So last Saturday was my great kid’s 18th birthday and we were fortunate enough to spend it with our extended family, including our 5-year old twin cousins who were also celebrating their birthdays. It was a fabulous day, filled with love and laughter and – for me – so much pride and a combination of sadness (my baby boy is all grown up!) and hope, as I know his future and so many possibilities are all ahead of him. Life was pretty darn good on Saturday and we left there and headed home Sunday morning all feeling that we had pretty much experienced a perfect weekend.
And then Sunday night, my great kid started complaining of a headache and a pain in his jaw. Too much partying, I thought. Maybe it’s your wisdom teeth coming in, I suggested to him. Nothing to worry about, I assured him. Get a good night’s sleep and all will be well.
Except it wasn’t. I sent him off to school on Monday morning, even though he was still complaining about pain in his head. I gave him an aspirin and told him I’d make an appointment with our dentist for later that day so we could find out what was going on. And then I went about the normal routine of my day. But it could not have been any less of a normal day at all.
Come to school right away, the nurse said. His mouth is sagging, his eyelid is drooping, his vision is blurred. If you can’t get here quickly, we’re calling an ambulance. She didn’t have to say more than that for me to realize that they were concerned my great kid – my baby – was having a stroke.
The drive to school was similar to the drive I made on 9/11. I know I drove home too fast and probably too recklessly on 9/11 – just as I know I left my house and got in my car and headed towards school – but, like 9/11, I have no recollection of the drive. I know that God must have watched over me as I probably drove faster than I should, crying and praying and hoping that all would be okay.
The school nurse was oh so kind to both of us and reassured me that she didn’t think it was a stroke but something else, a virus causing a condition called Bell’s Palsy. It is pretty rare and causes facial paralysis, blurred vision, lack of taste, inability to blink or manufacture tears. But get him to the hospital quickly, she said, and tell them his symptoms as soon as you walk in because he needs to be seen immediately. I could see how frightened he was and I was frightened too – the whole left side of his face was frozen and no attempt by him to raise an eyebrow, blink or smile was working.
Our wonderful hospital, which has taken good care of my great kid and my mom and me on more than one occasion, once again provided a caring, relatively stress-free environment to navigate and investigate his symptoms and figure out what was wrong and how it could be fixed. Not a stroke, they said right away. Probably Bell’s Palsy; maybe Lyme disease. Blood tests and CAT scans were called for. I started to breathe again – maybe it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.
I called my parents and told them what had happened. I also told them don’t worry and no need to come to the hospital; there’s nothing you can do. We were instructed just to sit tight and wait for results so we got comfortable and did just that. We waited and waited and waited and then . . . and if you know my parents, my wonderful parents at all, you’ll know what I’m going to say . . . a security guard showed up escorting my parents into our little cubicle in the emergency room. They needed to see for themselves that my great kid was going to be okay. And I know how lucky I am to have that kind of love and support for both of us in my life.
Several long hours later, we were sent home with many medicines and instructions on what to do and what not to do. And so we came home, Googled Bell’s Palsy and learned all we could, and also discovered that it could be weeks, maybe even months before his face would be back to normal.
And that’s when my great kid, who had been the stronger of the two of us all day, became tentative and hesitant and upset. I look like a freak, he said. The kids will make fun of me. They won’t, I assured him, and even if someone did, that’s a person not worth knowing. And I reminded him of my belief, which I’ve shared with you all before, that the appearance of a person is just the facade but the heart and soul and character and beliefs of a person, the stuff that’s all inside, are the things to cherish and love and respect, and that none of those wonderful qualities in him had changed one little bit.
So off to school he went the next day, both of us (I think) mentally preparing for what passes as normal teenage behavior these days, the teasing of someone that can often lead to bullying. Spare him please, I asked God, almost feeling greedy to ask for more because He had already blessed me with my great kid not being as sick as I had originally feared. Because don’t we all have insecurities about the way we look, the way we appear to others, under the most normal of circumstances? But when you’re in those teenage angst-filled years and every word, every gesture, every slight is magnified to a far greater degree than they need or should be, having to go to school with half your face paralyzed is a daunting task.
As a born-again big-time worrier, I spent the day wondering how he was handling what was going on around him, how people were treating him, how he would react. The end of the school day couldn’t come fast enough for me but also came too fast because I feared that – if kids had been unkind to him – he’d not be in a happy mood when I picked him up.
And then he came out of school with a big smile – a half-way smile on the side of his face that was still working, but a smile nonetheless – on his face. He got in the car and hugged me and said people had gone out of their way to be nice to him, to offer him kind words and support, to tell him they’d help him if he needed assistance in keeping up with school assignments or homework.
I said a silent thank you to God and realized that it seems that we’re all so conditioned to expecting people to behave badly – because we’re surrounded by so much bad behavior every day that gets excused or condoned or ignored (Charlie Sheen, I’m talking to you) – that we’re surprised and gratified and joyous when people behave better than we expect. And it’s sad that good behavior surprises, while bad behavior doesn’t.
But today I’m grateful for the grace that his classmates at his wonderful school displayed towards my great kid and thankful for the cocoon of support they surrounded him with. And I’m more grateful that God protected both of us and brought us through what was a truly scary experience.
I hope that one day we’ll be back to a time when civilized behavior is the norm, and those behaving badly in any way, small or big, are anomalies. But until then, I’m ever grateful for those times when the smallest of kindnesses from his classmates meant the world to my great kid and, by proxy, to me.
Saying thank you to compassionate teenagers, caring hospital staff, a concerned school nurse, loving grandparents and a God who blesses us all is not nearly enough but, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you all.