What goes in at one end doesn’t always come out at the other

2007-12-08 00:00

I don’t suppose it’s widely known, but in real life I am something of a potter. I have a wheel, I have slip, I have clay, I even have a kiln. And with these things, I make sometimes as many as two, maybe three, small, deformed pots every other week or so. That’s the thing about pottery of course — one’s got to go at the speed Mother Nature dictates or suffer bad vibes or worse kharma.

When my son was three, his role in my ceramics project was highly significant. It was his job to distract me at crucial points while throwing, so that the imperfection of my small, deformed pots was maintained, and vanity kept permanently at bay. One day, we were at the wheel, when suddenly the boy complained of a sore tummy. I called his mother, who wasn’t really very busy, to deal with the issue, and continued the humbling experience of bad throwing.

That night, we were woken five times by a small boy with a very sore tummy, but puzzlingly, no, how shall I put it, production to speak of. The next morning, pale with pain and sleeplessness — all three of us — the boy continued to hold his stomach and groan. There being no fever, we sent him off to play school and got on with our various career pursuits. Mine was interrupted an hour later with a call from the school.

“Come and get your boy. He’s complaining of a very sore tummy.”

And indeed he was. I took him to the doctor who examined him carefully, noted the absence of fever and prescribed muti for cramping and pain. Fighting the desire to drink it all myself, I gave the boy the prescribed amount, took him home and let him sleep. Some hours later there was a great deal of production, a release from pain and general joy and celebration in the household.

That night we, the adults, were woken four times by a small boy with a very sore tummy.

We took him to the doctor, who was puzzled and referred him to a specialist. The specialist wanted X-rays and some blood, preferably the patient’s. We got all these things and waited at the paediatric ward of the local private hospital. The boy was very good. Well, on reflection, relatively good. Time has dimmed the memory of the X-ray session, but as I write, it all comes zooming back into consciousness. To take a short leap back into the past, the blood extraction process was surprisingly uneventful, causing stress to no one except me. I looked away as the stuff started pumping down the little tube.

The radiology unit, however, seemed to fill the lad with fear and panic. Maybe it was the lead apron worn by the helpful and pleasant radiographer. So we all put on lead aprons. That was fun. Then the boy wouldn’t lie still while the exposure was made. We stayed with him, so allowing the lead aprons to transform themselves from fancy dress to essential protective wear.

The horizontal shot was dealt with, but then came the vertical one. Here the boy was asked to stand on a little platform. This is moved up and down to get the aim right. The boy yelled. Mommy and Daddy had to get on the platform as well. Still dressed in lead aprons up and down the three of us went, shortening the X-ray machine’s life by about 300 operational hours.

Meanwhile, back at the ward, the examination was painstaking and precise, carefully eliminating every possible life and health-threatening possibility. The blood was sound in every respect, showing no sign of appendicitis. The X-rays, however, were very puzzling indeed. They showed the colon to be quite full of production and large bubbles of gas.

“Has he been eating sand?” asked the doctor.

“Not at all,” we replied after interrogating the patient.

Tired by the experience (boy, are those lead aprons heavy), we packed the lad back into his car seat and drove off to visit friends. The friends are also bad potters and, what’s more, they have a three-year-old child. Over tea we fell to discussing paediatric health crises of various shapes and flavours.

It seems that very recently their three-year-old had suffered from very bad stomach cramps. Nothing had helped, not even foot reflexology or aromatherapy. They were at their wits’ end when the traditional healer who chars for them suggested that maybe the lad had been eating something peculiar.

“Like what?” they asked.

“Like clay,” said the healer, adding, “it sets like cement.”

Faster than lightening we both turned to our boy. I got in first.

“Son, do you like eating pottery clay?” I asked.

“I love it Daddy,” he said. “And I love drinking the pottery slip too …”

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