Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Raising Iron Man

When my two boys were very young, we were frequent flyers at the ER.

If we could have accrued points for our visits, we'd have achieved Medallion status and gotten all the great perks, like priority first-class seating in the waiting room and free drinks. Sadly, the hospital never once offered free Bloody Marys, even at those times when I could use one most.

After the fourth ER visit in a three-month period, I cowered in the corner of the exam room. "I hope all these repeated visits won't prompt a call from Children's Services," I told the doctor, with a nervous laugh.

He reached into my older son's nose with what appeared to be needle-nosed pliers. I watched as he pulled out a tiny wad of clothes dryer-hardened Kleenex, which Son #1 had apparently relocated from his pants pocket into the nether regions of his nostrils.

"I wouldn't worry too much about Children's Services," he said. "I haven't seen an abusive parent yet who shoves balled-up pieces of tissue up their child's nose."

Son #1 had his share of ER trips for sure. But Son #2 was an ornery, hyperactive youngster, particularly prone to accidents and mishaps. His younger years presented a unique set of parental challenges. (Son #1 surpassed those challenges in his teenage years.)

Fortunately, we of the Stanfa lineage are a tough bunch. As my dad was fond of saying, "When it gets too rough for everyone else, it's just about right for us."

Yet no one in the family was tougher and more resilient, in times of medical crisis, than Son #2.

Many of his injuries were endured with little or no complaint. He barely whimpered about his two fractured wrists, so I refused to feel too guilty for waiting weeks after both incidents to finally haul him off to see a doctor.

But some occasions demanded immediate attention. Like the time he was a toddler and I found him belting down a bottle of cough syrup.

We headed off to our second home, where the ER nurse handed us a tall glass of some charcoal-flavored antidote. "It tastes God-awful, so we can never get any child to drink it, but let's see if we manage to get just a sip or two down him."

I sighed and handed my two-year-old the witches brew.

He took one sip. He swallowed. He peered down at the cup. And he then proceeded to chug, hardly bothering to breathe between gulps. When he finished the entire contents, he handed the cup back to me. Awaiting a refill.

The nurse watched, bug-eyed. "In all my years here, I have never--not once--seen a child drink the whole thing."

A stomach of steel. Yes, I was raising Iron Man.

I didn't comprehend the strength of his super powers until years later, when we learned his too-small palate couldn't accommodate a normal full set of teeth. Consequently, the orthodontist recommended that he have several pulled. We headed off to the dentist--a man aptly named Dr. Moeller.

Dr. Moeller reached toward his young patient, with the first in a planned series of novacaine shots.

Son #2 clamped his hand over his mouth, releasing it just long enough to shout. "No shots! I don't need any shots! Just pull the teeth."

Dr. Moeller tried to reason with him: The novacaine would numb his mouth. The extractions would be far more painful without it than with it. He'd never pulled a tooth before, in all his years as a dentist, without numbing the patient's mouth first.

His pleas were to no avail. Young Iron Man shook his head, folding his arms across his chest. "No shots. Just pull them out."

Finally, Dr. Moeller nodded. "OK. I'll start to pull on the first tooth, and you let me know when to stop. Then we'll talk again about some novacaine."

He winked at me. I nodded back. We both knew how this was sure to play out.

Dr. Moeller reached back into the boy's mouth, this time with dental forceps. I watched him take hold of the tooth. No reaction.

He jiggled it. Nothing.

He began to pull. I cringed and turned my face away, holding my hands over my sensitive maternal ears to block out my child's inevitable scream of agony.

Not a sound.

I looked back to see the dentist holding a tooth, roots and all, within his forceps. He shook his head in disbelief, and we both glanced back at the boy in the chair.

"See? Easy," said Son #2.

Within minutes, the dentist had pulled the other three teeth. Iron Man lay silently until the dentist announced he was finished. Then he opened his eyes and grinned.

