The Devil You Know

10 May 2012

written by Carolyn


Pressures at work. Pressures at home. Kids gone wild.


So I took a break, of sorts. I put certain plans on hiatus, dialed back some of my goals, and chilled.

But life has a funny way of fucking up your best laid plans.

And so it was that I found myself in the ER today. Not because of my own health, but my son’s.

The principal of my son’s school called me at work. My son was complaining of pain “down there” and wanted to speak to me.

I asked him a few questions – enough to understand that he was experiencing testicular pain and didn’t remember being kicked or hit in that area. I asked her to pick him up from school, and then I called his father. His father isn’t always the most helpful person – in fact, he’s usually quite the opposite – but I figured he at least had the advantage of owning the same equipment.

“It’s probably blue balls and needs to masturbate,” he said.

I gave him the side eye through the phone. “Really? Blue balls? At ten?”

“He was probably thinking about some girl in school.”

“I guess…”

“I’ll pick him up and talk to him about some ‘man’ things.”

Oh boy, I thought. But his father had recently reappeared in our lives, and seemed interested in developing a relationship with his son. He wanted to handle this. I was too busy at work to drop everything, and I relished the notion of my ex finally getting involved in parenting. What could go wrong?

Well, of course, everything.

The ‘man’ discussion didn’t go well. My son came back from spending the evening with his father irritated and still walking like a cowboy. Going on my ex’s advice, I told my son to go sit in a warm bath and go to bed. I promised him if the pain wasn’t better in the morning, we’d go to see the doctor.

The next morning, my son begged me to take him to the doctor. “You’re going to have to let them examine you,” I warned, because he is notoriously skittish about allowing doctors anywhere near his privates.

“I don’t care. It hurts.”

That’s when I knew it was serious.

The doctor scolded me for waiting so long to bring him in. I was warned about a condition called testicular torsion, in which the cord to the testes get twisted, cutting off the blood supply. “If that happens, you have four to six hours to get him treated, or he could lose a testicle,” the doctor scolded.

I didn’t tell his pediatrician about his father’s blue balls theory. I took the scolding and observed the examination. I learned there’s a cool reflex on the inner thigh called the cremasteric reflex, which makes the testes jump up in response to a light stroking of the inner thigh. The reflex is often absent in torsion cases. My son’s reflexes were fine, so the doctor ruled out torsion. We were sent home with instructions for him to take it easy.

But neither of us got to take it easy.

My ex was supposed to meet me at the pediatrician’s, but ended up meeting me back at my house instead. My boyfriend was at my house. The sight of another man in my home turned my ex back into the man I am thankful every day to no longer be married to. Out of my presence, he bombarded my son with inappropriate questions and made irrational comments about the man in my house. He texted me a series of vitriolic and abusive messages throughout the day about the “homewrecker” (did I mention I’ve been divorced eight years?) until I blocked his number.

And my son was still in pain.

The following day, I took my son to the ER, where I received another scolding about the seriousness of testicular torsion – this time by the triage nurse, who rolled her eyes and sucked her teeth (and no, she wasn’t black). “You should have had him here two days ago,” she said. Repeatedly. Until I finally replied, “Well, you know what? I didn’t have him here two days ago. I have him here now. We’re here now. So I’m trying to find out what’s going on with him, now.”

The ER doc asked – more gently than the triage nurse – why I didn’t take him to see the doctor right away. I mentioned my ex’s “blue balls” theory. The look on the doctor’s face was beyond priceless.

Six hours at Harlem Hospital – most of them spent waiting – and an ultrasound later, we were given a more complete “all clear.” No torsion. No sign of infection. Testes normal sized and functioning. My son went from barely pulling his pants down, to saying “I don’t care” when a team of technicians, doctors and med students all came in to observe him.

We don’t really know what caused my son’s pain in the first place. But two days of having to make potentially life-altering medical decisions for my son completely on my own, without any reliable help from his other parent, put all the recent pressures and panic into perspective.

Second-guessing goes with the territory of being a single mom. No one helps you make parenting decisions, but everyone feels free to weigh in with criticism, usually in the form of “how could you not know that?” I was caught in a cyclone of second guessing about everything – work, family, writing. I felt paralyzed, until my son’s ordeal forced me to act. I had to make decisions and accept the risks – even the grave consequences – of possibly getting it wrong.

Still, even while I was acting, I felt broken. Beaten. I worried that I had cost him his manhood, his future.

And then I realized there was nothing I could do about it. There was no turning back. I had done all I knew how to do with the information I had at the time. I would be able to take quicker action if it ever happened again. I shared my story on Twitter, for the benefit of other single mothers of boys who also might not know what to do if their boys complained of pain in body parts we women don’t have.

No matter what the circumstances, that’s as much as we are ever able to do. We act with what we have, based on what we know. Sometimes it works terrifically. Sometimes our best effort bombs. We can apply what we learn from past mistakes to future actions, but we can never fully inoculate ourselves against error. We do, we mess up, we learn. We do, we mess up in a different way, we learn something else.

Writing this post is, in a way, me granting myself permission to write something that isn’t perfect, that hasn’t been carefully scrubbed, edited and researched – just to get it out of my head. I write to get it out of my head. Not blogging and writing as often just means my head is getting clogged up with stuff that needs to get out.

So, I’ll do. I’ll mess up. I’ll learn. I’ll grow.

3 Comments on The Devil You Know

  1. Hil

    Good post and so honest. As a single mom of a 13 year old boy I have faced similar situations where I am all over the place but then forced to make a decision about my son on my own and hope for the best, despite what anybody and everybody else has to say about it. single moms take so much, especially if the child’s father isnt around. You have to just go with what you know and try to make the best decision you know how to make even though it can be scary and isolating at times.

    My story is similar to yours as I too had a volatile relationship with my abusive ex husband. Trying to navigate having to keep in contact with him about our son while keeping my necessary distance is beyond challenging and there are days when I want to say “the hell with it all”. But to make things better I just try to reward myself for the little things, the mini accomplishments like “today i resisted setting my ex on fire for not paying his child support this month, so I’ll treat myself to a massage”. or “today I didn’t curse out my ex mother in law for scolding me for letting my son play his xbox for several hours, so I’ll buy myself some godiva chocolate and eat the whole box”. LOL…. So I hope you rewarded yourself too, for dealing with all of that and making it out alive! :)

  2. CaliGirlED

    Great post Carolyn! I got a little teary eyed feeling your frustration of not knowing and having to make decisions. I will definitely take this to heart, “So, I’ll do. I’ll mess up. I’ll learn. I’ll grow.” Needed that, thanks!

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