Recently, I have discovered three words that leave me feeling a soupy mix of concern and suspicion:
"My stomach hurts."
Again? Does he have a fever? Any other symptoms? Does he just want to get out of going to school? Did he eat something bad? Is it anxiety? Can Honey Bunches of Oats cause food poisoning? When did I buy the milk? Do I need to get the vomit bowl? If I tell him to walk it off and then he projectile vomits, how severely will I punish myself?
Over the past few months, I have heard "my stomach hurts" from my 10-year-old more than I would care to. In the process, I have become an amateur medical scientist specializing in my son's stomach. I have studied its habits, Googled natural remedies and cleared the drugstore aisles of ginger ale, Lactaid and Sea-Bands. And I ask these questions a lot:
What kind of pain?
Is it nausea?
Do you feel like you are going to throw up?
How strong from 1 to 10?
Where does it hurt the most?
Does it hurt when I push here?
Do you know the difference between anxiety and nausea?
Twice I have kept him home from school when he looked ill in the morning, only to see him up and running around by the afternoon.
And then, nothing. Until a day or so later: "Mom, my stomach hurts."
It started three months ago with the post-cereal stomachache. Investigtions, allergy skin testing and diet modifications led to diagnosis of lactose intolerance.
But the stomachaches didn’t stop, as I hoped they would. He complained every time we drove anywhere, then the pains disappeared after he got out of the car. So, after ten years of being a content passenger able to read and watch TV and play video games in the car, it appears he has developed motion sickness. I thought the Sea-Bands and Dramamine would solve that one.
But, then after a few complaint-free days: "Mom, my stomach hurts."
Sometimes it goes away quickly. Other times he is curled up in the fetal position, clutching a heating pad. His episodes come and go with no apparent connection – no one food consistently making him ill. The pediatrician ordered celiac blood work, even though he didn't think that was the cause (and as someone who has written umpteen heath tips about celiac, I agree).
"I think it's just an idiopathic stomach issue," he said.
In other words, the kid has a Jewish stomach. Which I am certain he inherited from me and his Pop-Pop.
The pediatrician suggested I keep a stomach diary and gave me a few printouts to use. It is a document that offers no insight, solutions or satisfaction. Sadly, I can't shrink myself a la Dennis Quaid in Innerspace and get inside his body to uncover the culprits. I can't project myself into his mind like Professor X and feel what he feels.
Childhood ailments are often enigmatic. Just this morning he could barely walk due to what I assume (and hope) are growing pains. He has a sensitive stomach. Like me, he will have to learn which foods are triggers, which are safe. And I will have to live with the mystery.