The table was set and we were all anticipating our first salmon dinner of the summer. Since my favorite thing to make for dinner is reservations, I was sure to voice my appreciation to my husband Bill whom I consider to be my personal short order cook. There was fresh wild salmon from the farmer’s market, steamed broccoli, and carrots, and a vase of fragrant stargazer lilies. Yum.
My older son Paul who had been enjoying salmon for the past five years had just realized that salmon had bones in it and was desperate to see them. I was just thankful that it was one of the few foods to still meet his approval, especially since it was the beginning of the summer and we were about to have it twice a week while the salmon season lasted. I served him a huge chunk while I went on to fix a plate for my almost three-year-old son Eric. My teenage stepdaughter Alexandra helped herself to half the rice in the rice cooker and a giant container of seasoned seaweed along with a healthy portion of the yummy pink fish. She eats more than the rest of us combined but is blessed with a high-speed metabolism; I believe she burns calories through brain activity since I have never seen her exercise in the ten years I have known her and she has consistently gained height but not weight. She lives with her mom and step-dad across town but makes regular pilgrimages to our house at mealtimes. I can’t say I blame her, given that their meals are more often takeout than home cooked and rarely served before eight pm.
Suddenly, Paul started to cough. I remember being more concerned with him catching a cold and how that would really mess up my schedule. Both boys were scheduled to go to camp the next day, which would be my first break from both of them in far too long.
“Mommy!” He rasped, “There’s something in my throat.”
“You’re fine. Finish your dinner.”
“I think I’m choking.”
To call Paul dramatic would be a gross understatement. He is the proverbial prince and the pea for whom scratchy tags on clothes and seams on socks create daily scenes. Food has been an issue since he was weaned and every meal is a potential battle. Besides the “yucky” smells of the unfamiliar there are problematic aesthetics such as uneven edges on frozen waffles or the presence of grill marks on his steak.
Convinced that he was faking an oncoming illness in order to stay home with me or at the very least making a plea for my attention, I continued ignoring him while attempting to enjoy my meal.
“I think I have something in my throat.”
“You’re fine” I insisted.
Eager to call his bluff Bill offered to check. He put on his jeweler’s optimizers to have a look.
There, arched across the back of this throat like the Golden Gate Bridge, was an enormous salmon bone. Tears welled in his giant hazel eyes dotting his obscenely thick black lashes.
So much for my Mother of the Year award.
My husband is a goldsmith by trade and a frustrated surgeon at heart. He sprinted off to get a pair of pliers thrilled at the prospect of performing minor surgery in our kitchen. Paul was less than enthusiastic. I was more than a little nauseated.
Meanwhile, Al and I tried to get Paul to eat something to help force the bone down but everything just went over and under it. By then Bill was back with his pliers. It seemed so simple. The bone was right there and looked like it would be so easy to just pluck out. Unfortunately Paul has the gag reflex of a veteran bulimic and let me just say that salmon is not nearly as pretty a color coming back out.
I called the pediatrician who recommended just taking him to the hospital. Since I am more squeamish than Paul and not known for remaining calm in any sort of stressful situation I was relieved to stay behind with Eric who had never stopped eating his dinner. Actually he has not stopped eating since he started on solids at the age of six months. Unlike Paul he has always eaten whatever food was put in front of him, starting with the greenest food on the plate. He has been known to reach across the table to help himself to seconds and favors leftover steak or chicken for breakfast.
It was a slow Sunday evening in the emergency room so they were taken care of immediately. The receptionist was still on the phone with our pediatrician who had called the hospital to give them a heads up, when the doctor swiftly removed the bone with the exact same model pliers my husband had attempted to use. Well, maybe a cleaner pair.
When the $800 bill from Marin General helped us to meet our yearly deductible I joked that somebody had better need an operation in order to make this all worthwhile. Ha Ha! While that remark seemed funny at the time, it came back to haunt me when Bill broke his arm a month later. Two years and lots of drama later not much has changed. It is salmon season once more and it remains a popular dinner choice. Both boys have learned to carefully check for bones and I am careful not to joke about hospitals!