick…and it was no use. He would not open up. The nurse tossed the wasted swab in the trash and said the doctor would have to do it.
And there were the two warring parts of me. There was the part of me that knew exactly how he felt. If I wasn’t an adult (at least in theory), I’d clamp my mouth shut at the approach of a giant double swab, too. But I can’t really get away with that sort of behavior any more. But once upon a time…when I was probably his age…the chair I sat in was big and red and high-backed and either leather or vinyl. But it was red. And my doctor – our family doctor – the doctor who had delivered both me and my sister – a kindly older gentleman with a Gregory Peck voice (as I remember it) – just wanted to look in my throat. Not even a throat culture – he just wanted to look. With a tongue depressor. From the glass jar of tongue depressors on the little table opposite me. Along with a glass jar of cotton balls. And I don’t remember what else. He was tall, and I was very small in that big red chair. And I did NOT want that yucky dry wooden stick pressing on the back of my tongue and making my stomach clench and my throat tighten in that awful gagging feeling, like I might throw up. No way. And so I didn’t cooperate. And no amount of sweet talk or logic could change my mind. And so eventually my mother and the nurse had to hold me still so Doctor Gregory Peck could shine his little tiny flashlight on my squirming throat and see that it was fine and normal and pink.
So here we are, thirty-some years later, and it’s history repeating itself. So I really sympathised with Alex during all this.
And at the same time, I just wanted to get this DONE so we could know for sure that yes, it’s strep, and get our prescription for whatever antibiotic the doctor would put him on, get some apple juice and go home. Just suck it up and do it!!! That’s what the other part of me was feeling. I’m not proud of it, but I just knew that if he didn’t open up and let someone swab him, it would turn ugly.
The doctor came in slow and friendly and just wanting to talk. She was casual. "So, what are you here for?" Feigning ignorance. "Does your…leg hurt?" With a slightly exaggerated look of puzzled concern on her face. And so she went on like that for a bit, soothing and hypnotic. Not even the least bit interested in his throat at all. No sirree, Bob. Not one bit. And then she asked, hands behind her back, if she could just peek in his mouth for a second. Just look. So he opened up, and she could clearly see what I had seen and what the nurse had seen. It was red. And yucky. And most likely it was strep. But. She still needed to do the test. So she started laying the trap.
"You know, I’ve got two boys and a girl, and they don’t like having it done, either." she said, wrinkling her nose and shaking her head. (I love all the doctors in this office. They are all so patient and caring and understanding and wonderful. By the way.) "So," she continued, "when they have to have it done, they lie down on here," she tapped the exam table he was kneeling on, poised for flight, "and it’s just a quick tap and it’s over with. That’s how they do it and it’s much easier." And I’m nodding along with her, encouragingly, understanding that this way they have no where to back up. Hmmm…maybe.
We got Alex to lie down…and the doctor had me hold his hands down alongside his hips, and she took the point position near his face. Tongue depressor in her left hand, swab in her right. Still purring that it would be just a tap – and then all done with.
"But it’ll still make me frow up" Alex said. He’s no dummy.
"Well, no, it’ll just make you cough a bit – ek ek – but that’s it" she told him. (Okay, I know "ek ek" looks funny but how would YOU write it?)
"Ready?" she said. "On three. One. Two. THREE!" And he didn’t open his mough. Of course.
She tried again. "Okay, this time we’ll do it and then it will be OVER with. One…….twoooooooo…..THREE!" Nope.
Well, there’s no way to cut this long story short, but I’ll cut to the end of this portion of it. I don’t remember how many tries it took – maybe four – but finally at one point he opened the right corner of his mouth about an eighth of an inch, and the doctor was in like a flash – tongue depressor and giant q-tips, working blind because he wouldn’t open his mouth any further than that, and also he was squirming away and the only reason this worked at all was because he was smashed into the corner where the exam table met the wall, and he had nowhere left to go. I hung onto his arms, and the doctor and I were sort of laying on his tiny squirming little torso, and I felt, once again, like a human manacle. And like crying. I’m so sorry for helping to pin you down, my baby boy. Motherhood is not for the faint of heart.
Anyway. Success at last. The doctor pulled the double swab and tongue depressor from Alex’s mouth – and she and I both stared at them in silence for a moment. They were all bloody. Oh great. She’s poked a hole in his trachea and now he’s going to drown in his own blood. Just great. But of course, no. She just said "I think he’s sick," and left to have the swab checked for strep. I figured since she wasn’t freaking out about the blood then neither should I. So I remained calm (so Alex wouldn’t freak out any more than he already was) and I grabbed some tissues and caught the red drool as it dribbled from his quivering lower lip. He cried and cried and finally slowed down enough to voice his real concern: "I’m really not gonna get to pick a lollipop now!"
Because he thought he hadn’t been a good boy. A brave boy. Someone older than five-going-on-six. He had done what he considered, in retrospect, the cowardly thing of trying to avoid the people with the long sticks who were hell bent on jabbing these sticks at the back of his throat. He fought with all his might to get away, and it took two adults to beat him.
The doctor was back very soon. "The test showed positive for strep in twenty seconds" she said. She knew just looking, and so did I, but now we had the official scientific proof. She wrote out a prescription and told me if Julia showed signs of having it, just to call and they’d call in the prescription for me. No need to go through another round of this.
And I asked her if Alex could have a lollipop. And she said "Of course!" And he asked, in his little shaky voice "Can I get a lollipop for my sister, too?" And yes, of course you can, she said.
Alex was pretty well worn out after that. He didn’t want to go to the store. He didn’t want to pick out juice. He didn’t want to pick out something yummy for dinner.
He just wanted to go home.