The snow. The pain. The poop.

“I think I’m not really good at this,” my son says. He’s two months away from five years old, and this is one of his signature phrases. He usually uses it when he’s trying to get out of something.

“Not really good at what?” I ask, thinking it’s either the light-up game that’s on his lap as he sits on toilet, or—

“Pooping,” he says.

“Keep trying,” I say.

“After I’m done pooping,” he says, hopefully, “We can walk down to the little store and get me a Zebra Cake.” That’s his favorite Little Debbie Snack.

“Oh no, not today, buddy,” I reply. There’s a wicked snowstorm piling up foot-high drifts out there. All of the U.P. is banking on a snow-day tomorrow, although we all lack the usual joy that comes with a day off, because it’s the middle of freaking April.

“I think I’m done,” my son says. “I’ll try again later.”

And just like that, for probably the tenth time in four days, I sigh as he gets re-dressed and we go back to the routine of laxative, raisins, and fruit juice.

I administer four fingers of apple juice in a Glen Moray tumbler. When my son sets it down on the coffee table, it legitimately looks like he’s drinking scotch, neat. There are no clean cups, and in the kitchen, the dishwasher hums and gurgles through its cycles, scaring the bejesus out of my kid.


I’ve yet to meet a dishwasher that I understand how to load. Are all those mountainous grooves for plates? Then where do the glasses go? On the slightly smaller peaks? Then why do they immediately fall over on their sides? Do I have to consult a YouTube video to understand how my bowls should fit? If all my bowls were no deeper than saucers and my cups all child-sized, I’d be all set. I can barely figure out how to turn it on, and it has buttons that you can’t push, so I don’t know what they’re there for. One of them says “options,” so maybe the options on this machine were optional and they opted out, but someone still left the buttons there just to give people false hope.

This is the one thing today I know I can’t blame on the medication. Seriously, this dishwasher sucks. But taking half an hour to fold a basket of laundry, not understanding how the TV works, staring into space with a finger pulling down one corner of my mouth—that’s the Gabapentin, or as I’ve taken to calling it, “Yo-Gabba-Pentin” (anyone with kids born in the last 15 years might understand). The generic form of Neurontin, it’s an anti-seizure and nerve disease drug. It’s what they’d have given me when I had shingles this Christmas, if I’d let them. But I don’t like medications and I felt the pain was tolerable. This time around, it was so bad that I couldn’t wait for my doctor’s appointment scheduled two days away; I went and saw another doctor who could get me in sooner, because I was in agony.  And it’s not shingles this time, it’s an as-yet undiagnosed thing that seems to originate in my neck and travel down the right side of my arm, igniting excruciating aches that pool in my shoulder and elbow, and creates a hive of intensely buzzing pins and needles from the hand up, whenever I so much as lay a finger on my mouse at work or try to do something useful at home like fold laundry or wrap my arms around my son as he sits on the toilet, fruitlessly trying to poop, because he’s scared his narrow butt will fall in, which it will.

This isn’t the first debilitating, undiagnosed thing that I’ve had to learn to live with. Three years ago, I began having intense stomach pain and cramps. I sat in clinic after clinic, found myself in the emergency room, went through every blood, urine and poop test imaginable. I had a colonoscopy. All of it yielded nothing. However, to this day, I can keep it under control so long as I don’t eat wheat. That sounds like a gluten intolerance, doesn’t it? Doctors insist there is no such thing, unless one suffers from Celiac Disease, which I have tested negative for, twice. So, in essence I have a condition that doesn’t exist.

Same thing with my neck-shoulder thing. Does it originate in my neck? Or my arm? Two doctors have assumed I had a whiplash-like injury, which I didn’t. Some doctors gave me muscle relaxers, but it’s not my muscles. My x-rays yielded nothing. One doc sent me to physical therapy when the pain first emerged almost a year ago. I went for two months, and the symptoms stopped completely. I “graduated” and got a T-shirt. Now, after the pain re-emerged after a move from our house to an apartment, I’ m wearing that T-shirt to my physical therapy appointments. I’m apparently working on my Master’s degree there.

