I am the germ police. A battalion against bacteria. A victor over viruses. Others may claim they hold the title, but I am the only Queen on the Lysol-laden throne of illness prevention.
When Cowboy was little, I listened to Mom’s advice, “Let him eat that chip off the floor; it will build up his immunity.” It took great restraint to watch my toddler observe the 5-second rule. But I survived, and relaxed some. Maybe I’m not so neurotic after all, I thought as I gave myself a pat on the back with sanitized hands.
Then, the Infirmary Years began; Cowboy was sick at least once a month. As Symptom Detectives, Flash and I learned how to tell when he was ill without his being able to tell us. Did his swallowing look labored? Was his breathing off? Did his ears look a little red? How did his poop look? I ran him to the doctor more often than Flash breaks the speed limit. The pediatrician opened a new wing of her office building in our name. We even had our own special lane on the freeway, the LOV (Lindquist Occupancy Vehicle) lane, that paved the way for our quick commutes to and from the Houston Medical Center.
Now that he’s healthier, our trips are much less frequent. But in the process of getting to this point, we’ve raised the only human who gets excited about going to the doctor.
“How are you feeling today, Cowboy?” It was my daily check-in with him after our recent bout with The Stomach Bug That Stormed Houston. When Cowboy was 12, he began using ProLoQuo2Go software on his iPad to show us pictures for the corresponding body parts that were hurting. He also used it to differentiate between types of discomfort and intensity of pain. Now, he points, signs, or writes what ails him.
“W-E-L-L” he spelled in sign language.
“Okay, is anything bothering you today?”
He pointed to his throat, as he had done the previous two days. I thought maybe reflux was rearing its ugly head, rather than illness. But I’ve learned the hard way to listen to Cowboy when he tells me how he’s feeling, even when he looks well and is in good spirits. Years ago, I’d send him to school after two-day absences, only to get a phone call three hours later from the school nurse telling me that he wasn’t feeling well.
“Your throat still hurts? So, you are sick?”
He shook his head and signed “Well” again.
“Okay, so, we don’t need to go to the doctor.”
He nodded yes and signed “Doctor,” emphatically.
“Cowboy, we don’t go see Dr. Marlo just for fun. We only go see her when you’re sick.” I thought perhaps he had cabin fever from the previous five days of convalescing.
I gave him a choice. “Do you want to go for a drive or go see Dr. Marlo?”
He chose Dr. Marlo.
So, we took the all-too-familiar drive to the pediatrician's office for Cowboy’s sore throat. Right before Cowboy’s eighteenth birthday, I told her, “Dr. Marlo, you know Cowboy will be 18 soon.” I took a deep breath, praying she wouldn’t make us break up with her. “Do we have to find a different doctor for him now?”
Seeing my look of desperation, she replied, “Oh no. I have other patients who have stayed longer.”
“Thirty? Forty? Did you happen to study geriatrics also?”
She laughed as she pried my hands off her arms and wiped my tears of joy.
Dr. Marlo has taught me a lot through the years. After Cowboy was diagnosed with autism at two years old, I asked her how much she knew about it.
“Not a lot, but I’m willing to learn.” That was enough for me. A doctor who doesn’t think she knows everything is a treasure. I hope I’ve taught her a little about autism. Frequently, she indulges me by listening to my most recent approach to improving Cowboy’s health. “It’s interesting,” she sincerely responds when I update her.
“You’re a great mom; you always know,” she used to say during the Strep Years. I knew when Cowboy’s behavior changed, even without his running a fever, that he had strep throat. Dr. Marlo reinforced my faith in my gut feelings when it sometimes wavered.
Like ninety-nine percent of the doctors who’ve helped us in this journey, her ego never gets in the way. In times when I was weary and worried, sometimes tearful, she was patient and kind. Never rushing me out the door. Always treating Cowboy with respect and delighting in him.
Although, on our visit last week, she did tell Cowboy, “You have to quit doing that; you scare me every time.” Lately, when he opens his mouth to say “Ah,” he makes a quite loud and abrupt “Ah” that takes her off guard and makes her jump.
When she walked in the exam room that day, I gave her my deer-in-the-headlight look.
“You guys okay?”
“We’ve just been through the plague this week. A stomach bug.”
“All of you?”
“Yes. I’m so tired. I had a whole conversation with your office staff about whether I should go to urgent care or a clinic closer to home so I wouldn’t have to drive across town. I think Cowboy’s well, but he had to see you. I told him we could do other things for fun, but he insisted.”
She checked him out; strep was negative. “It could be his reflux was irritated by his recent stomach virus.”
“That’s what I wondered.” I felt myself relax, knowing there was no secondary illness forming. Peace of mind is worth driving 30 miles one-way.
“Everything looks good. Anything else going on?”
“Well, I was up until 3 a.m. watching Fraiser. Since I slept until noon yesterday from having a fever, I couldn’t go to sleep last night.”
“My binge wasn’t Fraiser; it was Sex in the City until the wee hours,” she replied.
If only we’d known; we could’ve talked or texted during the night.
“Is there anything else?”
“Yes. Can you call a cab for me? I don’t want to have to drive all the way home.”
“Uber. You could get an Uber,” she said, laughing.
“I’m not doing that; my car is here. Maybe we could get a room here for the night.”
“Keep your mom awake on the ride home, Cowboy.”
As usual, I felt lighter as we left her office. I suddenly realized Dr. Marlo brings to my life more than her medical expertise. More than her prescription pad and test requisitions. Since the day Cowboy was born, she’s brought compassion, encouragement, and comfort to a mom who never imagined how much she would need them in parenting Cowboy. One day, he may decide to switch to a general practitioner rather than hold the world record for Oldest Male Pediatric Patient. If that day comes, I’ll be calling Dr. Marlo’s office to make an appointment for myself.