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One of the uncomfortable things about owning animals is looking after their health. If they are limping, or off their food, or bumping into things, or any one of a hundred and one behaviors that tell you all is not well you have, in the Country at least, two basic options. If the animal in question is a farm animal, like a chicken or a sheep, you can call on a friendly farmer for advice. They will generally show up in a day or so, carrying a bucket of alarming implements, and put all right if they can. Of course, you have to endure the bemused attitude that says you are slightly deranged for worrying about one overweight sheep who by tights ought to have been off to market weeks ago when the farmer has a flock of 300 to look after, but that can be endured.


The other option is of course a trip to the Vet. The Vet will be slightly more understanding because they are more accustomed to people making pets of animals. That is not to say that the Vet will not also think you are slightly deranged; I find that most Vets harbor some such attitude toward pet owners, their sympathies being mostly for their patients.


In both cases, however, one thing is constant. No one bothers to ask an animal how it is feeling. You observe, you judge, you do tests, while the animal in question looks at you with that patient fatalism that accepts whatever you do because you have always, in the past, taken care of them.


It's different in the case of a son or daughter with severe Autism. My son was diagnosed when he was two and a half. He is now twenty five, and in the years since the diagnosis there is one recurrent nightmare that never quite goes away: what to do if he gets sick? Thankfully ( and believe me my wife and I are sincerely thankful) except for the viral infection that preceded the onset of his Autism he has always been extremely, robustly healthy. A trip to the Doctor was something to laugh about. If the doctor was Male, it went something like this:


Doc: Well, how are we feeling today.


Son: (not really knowing or caring how this man feels but willing to say anything that will get him out of there) Good.


D: Any problems with our tummy? Are we sleeping OK?


S: (as above) Yes


This could go on ad infinitum so at this point either my wife or I would break in with a succinct report on his general health. As he became older, the questions became more direct but the responses were still totally at random. The exception was when the Doctor in question was female and physically attractive.


A short digression here. My son's sexuality is, to put it bluntly, his business. However, even walled off from any normal human interaction as he is due to his Autism, his desire for romantic love is unimpaired. Trust me. No male teenager watches Disney's animation Beauty and the Beast over and over day after day for months because he likes the music.


The GP my wife goes to see is in her late thirties, attractive in an understated sort of way, and, unusually within the overworked and understaffed confines of the NHS, possessed of a warm and patient bedside manner. My son's first visit to her for a routine physical check up went something like this:


D: ...and how is your appetite? Are you eating well?


S: (grinning) I like to eat.


Me: He eats like a horse. (this gets me an annoyed look from my son who evidently feels he is developing a rapport here and would I please shut up? I decide to do so. )


D: And how is your poo? Does it hurt you to poo?


S: (still grinning) Yes!


D: ( Her interest sharpening) And when you poo, do you see blood?


S: ( obviously feeling he is on a roll) Yes, I do!


D: What color is the blood?


S: ( triumphantly) Purple!


We left the surgery with two large boxes of sachets containing something described as 'stool softener', and a tale to add to the family fund of funny stories.


In the weeks that followed, however, the humor gradually dwindled. It became evident that something was indeed not right. The Befrienders, the cadre of helpers who take turns hiking, cleaning and accompanying  my son to various places, reported that he seemed to be having trouble swallowing. He was spitting out his food and throwing a lot of it into the compost. Soon we all noticed that he was losing weight, and a little detective work revealed that he was not having bowel movements with anything like regularity.


I went onto Google, which was a mistake, as all I discovered was the plethora of horrible things his symptoms pointed to. We scheduled another appointment with the same doctor, who weighed him and found he had lost a stone and a half, about twenty pounds. She could find nothing wrong with my son's throat, and wrote a report requesting an appointment with an ear, nose and throat specialist. That was three weeks ago and we are still waiting.


Do you know the story about the conversation between the British doctor and the Spanish doctor? The Spanish doctor says, 'Ah, these patients! Always in such a rush! Do this! Do that! But I always say to them, mañana , my friend. Do you have such an expression in your country that you use?' The English doctor thinks for a bit and says, 'Well, nothing with that degree of urgency.'


My son is eating better now, and we are trying various natural laxatives. He has become very annoyed at questions about how he feels, and all of the symptoms could be a result of his rebellion against being told what to eat, when to sleep, or simply general frustration at having so little control over his life. You just can't tell. All we can do is wait for an appointment with a specialist, watch him closely and hope for the best. 


Which is why I am awake at 2:30 in the  morning, writing this.

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