We have a tradition in our home, before the evening meal, if someone is feeling particular thankful for someone or something, he or she may initiate what my son has dubbed "gratefulness." Maybe it is for seeing faraway friends, making it through a difficult day, or being together as a family. Lately, my gratefulness has included an unlikely duo.
I remember the day Stampylongnose or Stampy Cat or just plain Stampy came into our lives. His laughter was some of the first I had heard in our home in what felt like forever. Even more miraculous, his joy was so infectious that soon my sweet sick boy was laughing along too, not simply a chuckle but a squealing belly laugh, emanating from the same place that was the source of so much pain.
For more than a year, my son struggled with chronic stomach pain that radiated out from around his belly button and that no MRI, CT scan, sonogram, x-ray, colonoscopy, endoscopy, fluoroscope, or CBC could diagnose.
One afternoon, during our endless visits to specialists, I helped him change into his examination gown. It had been weeks since our last doctor's visit and what I saw was devastating. Every rib, the outline of his spinal column, and the sharpness of his shoulder blades were clearly defined. His once robust frame had become frail and skeletal.
My son was eventually diagnosed with Functional Abdominal Pain, which has no cure and varying courses of treatment that can include medication, behavior therapy, changes to diet, reduction of stress, and exercise. He learned to identify triggers that coincide with the onset of symptoms, that the pain, caused by an "altered sensitivity to nerve impulses in the gut and brain" was not simply in his head, and that he was not alone.
Eric Chiou and Samuel Nurko reported in their study that 13 to 38 percent of children and adolescents experience abdominal pain weekly with up to 24 percent of children reporting symptoms persisting longer than 8 weeks.
As weeks stretched into months, his pain, which always hovered around an 8 on scale of 1 to 10, began to take its toll on my child's body and spirit. My bright, thoughtful, silly boy had become quiet, frustrated, and disinterested in almost everything, almost.
Minecraft, a computer game of 3-D Lego-like bricks was the one thing that continued to hold his attention. Losing himself in a world of pixels, creating landscapes and machines, exploring, or conquering zombies allowed him to disassociate, however briefly, with the body that was betraying him.
To become more proficient in the building and navigating of worlds, he conducted research. We supervised his YouTube searches for Minecraft walkthroughs and instructional videos that distracted him from the pain, while at the same time inspired and elevated his level of play. Through his searches, my son stumbled upon something and someone remarkable.
Stampy and his band of merry friends in the UK, including family favorite iBallistic Squid, aka Squidoodily, adventure to the moon, eat loads of cake, scream, and laugh a lot, while riding roller coasters, fleeing "googlies" or "skellingtons," and having a riotous time in Stampy's Lovely World of Minecraft.
Stampy, Joseph Garrett (23), and Squid, David Spencer (22), frequent virtual guests in our home, are simultaneously rowdy and well behaved. These young men, with their videos and good humor, made my son excited for the next day and the next adventure or virtual battle.
Eventually, we began to untangle a host of medical issues, pulling at each thread carefully, all the while logging on and tuning in for more Stampy, more Squid, more laughter.
Much has changed over the last two years. My son's health continues to improve and the painful episodes have grown farther apart, though their ferocity remains. He is no longer the emaciated little boy who carried the weight of so much suffering. He is tall, strong, and funny, though his humor now has a distinctive edge to it, but how could it not after everything he endured?
As for Stampy and Squid, however, they continue to be regular fixtures in our lives. They did what doctors alone could not. They gave a boy who needed a temporary escape into a lovely world an adventure worth waking up for and place to heal. For that, I am truly grateful.