Friday, October 8, 2010

Drunk and Stoned

In the year that Gaston was three years old, I've seen him stoned on one occasion and drunk on another.  Here's why.


When Gaston was two years old, he was sick all the time.  At that age, kids start picking up all kinds of viruses and bugs—particularly when they start going to crèche or kindergarten.  For reasons unknown to us, Gaston could never beat these common colds:  every sniffle would turn into a full-blown ear infection or conjunctivitis or both.  For months, he seemed to be on a two week cycle:  one week on antibiotics followed by one week off antibiotics, picking up a new virus.  This started long before we knew anything about autism and none of the doctors who saw Gaston suspected anything of the sort.  We thought his language delay was due to mechanical problems with his ear, nose and throat.

One of the General Practitioner (GP) doctors who saw Gaston suggested we take him to an optometrist specialising in children, which we did.  The optometrist thought it was crazy to be involved in an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) problem, but he didn't object to getting his fee so he played along.  Eventually, we found a GP with the good sense to direct us to an ENT specialist, who figured out that Gaston was getting fluid build-up inside his head.  The solution was to put something called grommets into his eardrums to aerate his middle ear.  The specialist likened the effect of the grommets to punching a second hole into a can of evaporated milk so the milk could flow more freely out of the main hole.  The insertion procedure would require surgery.  Since we didn't have private health insurance at the time, we were put on the hospital's waiting list for Gaston to get surgery months later, at around the time of his third birthday.

Throughout these months of visiting various doctors, we learned of Gaston's phobia of doctors.  A mere routine examination (shine a light in his ear and put a stethoscope to his chest and back) involved screams, tears and tantrums.  I have learned a few tricks for forcing a child through a medical exam.  The best was given to me by a German ENT specialist, using a move he called "the Russian nurse maid":  I would put Gaston on one knee, lock his legs down with my free leg, lock his torso and arms close to mine with one arm and hold his head with my free arm.  The doctor could then freely look into his ears while Gaston wailed like a banshee.

On the day of the surgery, I went with him to the hospital to stay with him through his every waking moment.  Anne stayed at home with Rémi, who was just a little baby.  The general anaesthetic would occur in two stages:  first, a nurse would inject him with something that would make him very drowsy.  A half-hour later, after the injection had a chance to work its full effect, they would put a gas mask over his face to knock him out completely.  I could be with him right up to the knockout to calm and reassure him.

The effect of the injection can be best described as making him stoned.  He tried to get up and walk, but he was so dizzy that he would fall over.  Part of my job was to prevent him from moving around.  I managed to distract him with his white teddy bear.  I held it up to his face, an arm's length away, and made it approach his face in steps while chanting "teddy, teddy, TEDDY!  TEDDDDYYYY!!!"  The first reaction was one of utter hilarity.  He couldn't stop laughing!  He was falling over in his bed!  Everyone else in the sick bay was turning to look at the little blond boy laughing his head off.  Gaston is the funniest stoned person I'd ever seen!  The teddy-chanting game is one we would continue to play for years to come.

Moments later, a woman with a guitar came to sing for all the children in the sick bay.  She sang "Bananas in pyjamas" and handed out hand-drawn, laminated paper cut-outs of the Bananas in Pyjamas characters for the kids to wave in the air while she sang.  Gaston was so smitten by his that the woman let him keep it:  we still have it hanging in his bedroom to this day.  Gaston's eyes were completely glazed over, at this point, and he was staring at his Bananas cut-out, utterly fixated.  When the gas mask moment came, it wasn't as dramatic as I thought it would be.  I was allowed to read him his favourite book, Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss, during the final stages of his consciousness before surgery.

The surgery was a success.  They kept him overnight to monitor his heart rate, but this was just a routine precaution.  I was allowed to stay with him.  Over the next year, Gaston was rarely sick.  When he did catch a cold, he was able to beat it on his own for the first time in his life.  We finally got a reprieve from the nasty ear and eye infections.  The grommets would fall out a year later, as predicted.

Sadly, Gaston's strange behaviours and lack of language persisted.   Anne still regularly went to a weekly playgroup with all the mothers from our old neighbourhood, and she often came home upset that the other kids would talk to their mothers, eat their snacks and play with each other while Anne would spend the entire session trying to stop Gaston from locking himself in the bathroom.  It felt as though his behaviours were getting worse, but I think they only seemed worse because the other kids his age were growing up while Gaston was merely growing.  He might have had problems with his middle ear, but we would learn over the coming year that our little boy is autistic, and there is no little silicon tube which could be surgically inserted into his head to help him overcome that.


Gaston was obsessed with brightly coloured liquids.  He had once made himself sick while tasting green Palmolive dish soap.  You'd think he'd learn from the experience.  But when he was about to turn four—almost a year after the grommet surgery and shortly after his autism diagnosis—he helped himself to a few gulps of minty green Listerine.  He didn't like it, but he didn't vomit it either.  Panicked, Anne called the poison hotline.  They told her it wasn't serious:  she was to give him plenty of water and keep an eye on him.  She was on her way to the aforementioned mother's group, and she begged me to leave work early to help her.

Gaston is a funny drunk.  He laughed a lot more easily and didn't have a single big tantrum the entire time I saw him under the influence.  When the other mothers got over their concern for his safety, they had a good laugh, too.  Anne never laughed because she was worried about possible long-term damage to his brain and liver.  I think he'll be okay, though.  As long as we keep him away from the crème de menthe.


  1. You were right. Yours was much more straightforward. But my son didn't stay overnight. We went right home.

    And our situation was so similar. They assumed he wasn't talking because he couldn't hear, or because of all the ear infections. But after the tubes were in, the SECOND time, he had a perfect hearing test, but still wouldn't talk. But at least he never got another ear infection! Knock on wood!

  2. We have an autistIc diagnosis and are getting Grometts this Monday .... Really hoping for language improvement but secretly holding my breath. Thankyou for your story