Henry has a period
Saturday 15 March 1997
Henry's older brother, Lewis, has what my husband calls a gammy leg, which requires a night splint to stretch the muscles in his left calf. So Henry thinks he's got one, too, but because he wasn't there when the splint was cast, he doesn't feel the need to see a doctor. He's happy wearing Lewis's night splint.
The saga of the wet flannel followed a harrowing week when Lewis developed a number of mystery symptoms. We considered everything from flu to meningitis. His (genuine) photophobia meant he spent some time in total darkness, his eyes covered with a wet flannel to soothe the pain.
When Lewis recovered, Henry, of course, developed the symptoms. As he can't grasp the full meaning of on and off, he wanted the lights on, even though he required darkness. And, although it was the imaginary pain in his eyes that caused so much consternation, he was comforted by a flannel discreetly positioned over his nose. Ah well.
Anyone with siblings will recognise this imitative behaviour, and as a general rule I don't take it very seriously. But Henry takes everything seriously. When I've got back pain, he has trouble climbing the stairs. When I've got a period, Henry requires a tampon. So the sight of an ambulance screeching down our drive and whisking Lewis to hospital was just too much for Henry. He had to be involved. In the end, I had to phone the surgery. I had no choice.
"I'd like an appointment for Henry to see Dr Trams," I said cheerily.
"Nothing this week," she said.
"I need to see someone today. Henry thinks he's got meningitis."
"What do you mean, Henry thinks he's got meningitis?" she said, as only a doctor's receptionist can.
"He's been wandering around now for about three days with a flannel on his nose because he can't bear the light," I explained quite rationally. There was silence.
"Look," I said, getting confessional, with my voice under my eyebrows, "you know what he's like. It's been going on for days now and I'm going nuts. It's beginning to drive me mad and I can't think of any other way to stop him other than to bring him in to see the doctor."
"Right. He'll see you as an emergency at 4.20pm."
Remember your mother telling you that when you're sick you go to the doctor and he or she makes you better? Well, Henry's taken this rather naive concept on board and couldn't just wait for his imaginary symptoms to pass. Unlike the rest of us, who can sometimes distinguish between fantasy and reality, in Henry's world everything must be seen to be believed. If it can't be seen, it doesn't exist. so he needs to see a doctor to make it better. It might be something to do with needing a punchline, an end to the story. It's not that different from the rest of us, I suppose. Is it not true that when we get three spots in strange places it has to be an allergic reaction? And when our children get hyper, it must be those damn E-numbers?
Anyway, most mothers would have managed this one with a dab of white cream and a very large Disney sticking plaster. But not me. Not us. Oh no. It grew like Topsy into a blue-black sort of comedy. But I must admit the end was better than the beginning.
When we got to the surgery after Henry had had a perfectly good day at nursery (without the flannel), he announced he was better and could we go home now. It wasn't so much that he'd realised the error of his ways it was that he couldn't understand why we were at the doctor's in the first place. The receptionist looked at me as if to say: "Look, hen, (we live in Scotland, remember) this place is not a bloody asylum for bonkers mothers."
Dr Trams was incredibly understanding and didn't mention wasting doctors' time or being struck off the patient list or anything like that. He just looked at Henry kindly and said: "What's the matter with you, wee fella?"
"Got a period," said Henry.
Dr Trams smudged some Savlon onto his arm and Henry was satisfied. The episode came to a quiet and contented close. Henry kept the flannel on his nose for several days afterwards and the whole family was obliged to find it funny. We had to laugh when he appeared in his pyjamas with the flannel on his nose. Henry thought the whole thing was some kind of great joke. Funny, that.. He also wore his fireman's hat and Lewis's splint. He carried a torch and his doctor's bag around with him in case of emergency.
But, as the new week approaches, Henry's decided that what he needs is to go sledging. There isn't any snow
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