Receiving a phone call from T-Bone's early learning centre is always unsettling. What's he done this time? Another bump on the head? A wee in a cup and put it in the freezer ... again? Whatever could it be?
I answer in a tone of voice that is my most pleasant without seeming disingenuous and hear a fine tale from the centre manager.
"T-Bone's just got a little ring thing stuck on his finger..."
I can tell this one's thrown even her, and she's seen it all and more before.
"He was playing with his tool set, and when we looked back he had this ring stuck on his finger. I think it may have been a piece of a door handle or something. We've tried to get it off with oil and soap, but it's quite stuck. He's physically fine and in good spirits but he's getting quite distressed when we try to pull it off."
I figure it's a small ring, not much wider than my wedding band, so maybe he can just push on until the end of the day, and then I'll figure something out.
"The finger's still got blood going to it, and he's got full movement ... but it looks like it's getting a bit swollen."
Swollen. Ugh. That's a gotta head in and check it out word.
"I guess I better come in then", hanging my head and exhaling an inaudible groan.
I arrive expecting to see a tiny ring on his finger - surely they are over-reacting - but instead am met by this:
When I regain my composure from laughing so hard, I say, "Mate, that's a doozy!"
"What's a doozy?", T-Bone asks, much too chirpily for my liking given his predicament.
"I dunno how to describe a doozy. But that's a doozy."
Instead of quizzing T-Bone about what he thought he was doing, I immediately see in him a reflection of myself as a young boy; watching TV under a sleeping bag, tying a stray piece of string from it around my diminutive penis.
Why did you tie a piece of string around your penis?, you may be thinking to yourself.
Well, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. What else was I meant to do with a stray piece of string while watching cartoons?
Somehow it got tangled or knotted or whatever string does and there it remained coiled, seemingly consigning me to a life attached to an old, red sleeping bag with a crusty tartan lining. Quite possibly the tartan of the Clan McPenistiedwithstring, a noble clan, notwithstanding the moderate embarrassments that would befall them from time to time.
Luckily my older brother, Eug, was within earshot – he wasn't under the sleeping bag with me, I'm not some weirdo – and came and untangled me. Our Clan members are always there to lend a helping hand, adhering to our motto: AD VALUM PENILE NON (Thou shalt not suffer a tied penis alone).
He was very gentle you'll be glad to know, but he would never again use that sleeping bag.
We arrive at the the emergency department at the Royal Children's Hospital and I feel somewhat guilty that over the journey I haven't really given much that they will grow, but I'm sure they'll make up for it with the exorbitant parking fees. The triage nurse's room is equipped with the kind of medical apparatus that whips T-Bone into a frenzy. Buttons, nobs, levers, switches and lights are all his forté. Not one of them goes unpressed or unpulled but the nurse handles it all like a pro. Luckily his rampaging younger brother, Sea Bass, is soundly asleep, because if he were loose in this place, Andrew O'Keefe would have to raise an extra million during next year's Good Friday Appeal to make up for the damage.
The waiting room is adorned by a gigantic cylindrical aquarium that extends up many storeys high. The fish think the arrangement rather odd, but the humans among us find it positively marvelous. The waiting room is hugely entertaining for T-Bone. He jumps gaily from the interactive touchscreen to the vending machines to the aquarium with the offending hand waving proudly in the air - the brass ring a glorious symbol of both his ingenuity and capacity for mischief.
I am anticipating a long wait and an even longer carpark bill so I am caught by surprise when T-Bone's name is called in under an hour. We head into the consulting room and the doctor has with him nothing but a pair of surgical scissors and a long piece of yellow string. I immediately think, how the hell is tying a piece of string around my child's penis going to help?
But instead he weaves the string under the giant ring and proceeds to wind it around and around while I attempt to distract T-Bone with a Ben and Holly episode on my phone. There is no way this is going to work, I think to myself, I've tried, so just get the bolt cutters already. But after a few twists and yanks and a liberal dose of magic he prises the thing free.
THIS DOCTOR KNOWS MAGIC.
I am astonished. "That was amazing. That was the most amazing thing I have ever seen!", I tell him.
The doctor loved how much I loved it. I know this because he said in his German, maybe Swiss, accent: "I love how much you just loved that."
I did. I really did. Then I say, "you know magic. You should do kid's parties."
Then I think he got a little offended so we went on our way.
The whole affair took less than an hour and our contribution via the RCH parking fund was only $12. Fairly good value for what was one of the best magic shows I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. In fact we have been seen so quickly that we even have time to drop T-Bone back at his autism specific early learning centre, where they teach him important language, learning and life skills, hopefully including methods to untangle string from his younger brother's penis.
Leaving the kid's hospital, I pause to briefly reflect on the sick children within those corridors - children who have it a lot worse than a giant ring stuck on their finger. I only hope that their doctors can weave as much magic as ours.