A Real Birthday Bash


December 20, 1992|By DAVE BARRY

If you're planning a party for your 12-year-old child, my main piece of advice is: Allow plenty of time for the CAT scan.

I learned this important parenting lesson recently when my son, Rob, decided he wanted to celebrate his 12th birthday by holding a dance party. So we rented a hall used for exercise classes and hired a disc jockey. ("I won't play anything with dirty words," the disc jockey assured us. "Unless of course you want me to.")

Our plan was to decorate the hall with crepe streamers and helium-filled balloons, so several hours before the party, we went to a store that rented helium tanks. The man asked us whether we needed a small, medium or large tank.

"Large," said Rob instantly.

Bonus tip for parents:

Never allow your child to make a decision regarding helium-tank size.

We ended up staggering out to the car with a helium tank the size of a Polaris missile, but heavier. We lugged it into the dance hall, where Beth and I began putting up streamers while Rob and a friend set about the task of not filling balloons with helium.

The reason they were not doing this, of course, is that they were too busy doing what young people always do when they get hold of helium; namely, inhaling it and then talking in Donald Duck voices. What fun! It was such fun that Rob did it a number of times in a row. The problem was that helium does not contain any oxygen, which is one of the minimum daily nutritional requirements recommended by the American Medical Association for growing children.

One minute Beth and I were putting up streamers while our child was talking like Donald Duck; the next minute he had keeled over, taking care to whonk his head against the concrete wall on the way down, and was on the floor, forehead bleeding, body twitching spasmodically in what we later found out is called an anoxic seizure. Yes, sir! This was shaping up as the most exciting birthday party ever.

Rob quickly regained consciousness and appeared to be thinking clearly ("I'm gonna miss my party!"). Beth and I agreed that, since it was too late to tell the party guests not to come, she'd stay at the dance hall. I took Rob to the hospital emergency room, where a nice medical person assured me that children are always injuring themselves immediately before carefully planned family events.

Another nice medical person informed me that Rob needed a CAT scan and a plastic surgeon to sew up his forehead gash, and that these things, plus the paperwork, could easily take four or five hours. So I explained that this was a medical emergency, meaning that in one hour, Beth would be a lone 45-year-old woman in a darkened hall containing 10 large pizzas, a disc jockey born in 1971 and 40 hormonally crazed 12-year-olds.

Realizing the extreme medical seriousness of this situation, the emergency room crew swung into action, and within minutes Rob was strapped into the CAT-scan machine, a device that looks like it was designed to beam people to the planet Foombar. A medical person named (really) Dr. Gallow used this machine to look inside Rob's skull. He let me see the pictures.

"Hey, Rob!" I said. "It turns out you have a brain!"

"Shut up, Dad," he said, from inside the CAT-scan machine.

I don't know where he gets this flippant attitude.

Anyway, the CAT scan was negative, meaning, in layperson's terms, positive, so it was time for the plastic surgeon to sew up Rob's forehead. This turned out to be a simple procedure, although the next time Rob needs it, I intend to request total anesthesia for myself.

We raced back to the dance hall and got there just as the party started. Rob's friends all gathered around to hear what happened and admire his injury. The DJ turned his amplifier volume knob to "kill zone" and started playing the kind of music that young people like today, meaning, in layperson's terms, ugly.

Beth and I sat in the next room, watching the kids, marveling at their energy, pondering the fact that Rob was a year older.

Whereas we had picked up at least five years apiece.

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