The parking in heaven must be hell. All those dead people who ever lived looking for a spot to hear Mozart and Gershwin in concert, with Keith Moon on drums. Imagine the honking, although this being heaven, the honking is surely mellifluous.
This is how the mind wanders when stuck on a side street in Montreal, trying, along with the other unbudging cars, to find a spot reasonably close to the hospital. Walking distance was looking increasingly unlikely. After I made a U-turn, drove several blocks and jammed my car into a snow bank beneath a sign that read “Stationnement 15 minutes,” I settled for sprinting distance.
Here’s why we were at the hospital:
Abby’s metabolic condition, tyrosinemia, is controlled through medication and strict diet (specialty foods, no meat, dairy, soy or legumes, minimal protein all around). She also consumes supplemental drinks that are universally blechy, whether the barfy so-called “milk” or the gaggy coolers. Gross or not, these drinks have all the nutrition she needs minus the amino acid tyrosine, which her body can’t metabolize. Even with medication, too much tyrosine can cause serious complications.
Recently, our dietician recommended that we move Abby up from Tyr Cooler 15s to Tyr Cooler 20s. I ordered a dozen to try. When they arrived, I noticed that the 20 cooler packs were identical to the 15s, except blue instead of red. We went through these pretty quickly so I ordered more. The new delivery of 20s arrived. These were red. Wait a sec…
We looked more closely at the label of the blue pack, and where the tiny letters “TYR” should have been there was a tiny “PKU.”
The distributer, we realized too late, had mistakenly sent us coolers for a completely different metabolic disorder, phenylketonuria. Abby had been drinking the wrong product for over a week.
I emailed our dietician that evening. She phoned back first thing the next morning. PKU Coolers, she told me, are enriched in tyrosine.
“Each cooler was like Abigail having a serving of meat,” she said.
You have to understand that tyrosinemia is not an allergy. Her stomach wasn’t going to pull an Alien. Nothing was going to swell up or squeeze shut or fall off. We know this. For 12-plus years, we’ve lived by the mantra “Don’t Panic.” That and “Abby, Drink Your Milk.”
But we take it seriously. We have to. Consequently, when we say we’ll do the blood work locally tomorrow, and they say, no, here in Montreal, today, we do it. We tell our bosses, “Sorry. Gotta go!” drive two hours to Hôpital Ste-Justine, get snagged in traffic and then return through much of the same. We break it to Abby that she can eat only specialty foods today, no rice, no fruits or vegetables, no fruit juices, not even gummy worms. But drink your atrocious Tyr Cooler 20. This is our life. This is Abby’s life.
After we finished at the hospital and found the car, we stopped at a Maxi to pick up a few groceries. The lines at the cash were long, so I chose a self-checkout, those robotic barcode readers that, with soothing voices and instructive screens, guide you through your purchase without the hassle of human interaction.
“Please wait. Please see a clerk. Remove the last item from your bag and re-scan. Place the item in the bag. Please wait. Remove the last item from your bag and re-scan. Are you sure you need those muffins? Please see a clerk. Don’t you know she can’t eat gummy worms? Remove the last item from your bag and re-scan. You’re just teasing her, you know.”
A girl who looked like she worked there but was out of uniform so couldn’t officially do much more than point and laugh, eventually made it clear that Deb was leaning on the scale. Scale? We were paying by the pound?
Finally, I swiped my debit card. The machine howled at me to use the chip, dammit! I requested $100 extra and, in my fluster, nearly walked away without it.
I felt like an 80-year-old, and the self-checkout was my VCR clock.
We arrived home after 6, I cooked smelts and made a pasta salad while Deb made green salad and returned an urgent phone call. Abby had specialty mac and cheese, worked on her art project, and we learned How He Met Their Mother. Deb’s parents called and then Em called and there were dishes to do, James arrived home hungry, and he owed money at the gas station, I recorded something for radio, Katie found fresh sofa candy (between cushions + wrapped = edible). Abby had another Tyr Cooler 20 and arranged to go to the water park the next day with a friend. I wrote, ate too many jujubes, and then it was 1 a.m.
Machines, parking, traffic, days, evenings, bodies, metabolisms… They don’t always work the way we want them to, but we get through. Please wait. Please see a clerk. Don’t panic.