By Mordechai Schmutter
I hate when my kids get sick. And not because I work at home. I hate it because they don’t know how to be sick. The first time I remember being sick was when I was five. I got to stay home from school, and I stacked every single picture book that I owned at the foot of my bed (when you’re five, the foot of your bed is like half the bed) and attempted to read every single one of them. But I also took medicine, went to the doctor, and just generally tried to get better, even though getting better meant I had to go back to school and be forced to do things like learn to read.
But my kids don’t believe in taking medicine. And not because they are health enthusiasts that don’t believe in putting any manufactured products into their bodies. They are perfectly fine with manufactured products. They prefer them. In fact, I’m thinking we should stick lollypops onto the ends of our thermometers (the oral ones, and possibly the ones that we run across their foreheads). The reason they don’t believe in medicine is that it doesn’t taste good. Sure, it’s good for them. But isn’t everything that doesn’t taste good? Popcorn-flavored jellybeans, for example.
Sure, the medicine companies try to flavor it. They have a cherry flavor, for example, that doesn’t taste like any kind of cherries that I’ve ever had, but actually tastes more like off-brand soda. They also have a bubble-gum flavor that you can drink. That’s just weird. So, even flavored medicines don’t seem to have had any real effort put into them to make them taste good. If covering up the medicine with a cherry flavor that tastes that bad is actually an improvement, imagine how bad the actual medicine must taste.
Let’s admit it. Medicine is supposed to taste terrible. If it would taste good, you wouldn’t stop noshing on it. Like with cough drops. When I was little, my father gave me a cough drop, and I couldn’t believe it. I was getting candy for being sick! And I got to stay home from school! And read all my books! Or, more accurately, spend most of the day rearranging them so the pile wouldn’t fall over! It was the best day ever! So I locked myself in the bathroom and finished the entire box of cough drops. I couldn’t cough for like a month.
OK, so I’m not sure cough drops do anything. But that’s not my point. My point is that I just took my seven-year-old son, Daniel, to the doctor. Because it’s not like I was getting any work done at home anyway.
Don’t worry, he’s fine. I think he was actually getting better even before we went, despite the lack of medicine. But he wasn’t totally better, and he’d been home for three days, so my wife wanted me to take him to get a throat culture. This is when they take a huge Q‑tip—the kind you can use to clean the wax out of both ears at once—and they stick it into the back of your throat, and then they take it out and watch it to see if anything grows on it.
No, I’m just kidding. That’s disgusting. They throw it away, but while they’re back there, they sneak a glimpse at your throat, and they know what strep is supposed to look like, because, hey, 20 years of medical school. And they’re like, “Oh. Strep.”
The first thing the nurse did when we got into the doctor’s office was weigh my son. She determined that his weight wasn’t the problem, or that this was the same kid as the last time, and she took out the giant Q‑tips. Yeah, more than one. I don’t know why either.
That was when my son clammed up. He would not open his mouth. So I, as the dutiful father who loves his kids, took the nurse’s side. First I offered him a treat if he cooperated—like maybe an entire box of cough drops. When that wasn’t working, I figured out how to hold down both of his hands and hold his head still at the same time, despite having the same total number of hands as he does, and the nurse tried to open his mouth. But she couldn’t get it open. Then we tried a different approach—I laid him down on the wax-paper table thing and held down both of his hands, the nurse held his head straight, and I tried to open his mouth. Nothing. But by this point, he was somehow keeping his mouth closed and screaming at the same time.
“This is ridiculous,” I said. “This is a pediatrician’s office. Don’t you have something for this? He can’t be the only kid who refuses to open his mouth.”
So she said, “Yeah, we can pinch his nose.” This is why you go into children’s medicine. So you can pinch kids’ noses. But the theory here is that he has to breathe, and hopefully he knows that. So the nurse pinched his nose, kept it pinched for like two full minutes, and then I pointed out the obvious: “He’s breathing through his teeth,” I said. His lips were open, but his teeth were clenched. And I’m pretty sure his nose was stuffed anyway.
So the nurse said, “Let me call Lisa. She always knows what to do.” And she went and got another nurse named Lisa. So now it was going to take three adults to hold down my seven-year-old.
So then Lisa came in, and grabbed a few more giant Q‑tips, and said, “This is what you do. Hold down his arms.” And she jammed a Q‑tip in through the corner of his mouth: “Straight in,” she said. “Like a juice box.” She pushed the swab straight to the back of his throat, pulled it out, and . . . “Oh,” she said. “Where’s the cotton?”
So Lisa freaked out. She mumbled something about a choking hazard, or that he would swallow it, and about how the doctor was going to kill her, and she ran out of the room. That was the last I saw of her. (I say this dramatically, as if it happened several years ago. It happened this morning.)
But this was not the best thing to say in front of a kid who was already panicking. As soon as she left the room, my son ran over to the garbage and started spitting and coughing, terrified that no matter how much he spit out, there was still some cotton in there.
Meanwhile, I looked over at my two-year-old, Gedalyah, who had come along, because when you’re two, and your brother gets sick, you get to go “bye.” And he wasn’t saying anything, but he had a terrified look and a single tear running down his cheek. (“What are you doing to my brother? Am I next?”) So now I know where my kids learn to be scared of medical procedures. But I had to comfort him over the sounds of my other kid, who was still screaming, coughing, gagging, spitting, and keeping his mouth shut, all at the same time.
Finally, the doctor came in. He spoke to my son reassuringly, and promised that he wouldn’t do the throat culture. He listened to Daniel’s chest with a stethoscope, and then he took out a flashlight and looked into my son’s ears and eyes and nose and mouth, because those are all the ways you can see into someone’s head without cutting it open.
Eventually, the doctor said that he didn’t think it was strep, but that if my son was still sick in a few days, we should bring him back and repeat the cycle. Maybe with my wife there to hold down his feet. I don’t even want to think about what my wife goes through with him when she brings him to the dentist. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of three books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.