Friday, September 19, 2008


Somewhere between neopunk, rockabilly, death metal and folk art, spins the pecular planet of my son's fashion sense. Never mind the T shirts for bands with gross graphics and offensive names - that's not exactly atypical for males this age. His choice of pants can be a little eclectic - there's a bright red pair with "bondage straps" and a pair with one black leg and one white leg - again, these are items you can buy at clothing stores in Haight Ashbury. But you won't find a lot of 15 year old boys painting the toes of their combat boots (one teal, one copper). Or deconstructing a perfectly good jacket by covering the sleeves in clashing animal prints. (I can't even bring myself to describe what he's done to his classic navy sport coat. Suffice to say it's not classic anymore). My son also likes to experiment with his hair, draw on his pants, adorn his baseball cap with safety pins, staple studs on everything but his boxers and accessorize the look with a necklace or two. The essence of his signature style, though, is the patch. He is constantly acquiring patches and sewing them all over his clothing. Sometimes, it all comes together with flair, and sometimes it reminds you of grandma's overly adorned Christmas tree. Like that tree, our son occasionally loses a needle or two, but unlike grandma, he doesn't vacuum.

When the boy came back from boarding school this past June, his foot was hurting. He was convinced he had stepped on a bee, and the school nurse had even taken him to a clinic to have his foot looked at. The area around the sting looked infected. I took the kid to a podiatrist, who suggested there might be some glass in the foot and asked if he could "poke around". My son refused. It had to be an insect bite. He distinctively remembered the burning jab of a stinger. Over my better judgement, we decided to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. I paid my hundred bucks and left.

The foot got better, and then worse. Last month, Mike took our son to a new podiatrist. A smart one: She took an X-ray. There, gleaming white and perfectly parallel to the bottom of the heel, was a sewing needle. Mike made an appointment to get the needle out the following week. We got to keep a copy of the X-ray, a cool visual aid which I am sadly too technologically challenged to upload here.

When time came to operate, the podiatrist rolled up her sleeves and went to work, jabbing the poor kid in the foot every ten minutes or so to keep it anesthetized. The needle had been in my son's body for three months and was tightly encapsulated in a protective sheath of scar tissue. Coming in from the back of the heel, the podiatrist got a grip on the needle several times but was unable to dislodge it. After nearly two hours of trying, she gave up. The surgery would have to take place in a medical facility with access to constant visual imaging so she could see what she was doing. This failed surgery cost $900.

When I told my father the doctor all this over the phone, he was very concerned. If the needle were to move too close to the bone, it could cause a dangerous infection. What we needed was an orthopedic surgeon, not a podiatrist, and sooner rather than later. Doctor Dad suggested taking the boy to the emergency room at Stanford. They'd know what to do, and they probably would remove the needle on the spot. Having been raised with a boundless faith in the medical profession, I took this advice.

We made a family outing out of our two-and-a-half-hour round trip to Stanford, enlisting our daughter to come along and provide her brother with sympathy and comic relief.

As you might expect, the famous university's ER is pristine and state-of-the-art. The candy stripers bring you coffee and snacks and there's even a special waiting room for minors with Winnie the Pooh picture books and colorful sorting toys. It's all very fancy, but Stanford keeps you waiting just as long (seven hours) as everybody else and they don't do needle removal surgery. That's a podiatrist's job. Orthopedic surgeons have bigger limbs to butcher. Of course, they took more X-rays, even though we brought ours, which added up to another $1,800 to confirm the fact that junior has a needle in his foot.

So now we've had a post-op check up, ($200), stitch removal, ($200) plus an unscheduled visit due to foot pain and concern over possible infection ($200). Because Mike and I are self-employed and like to choose our own doctors, we have an insurance policy with a very high deductible. Since we haven't met it yet, we look forward to spending more money on the outpatient surgery and ensuing stitch removal. By the time we're done with needle-related procedures, we'll be out five grand. I guess my son is lucky he's not one of the nation's ten million uninsured children, for whom the only option would be to just live with the needle and hope it doesn't migrate and cause a bone infection.

So how's Needlefoot holding up through all of this? With dignity, grace and (sigh) his usual style. The other day he came upstairs to show us his latest creation: a 10' by 10' square patch that he had sewn onto the rear bottom of his jacket. It hung down like a loin cloth, or like one of those mud flaps they put over the wheels of semis. If tails ever make a comeback, he'll be all set. In the meantime, I'm going to sneak down to the kid's room when he's not home and inspect the floor for needles - that is, if I can see the floor.

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