We now refer to our son as 'Our glowing boy.'
We mean it literally.
There's something darkly humorous about taking something really scary – something called a nuclear test – and stripping it down to its essential form.
This is the gist: The kind people with name tags clipped to their scrubs at a local hospital strapped my youngest (the boy with the previously-mentioned wonky kidney) down in a little boat that floats underneath a table-sized camera and injected him with a radioactive drug to watch how his innards work.
The only thing I can do is laugh. I mean what else is a parent to do?
I could cry and wring my hands and carry on … and I’m not ashamed to admit that in the weeks leading up to this relatively routine (albeit somewhat invasive) examination I did a little of each. But I know that's not going to help a situation we can't avoid.
Everything that makes you a human – not just a mother – kicks in when you watch your kids endure hardships.
Here’s this person you love — arguably looking a bit silly because he has NO IDEA how much unpleasantness awaits him — and there you are, powerless.
As we wait for our test, every passerby mentions how handsome the Champ is; how smiley and expressive. They practically hurt themselves rubbernecking in the hallways to get a better look at his sweet face.
You wonder how, with all this reassurance there can be any doubt of his health.
He babbles and laughs in their direction; even tries to hold hands with the nurse who in just a minute will install an intravenous line. But then comes the pressure, and the restrictive holding and the distress of knowing something has changed: It’s not all that comfortable anymore. Even before the prick of the needle the happy, smiling, giggling boy is gone.
This is the hard part for mothers.
And yet, we hear our babies cry all the time. I know the Tired Cry and the Hungry Cry and the Pain Cry. I’ve even had copious amounts of experience ignoring the shrieks of my Unhappy Traveler Cry all the way to Maine and back.
Standing there in that clinical setting I knew his burst of wet emotion was heading out of the “This Hurts” neighborhood and into the wide open spaces of "I Don't Like Being Held Here Like This ... You Better Stop This Nonsense RIGHT NOW!"
The technician plays a lullaby loudly enough to catch his attention over all the noise he’s already making. Before long he's sound asleep, tucked inside the scanner as we watch, transfixed, while his organs glow yellow on a computer screen.
We cock our heads as the blobs on the screen "light up."
I note how freakishly large one kidney looks compared with the other, and the technician breaks her silence to tell me you can’t really go by that ... most folks aren't symmetrical.
"You'd be surprised how different normal kidneys can seem," she tells me.
My husband wonders what the strange blob to the left of his arm is as he looks at the screen ... he's afraid maybe his son has miraculously grown another organ in his upper thigh.
"Oh, that's just the tubing and such," replies the technician. "It's just lighting up as the radioactive materials pass through."
Suddenly, I feel a little like Homer Simpson: 'Mmmmmm, radioactive' ... tossing the word about in my head as if it were cotton candy. 'Mmmmm, toxic.'
Sure, I witnessed the technician carry the lead box in gloved hands and place it on the table; I saw the lead-lined syringe that contained the dose of nuclear substance, but I never really let the reality that THEY ARE PUTTING THAT STUFF DIRECTLY INTO MY KID really sink in.
For the rest of the test, a tiring 50 minutes, I made light of the situation. I joked about my "glowing boy" — complete with wink, wink, nod, nod sound effects — and tried to force my fear into its own little cylinder in hopes of flushing it away.
Finally it was over."That's it," the technician told our son. "You're all done."
And as I picked him up and put on a fresh diaper she reassured me of the safety of the isotope.
"It will be completely gone from his body by tomorrow this time."
"That's great," I say, turning to my husband. "Maybe this weekend we can take a little road trip to Nevada; that way we can bury his diapers from the next 24 hours in the desert."