Coalition of cheetahs. Congregation of alligators. Crash of rhinos.
I work my way down the poster in a muted, monotone cadence, as I stroke my son’s damp head. I’m careful not to snag a tangled curl and wrench him from his fevered nap.
Conspiracy of lemurs.
We’ve been in this exam room so many times I’ve memorized the most bizarre of the animal kingdom’s collective nouns. Today, the poster of animals is a vertical game board by which I try to distract myself from the wholesale grip of panic that has hijacked my nervous system. If I squint just right, the nouns blur but the images remain. I pretend if I get them all correct in one try he will be fine. Already at stage 3 of grief, I am bargaining with a universe that neither knows nor cares that his sunken cheeks match the jaundice hue of the vinyl exam bed or that the paper liner creaks audibly with each labored breath as we wait. And wait.
An aggregation of manatees.
I want him to sit up and play with me, like at the beginning when it was just a stomach ache he couldn’t shake. I say the noun; he says the animal. Come on, kiddo. A Murder of… Crows.
Last week we decided to skip the easy ones everyone knows. Army of ants, a swarm of bees, a pod of whales, a bed of clams. Last week he walked in here on his own. Last week he laughed at “murder of crows”. Last week he feigned interest as I explained all the reasons for why two or more crows might be called a murder. Today, I carried his 70 pound frame all the way from the car. Today, I demanded we see his doctor without an appointment. Today, I learned that whispering “fuck you” to the pediatrician’s desk clerk doesn’t get us into the room with the weird animal poster any faster.
A bloat of hippos. A pandemonium of parrots.
It’s month two of this nightmare. None of these medical wizards with their degrees and white coats and whimsical cartoon hero scrubs can tell me why my healthy 7 year-old son has suddenly wasted away and is constant pain. There is no answer for why he can’t keep food or water down, why his veins resist the IV needles, why his legs are covered in red spots. Nobody explains why the hospital keeps sending us home simply because my child kept his popsicle down for two hours. He’s on the mend now, they say. I remind them the popsicle won’t stay down once the deluge of morphine wears off. All tests are negative, they say, shrugging. But we will be back here tonight or tomorrow, I say. Help me, I yell. The nurse disconnects the telemetry unit, hands me free Pedialyte before singing farewell like Mary Poppins. Animals, all of them.
A clump of nurses.
A plymouth of pediatricians.
A plethora of nephrologists.
A carousel of phlebotomists.
An honorarium of radiologists.
A syndicate of interns.
A humdrum of mothers who can’t get anyone to help their baby.