"See? Easy," he repeated, as blood dripped from the corners of his smile.

Within an hour of returning home, young Iron Man was requesting macaroni and cheese for dinner. I managed to appease him with a glass of chocolate milk.

I needed a drink that night too. Something with a much bigger kick.

But somehow, I couldn't face a Bloody Mary.

Did parenthood provide you with a card-carrying ER membership? Are you a wimp or are you Iron Man?


  1. Whoa. Pulling teeth without meds is impressive.

    As a child, I got a few special visits to the hospital. A lengthy febrile convulsion due to a sudden and extreme fever, coupled with an unfortunately inept emergency service on the day meant the paramedic was actually warning my mother I could end up brain damaged, but I woke up in the ambulance just outside the hospital gates and was perfectly fine (so they report ;) ). I also fell out of a shopping trolley/cart, where my head connected with the solid concrete floor. More ambulances, more "all clears". Hah! Then the several days at hospital in isolation for severe gastroenteritis (mostly for complications with dehydration). My skin grows VERY quickly, so when it came time to remove the IV needle, I'd already healed around it. Hurt like no one's business when the nurse tore it out. I didn't get into too much trouble with injuries and mishaps after that. No broken bones to date!


  2. Ashlee: Yikes! I'm sure you drove your mother to drink!

  3. Both of my children spiked high fevers at four weeks, and were given spinal taps in the pediatrician's office.

    My older child has loathed needles and any other kind of needle-like instrument ever since. And any hint that something might be uncomfortable.

    When we went to pierce her ears -- at her request -- we were asked to leave the Mall because she was screaming at the top of her lungs at the sight of the piercing guns.

    She's had a loose tooth for five months, but won't pull it or let us get near it. Because it might hurt.

    It's not that she has a low pain threshold (though she does), it's that she has a rock-bottom anticipation threshold.

    But my younger daughter? She doesn't care about needles at all. Go figure.

    1. Sarah: Yes, with all due credit to Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part. I have a high-pain threshold too, but when I know something bad my way is coming, I just want to get it the hell over...

  4. my daughter didn't have a hospital trip until she was six years old.

    my son was hospitalized or rushed to the ER three different times in his first two years.

    1. Amy: No hospital visit until she was six? Wow! I generally hate to stereotype, but there must be something about these boys of ours...

  5. The only thing missing with this piece is an audience. You NEED to read your work out loud, Sherry! What a gift.

  6. Wow.
    Just wow.
    That was a story that truly woke me up on this gloomy Thursday morning.

    Son #2 is a god among men it seems.
    Has he been studied and dissected yet?

    I have had 4 surgeries on my R knee, I am waiting for my punch card to come in the mail for my 'buy 4, get the 5th free', because those are pricey little bitches.

    1. Amanda: Yes, if only repeat surgeries were free of charge--and free of pain. But, you are running again! So maybe the fourth time was a charm?

  7. I just watched The Iron Lady. She was tough, but The Iron Man doesn't hold a candle to her.

  8. I mean, she doesn't hold a candle to him!

    1. Lisa T: No worries, I knew what you meant the first time. Meryl Streep apparently has a good shot at the Oscar. Perhaps son #2 needs his own movie role.

  9. What MSB said. That last line had me chuckling all morning. Well played Sherry.

    1. Downith: Thanks. I chuckled a bit while writing it. Funny though, I don't remember laughing quite so much during the incidents themselves.

  10. Jesus, that's hard core. I have a really high tolerance for pain, and so does my daughter. The boys on the other hand are fairly wimpy. My husband passes out when he has to have blood drawn, then tries to tell me it's because he needs every drop and can't spare a tube.

    Whatever, buddy. Move over, I've got platelets to give.

    1. Averil: And isn't that interesting? Although I'm willing to stereotype boys as being more accident-prone, I have to agree that--in general--most of the women I know can handle pain better than the men. Guess that's why we're engineered to birth the babies.