I felt I was making progress again this time, until my regular therapist went out of town for the Easter holiday, and left me in the care of a young woman who took a very different approach to my condition; wrenching my neck far further than I felt it should go in any direction, and finding a “knot” in my shoulder and ruthlessly attacking it over and over, rolling it over a bone or tendon, I don’t know which, causing a sickening “bomp” each time that was probably just a sensation but felt like it had an audible sound to go with it. I know I should express how I’m feeling while all this is going on, yet I’m also thinking, “I’m the patient, she’s the one with the certificate, I should let her do whatever.” When I left the clinic that day, my vision was blurred. I was nauseated. And I’ve been in agony since. That was two weeks ago.

Let this be a warning to physical therapists: Never go on vacation. Your clients will die. 

In the last few days, I saw two doctors, both with kindly, round eyes. The first, Dr. Bidle, prescribed me the Gabapentin and ordered me a referral to PM&R (physical rehabilitation) for an EMG (electromyography) test that will involve electrodes and small needles, to determine the source of the nerve damage. The second, Dr. Kirkpatrick, who originally referred me to P.T. last year, agreed with this course and gave me his blessing. I am not to return to physical therapy in the meantime.

Luckily, it looks like my insurance considers cervical radiculopathy, (I call it ridicule-apathy) which is the going term for the weirdness I’m experiencing, a condition for which an EMG is medically necessary, and therefore, covered. Thank goodness for good insurance—I wish everyone had it.  Now, I’m hoping that the subsequent MRI that may be necessary after the results are in will be similarly covered.

I am so sick of doctors and pharmacists. Like I said, I had shingles at Christmastime, as well as another dermatological condition that is best not talked about in detail. Add in occasional sinus infections, vertigo, and anemia, and you’ve got a white-haired lady at ShopKo that really hates looking out into the queue and seeing, once again, my face.

But I’m healthy! I swear!

At this moment, my son is playing a video game that he’s insanely good at, and singing the theme song from Despicable Me. But his version goes, “I’m having a bad bad poop. It’s about time that I had my poop. Steamrolling whatever I poop. Huh, Despicable Poop.”


Outside the snow is still piling up.

Now he’s on the floor, wrapped in a blanket and reciting lines from the last episode of Yo-Gabba-Gabba he watched.

“Chicken and fruit. Ding! Chicken and fruit. Ding!”

For whatever reason, he needs to be wrapped in a blanket when he has to poop. He’s always done that. I know he’s not cold–we live right above a boiler room in a complex full of old folks who like it like a sauna.

This kid helps me through everything. This morning, just before my husband’s alarm went off, our son came into our room making odd gestures with his hands and farting noises with his mouth. He proceeded to crawl into our bed with his three tiny stuffed puppies, making little barking noises. He’s been telling me lately that the moon cuddles with the sun. He’s told me he wants to ask Santa for the sun and the moon for Christmas. I would give him both if I could.

I know that doesn’t make any sense, but it sounds nice.

His favorite thing to play with me is “Super Heroes from Gabba-land,” in which his Marvel Superheroes, along with a giant robot he named “Steebotch,” combine forces with the Yo-Gabba-Gabba gang to essentially have birthday parties all day long. It’s the same every time. It’s somebody’s birthday. Somebody makes the cake. They sing. They open presents. Repeat. Only yesterday, Sandman came along and ate all the cake before anyone could get to it. Sandman is a real jerk.

He’s asking me to play now. He says, predictably, that today the Gabba friends and Superheroes are having a birthday party. It’s Muno’s birthday, and he’s six years old.

I can’t tell you how much I hate playing that game. Sitting on the floor and hunching forward to make little dolls hop around sends pain screaming up my shoulder. I want to go outside, but it looks like Siberia out there. My son doesn’t care about the snow. For all he knows, winter will last another seven months.

He says, “I love you. Shut down your computer.”

And I do.

Here’s a photo we took behind our apartment building, before the storm hit.



Update: The party didn’t go as expected. The Incredible Hulk was late because he was in jail, and then he ate all the presents.

My son still hasn’t pooped. 

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