I don’t see many children where I live. I’ve pointed out before that I live in Charlotte County, Florida, the county with the highest percentage of population over age 65 in the US. It is possible, as pointed out by Renee over at Life in the Boomer Lane , that all the young people could be impersonating elderly citizens to cash in on the senior discounts offered. Finding children has been elevated to a hobby, much like bird-watching.
“I saw a red-headed thumb sucker today”
“Really, where? Did you call the media to report the sighting?”
“No, I couldn’t be sure it was a child….it might have been an imposter. It is Senior night at IHOP.”
But Sunday I met an 8 year-old boy named Charlie at the pool where I go to exercise. Charlie was adorable – sandy brown hair, freckled, stick thin and in constant motion. Our conversation went like this:
Charlie – “Ma’am,” (he was a real southen gentleman) “are you a teacher?”
Me – “Yes, I am”. This is not a lie. I knew he meant a teacher like he sees at his school. I am not that kind of teacher. I am a nursing instructor, so technically I didn’t lie to him.
Charlie – “Good, can I ask you something?”
Me – “Shoot, Charlie, ask me anything you want. If I don’t know the answer, we’ll find it, okay?”
Charlie – “I’m afraid there are brain eating parasites in this pool. I’m scared. I got water up my nose. Do you think I’m gonna die?”
I knew Charlie probably was referring to the lethal amoeba responsible for 3 deaths of young people in the south. The amoeba, called Naegleria fowleri, is the only type that infects humans. It is more than 95% lethal. The amoebas flourish in the heat — especially during the summer months in the South, thriving in warm waters where people swim. They enter the nose and attack brain tissue. Charlie was in luck. I taught Microbiology last semester, so I felt like I had a handle on the amoeba situation.
I reassured Charlie that the pool was safe – that the amoeba lives generally in lakes and ponds – not treated water like we were enjoying. We chatted a little more, during which time he asked me at least 20 times if I was SURE he wasn’t going to die? Completely sure? 100% sure? Cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die sure?
I continued my exercising and Charlie sought out other opinions. I heard him ask every single person in the pool if they thought he would die. My beautiful late morning swim on a hot day was beginning to feel a little oppressive.
Charlie exhausted all other sources of information available to him (3 senior citizens, the lifeguard and his mother, who appeared to be comatose in a poolside lounge chair – he had to shake her vigorously to get her attention). He returned to accompany me with my waterjogging laps. Yet again, he peppered me with questions about the possiblity of his impending death. I was not annoyed, really. I felt his physical health wasn’t in danger, but I was getting worried about his mental health. I tried a different tactic.
“Charlie, when I find I keep worrying about something over and over I try to think about something else to take my mind off it.”
“You mean like the monsters under my bed?”
“Um, sure. Have you seen the monsters, Charlie?”
“No, but I know they’re there.” And so it went, for about another 20 minutes with talk about the monsters under his bed. I convinced him to make a scary mask to put on at night time so if the monsters came out they would be frightened. And to threaten them with a vial of lake water.
As I was leaving the pool – Charlie’s mother raised her head almost imperceptibly. She wearily thanked me for answering his questions, apologized for his interfence with my pool time, then dropped her head back onto her lounge chair. Her sunken eyes had an empty, glazed look. She was probably just enjoying a few minutes’ reprieve from his constant questions and need for reassurance.
Either that or amoebas were already at work.