  11. Averil is right, this is so hard core! All Hail Son #2. Wow.

    I have no tolerance for physical pain --- but any mental anguish sinks me right under. My stepmother was a whipper, and all she had to do was come toward me with an open hand and I would burst into tears. But I suppose this is off the subject ...

    My daughter has zero pain tolerance. If she had a slight headache as a teen, she'd want to take 4 Advil. All 90 pounds of her.

    My son, on the other hand, suffered in silence. I remember some mornings when I'd come down the stairs at 6 a.m. and he'd be sitting there on the couch, cartoons on the TV, with a bowl for puking between his knees. "Are you sick?! Why didn't you wake me up?!" I'd say in a panic. And he'd look at me like I was crazy.

    1. Teri: OK, so disregard my reply to Averil. Clearly I can't stereotype here at all. I remember those days of my kids puking. I always felt so bad for them--yet the practical part of me was always saying, "Honey, just be sure not to miss the bucket." It always made me feel like a bit of a bitch. But your stepmother... sigh. So glad you survived it and moved on to better things.

  12. Wow. What a badass. I hate the Novocain shots too, but I wouldn’t let anyone do digging around in there without it. (BTW, we used to have a Dentist called Dr. Meaney. I’d totally have to change my name, if I were him.)

    I only remember every having to go to the doctors because of something I did, twice. (I’ve never been to the ER… back then, you just saw your GP.) Once was as a 4-year old when I bit an electric cord. The other time, I fell off a bike while learning to ride it, and my knee landed square on a tiny pebble on the cement. The pain was unworldly. Mom had to carry me off the playground and into the Dr’s office because I couldn’t put any weight on it. I thought it was shattered or something. I was OK though, the doctor just had her ice it. Still have the pebble-shaped scar though.

    All in all, I consider myself pretty lucky. Either I exhibited the good judgment not to do anything too stupid, or had the balance and grace to pull it off. OR, I just fell in a lot of soft grass.

    1. Bluz: Dr. Meaney? I'd have changed dentists. And speaking of job-appropriate names, we have a urologist here in Toledo whose name is--I'm not kidding--Dick Tapper.

  13. Ever since the day I temporarily lost my vision and my hearing to a pre-fainting episode during 5th grade health class, when we were discuss blood and arteries, I knew I was a wimp.

    I don't have kids but I had to go to the ER a few times as a kid myself. Once for slamming a sliding glass door hard on my finger. Once for jumping off an outside staircase (I was 5 and thought I could fly) and breaking 7 bones in my left foot. Once for my brother knocking out my two front teeth with a hairbrush. Once for LALALALA can't describe it, it's too gross and I might faint if I have to write it down. But I was always okay. Nothing has ever been too serious, thank goodness. I'm clearly too much of a baby to handle it.

    1. Laura: Oh, the slamming of the finger in the door! I experienced that last year. Seriously, the most painful thing I've ever encountered (even surpassing when the doctor started to slice me open for a c-section and realized the epidural hadn't taken). But you have me oh-so-curious about the LALALALA experience. I expect to hear the details on the bus to Chicago next month.

  14. I thought it was just my family! My husband and son won't use novacaine. My son is training as an MMA fighter and at the moment is sporting two black eyes and a lump on the side of his head. Last week, it was the nose. He won't take pain killers of any kind because he believes it will impede muscle growth. Me on the other hand, it kills me. I won't get into football and war injuries. Hey Sherry, you want to get a drink???

  15. I can't imagine having teeth pulled without Novocaine. I mean, I have a high tolerance for pain, but no Novocaine?

    The only kid in our family who's spent time in the emergency room is, of course, Nathan.

    1. Lisa G: I remember hating shots as a kid. It once took five nurses to hold me down for one. Now, I get weekly allergy shots in each arm, and don't bat an eye. Only one price I have to pay for the four offending cats and dog in the house...