Every time my son crosses his arms over his abdomen after eating at a restaurant and tells me that his stomach hurts, panic races through my veins. Instead of assuming indigestion, my mind skips ahead to something worse. In that second, I feel the weight of a thousand guilty stones press down on my shoulders and I’m convinced I’ve cursed him with my horrible disease.
“What does it feel like?” I ask. “Is your stomach cramping or are you nauseous?” I know that Crohn’s disease can occur in families–my father has it and so do I.
My son rolls his big blue eyes into the back of his head dramatically. “Ugh, it hurts so bad,” he moans. He places his apparently too-heavy 11 year-old head on the edge of the table and groans until my hand twitches over the 911 digits on my cell phone.
“What does it feel like?” I ask. When he groans something unintelligible in response, I know I’m not getting anywhere with him so I try something else. “Does the pain come in waves? Do you feel better in between those waves?” I imagine a bowel obstruction and my bloated stomach twinges in sympathy. The thought of my son being tortured by a NG tube is almost too much to bear.
He shakes his head “no” and his head falls back on his neck like he’s about to pass out. I can’t see his eyes anymore because they’re covered by the mass of his shaggy blond hair.
“Do you need to go to the bathroom? Do you have to poop?” This question gets his attention and his eyes clear. “Mmmooooooooommm!” he scream-whispers while looking furtively around the restaurant in case a friend is nearby.
“Do you feel like you have to throw up?” He sits up straight and shakes his head. He realizes he’s overplayed his hand and that I might make him go to the bathroom to wait around in case he’s going to be sick.
His sudden return to health makes me narrow my eyes and I take a look at the remains of the food before him. “What did you eat?” I ask. He tells me that he had onion rings, an entire basket of bread, two Cokes that the waitress apparently delivered when I wasn’t looking, and a pile of french fries with his main course. It’s then that I realize that if my kid had Crohn’s disease he would either be locked in a bathroom stall or rolling around on the floor sweating and screaming.
I hand him a Tums and catch him trying to finish his onion rings. I try to relax but my shoulders are still hunched. Some days, it’s impossible to ignore the weight of those stones.