Of all the roles being a dad has forced Jerry Mahoney into, the one he’s been least prepared for is “doctor.”
It took three nights of Bennett throwing up before I took him to see a medical professional. She checked him out, diagnosed it as the flu and sent us home.
It was half an hour later when I remembered that big head injury the boy had suffered the day the vomiting started. I called the doctor back. Hmm… could that be a factor?
She told me to rush him to the ER.
The ER doctor wasn’t as concerned about the head injury as she was about how dehydrated my kid was. She could tell just by looking at him that he was dangerously low on fluids, and sure enough, the blood tests backed her up. She put him on an IV and told us we’d be staying there overnight. She couldn’t believe the first doctor hadn’t recognized the symptoms as easily as she did.
I couldn’t believe I let my kid get so dehydrated that he had to spend the night in a hospital.
On the bright side, being in the hospital meant he got unlimited use of two things we usually minimize his exposure to – his pacifier and the iPad. That kept him happy for an hour or so.
The doctor said Bennett could eat whatever he wanted, and he shouted out, “Peanut butter sandwich!” I may not have given my kid enough to drink over the last couple of days, but I was going to make sure he got that peanut butter sandwich, pronto.
We were lucky to be in a very well-equipped children’s ward. They had a big playroom full of toys and books, a life-size firetruck kids could climb in, and outside, there was a full train car sitting on the lawn. We spent about two minutes in the firetruck before Bennett was put on “contact restrictions”. That meant he couldn’t leave his room, and everyone who came in had to wear a rubber gown and gloves so they didn’t catch whatever he had. It was kind of like the third act of E.T., where they terrifyingly tent and sterilize the house, only without a magical alien to calm the crying kid.
I hate hospitals.
Just to rule out a serious head injury, Bennett had a CT scan, which thankfully scared me more than it did him. That came back negative. Whew. Next was an EEG. By then, he was insisting, “I feel better!” In other words, “Get me out of this place!”
The EEG technician wanted to get a reading of Bennett’s brain waves while he was asleep. “Do you have a way to get him to sleep?” she asked.
It’s one of those completely asinine questions a parent secretly craves getting. “Um, you might try unhooking him from all these terrifying machines, for starters.” “Yeah, I know the secret to getting two-year-olds to fall asleep, and did I mention I’m the world’s richest billionaire?” The possibilities for snark were endless.
He did eventually fall asleep. It turned out the tech only needed about five minutes of sleep readings, after which she stood over him and announced, “He can wake up now.”
Then, before I knew what was going on, she stuck her hands in Bennett’s face and startedclapping loudly to wake him up. To be honest, I think what woke Bennett up was the sound of me screaming at this lady for being such an idiot.
The next morning, Bennett’s fluids were back in the acceptable range, and the doctors told us we could go home. Bennett couldn’t wait to see his sister – and, more importantly, the train car outside which he’d been able to stare at through his window but not visit.
Just as we were packing up, the doctor returned. There was something questionable on the EEG, so she decided to keep us another night and do a 24-hour video EEG on the kid. Forget waterboarding. Try telling a two-year-old that the tiny box he’s confined to will be his home one more day, during which time a rotating group of strangers will continue poking painful holes in him.
“Remember that hat you wore with the wires on it?” I explained. “Well, you’re getting another one.”
“Go home!” he cried, in the saddest little voice a daddy’s ever heard. “I’m done! Go home!”
I assumed the second EEG would be much like the first, but when they need the electrodes to stay on for 24 hours, they use glue. In order to make the glue dry fast, they blast it with pressurized air from a deafening, rumbling machine. Over and over, for 45 minutes.
(You’ll notice fewer pictures from this point on. I took some, but I can’t bear to look at them again.)
Until this point, Bennett had been a super sport about the whole experience. A few seconds of tears with every blood draw, and that’s it. But this procedure led to 45 minutes of solid screaming – and who can blame him? To me, it sounded as if he were saying, “Why, Daddy, why?” on an endless loop. All I could do was shout over the sound of the air machine to tell him how well he was doing.
When the procedure was done, he was tethered to a machine and couldn’t move more than three feet away from his bed at any time. It was the least free space he’d had since he was in the surrogate’s womb 2 1/2 years ago.
Drew slept in the hospital the second night, and I went home to stay with Sutton. As difficult as it was being in the hospital with Bennett, it was much harder being away from him. That’s when I really began to worry.
Sutton had been in bed for two hours when I heard her screaming over the baby monitor. I ran in and was overcome by the smell of regurgitated mac & cheese.
“What happened?” she cried.
I checked her crib. It was everywhere. On her blanket, her dolls, the mattress. “You threw up,” I told her.
She stopped crying. “I threw up. Like Bennett did?” A smile broke out on her face. “I threw up like Bennett did!” I had never seen her prouder of herself.
“How would you like to drink a big glass of water?” I asked.
The next day, I returned to the hospital so I could be there when Bennett got his electrodes removed. The EEG specialist looked at me and Drew standing over our son, and her eyes widened. “Are you two dads?”
It was hard not to wonder where she might be headed with this question. When people make the case for gay marriage, they always mention how crappily gay couples are treated in hospitals. “Uh… yeah.”
“Oh my God!” she shouted. “I can’t believe it! I need to give y’all a hug!” She tore off her rubber gown and gloves and did just that.
“You’re the first two dads I’ve ever met! I’ve only seen them on TV!”
Another nurse told her to get over it, but Drew and I made it clear we enjoyed the attention. We’re shameless, I tell you.
“I hear people saying bad things about two dads, and it makes me so angry. Just let everybody do their thing, that’s what I say! I think it’s terrific!”
Bennett was laughing. We talk a lot about how cool we are for having two dads in our family, and finally, we had a complete stranger to corroborate it.
Thankfully, the electrodes came off much easier than they went on. A few minutes later, Bennett’s special hat was gone.
We still had no idea when we were going home. We had to wait for someone to do a reading of 24 hours of squiggly lines and make sure there was no bad news inside. Drew went home to see Sutton (whose uncles were taking good care of her – another reminder why we moved back East), and Bennett and I decided to take a nap on the pull-out couch. I curled up with him under a blanket, and we both fell asleep.
An hour or so later, we were awakened by a knock on the door. “How would you like to go home?” The doctor said the EEG looked OK, so we were being discharged.
“Like, we can leave right now?”
I packed up our stuff in record time. I wasn’t going to sit around and let the doctors change their minds again.
“Bennett, see that train out the window? What do you say we go check it out?”
Trains are probably Bennett’s second favorite thing in the world. His favorite is balloons, but the one balloon he had no interest in was his get well balloon. He decided he didn’t want to bring it home with him, so we left it behind with all our half-eaten cafeteria food.
Soon, we were outside. Bennett ran up to the train, only to find the gate was locked. After all that waiting, the train was just for show. You weren’t actually allowed to go inside it.
Like I said, I hate hospitals.
Lead photo of Emergency Room Symbol courtesy of Shutterstock
Photos of Bennett and Sutton courtesy of the author