One day, back when I was teaching, I overheard a lunchtime conversation between colleagues. A fellow teacher had just met a students’ parents for the first time that morning. She was remarking that the meeting had been enlightening because the behavior of the parents went a long way in explaining many of the behaviors that she had observed/endured from the student. The slightly flamboyant reading teacher who sat with her at the table leaned toward our her and drawled, “Well honey, they don’t lick it off the grass.”
There have been times since when I’ve seen parents and children together and have been reminded of his words. I remember chuckling and then going about my day. After work, I drove home to my child-free house. Back then, I was still young and had assured others that I was never going to have children.
Fast forward to today: no longer teaching, no longer living in the same place, no longer married to the same man, no longer childless. Suddenly, I am the parent being contemplated by teachers and other professionals. When they see my son do they think, “Well, he didn’t lick it off the grass”?
For some reason, I thought of these words today. I supposed it was because we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of a nurse from the county health department. The home visit was prompted by the results of Philip’s recent blood test.
My son has lead poisoning.
Saying this makes me want to cry, to bury my head in shame. How did we let this happen?
Since I was pretty much a useless wreck yesterday at work, and came in late today due to the appointment, I shared the diagnosis with the others in my department. Everyone is asking the same question: where did the lead come from?
I wish I knew. How can one reduce exposure without knowing the source?
There are a few suspects in our situation:
- The water pipes: Lead is often used to solder the joints. The nurse recommended running the water for a few minutes before using it for drinking or cooking. She also suggested using cold water as minerals (including lead) can settle in a hot water tank.
- Peeling paint: We rent our current house, and it had been freshly painted before we moved in. However, there has been some chipping and peeling. Philip is drawn to this imperfections in the surface like a moth to flame. Did he eat some of the paint? It is possible.
- Our mini-blinds: Philip has broken and nibbled on bits of the blinds. The blinds are all new, installed after we moved in, but that may not get us off the hook.
- Dirt: When the nurse asked if there was any exposed dirt near our house, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. There has always been a grass-less spot in our backyard. This is where we put Philip’s sandbox. The area has increased because Roscoe will get into a digging fit. The dog digs up the earth and then Philip plays in it. I thought it was a beautiful partnership. I let Philip play outside all summer long.
- Random items: If you haven’t read this post about the diverse items that Philip has put in his mouth, you might not understand why I can’t narrow down the possible sources: toys, books, and a myriad of other items. The good news is that yesterday’s x-rays did not show any foreign objects remaining in Philip’s abdomen.
- The air we breathe: If there is lead in any of the items mentioned above, the is also the possible presence of lead dust in the air. The nurse educated us on the need to wipe off and remove shoes before entering the house. When cleaning, she instructed us to always wipe down surfaces with a wet cloth instead of a dry one to avoid sending more particles into the air. We ended up with three different pamphlets on proper cleaning protocols.
How did Philip get lead poisoning? We still don’t know. It’s quite possible that Philip literally licked it off the grass. The next step in the process will be an inspection of the home by the state. Instead of Philip getting x-rayed, our house will be scoped out. In the meantime, we are adding supplements to his diet that should help to remove the current lead from his system.
And no more licking the grass.
December 14, 2013 update: I’ve recently had some visitors to this post, brought to the blog by searching for the phrase I used for the title. Welcome!
Since there has been renewed interest in the post (no matter how unintentional), I thought I would link up with the Yeah Write Weekend Moonshine Grid. That way, I can share the good news that Philip’s most recent blood test, while still showing elevated lead levels, came back ten points lower than a year ago. Now that we are in our new, lead-free home, I can only hope he will improve faster.